YOU CAN FIND PLENTY OF RECIPES for Ethiopian food all over the internet, and my Links page offers passage to some of them. I also have a Cookbooks page on this site. But a good friend of mine suggested that I include a page with some of my own recipes and tips for cooking Ethiopian dishes.
It was a good suggestion: As I write in my book Mesob Across America: Ethiopian Food in the U.S.A., Ethiopian cooking was largely an oral tradition until the last few decades, when cookbooks began to appear, and many of the authors of those cookbooks just guesstimated the proportions of the ingredients.
So in one book, you’ll be instructed to cook a cup of onions in a cup of oil and then add a cup of lentils, and in another, it’ll be a quarter cup of oil and a half cup of onions for two cups of lentils. Those are big differences that I can only chalk up to the guess work of translating intuition and custom into the formality of print.
In the time I’ve been cooking Ethiopian food, I’ve worked out reasonable proportions, and I base the following recipes upon my own home cooking, guided by the recipe books of Ethiopian chefs.
Most of the ingredients you’ll need to try these recipes are easy to get in America. Three, however, will require some special shopping, and you can find places to buy these ingredients on my Shopping page. These three special ingredients are berbere, a hot red pepper powder; mitmita, an even hotter red pepper powder; and niter kibbee, which is clarified spiced Ethiopian butter. You can substitute Indian ghee for the niter kibbee, or olive oil if absolutely necessary, but nothing can replace the two peppers. That would be like making Indian food without curry.
Of course, all of the food is best served atop and eaten with injera, the Ethiopian bread, which is difficult to make at home. You can buy some from online places that I list on my Shopping page, or you can just use a good moist pita bread or Indian nan.
I’ve include some photos here of my finished meals, and you can click to enlarge them. Please be in touch if you have questions or comments. Most of the pictures on this page are of food I made, with the exception of the qocho, which you can read about on my blog, the genfo (from a D.C. restaurant), and the Addis Kolo, which comes packaged from a Virginia-based manufacturer.
And be sure to check out the website How To Cook Great Ethiopian Food. It has dozens of short and easy-to-follow videos that show you how to prepare a wide variety of Ethiopian dishes. But the videos don’t include proportions, so you need to consults the written recipes on the website for that.
Here, then, are preparations for some of my favorite Ethiopian dishes.
This delicious cold lentil dish goes well with any Ethiopian meal, almost like a salad on an American table.
1 cup green lentils
1 large jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
¼ cup finely chopped onions
1 teaspoon ginger powder, or to taste
¼ teaspoons of turmeric powder, or to taste
3 tablespoons lime juice, or to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
Boil the lentils in water until they’re soft, about 30 minutes. Then, drain them well using a strainer, rinse them with cold water, and put them into a mixing bowl.
Using a large spatula, stir the lentils until they begin to become somewhat mashed. Chop the onions and jalapeños into very small pieces but do not liquefy them.
Mix the onions, jalapeño, ginger, turmeric, lime juice and olive oil into the lentils. Stir them together well. When it’s all mixed, taste the azifa. If the flavor or any one ingredient doesn’t peek through, add a bit more of that ingredient. You should be able to taste the flavors of the various elements, all blended harmoniously. You might also add a little bit of each ingredient, then more of it until you have a nice balance of distinct flavors. Put it in the refrigerator to chill for dinner.
OPTIONAL STEP: Some cooks put their azifa into a food processor and serve it as a purée.
The Ethiopian table doesn’t get greener than this staple dish, which you can make with collard greens or kale.
1 pound of collard greens or kale
½ cup of finely chopped onions
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon chopped garlic, or a little more to taste
½ teaspoon ginger powder, or a little more to taste
Strip the leafy greens of the vegetable from the thick spine that runs through each leaf, using nothing of the spines. Coarsely chop the greens, and then boil them in water until they’re very soft and tender, about 45 to 60 minute. When they’re ready, drain the water, but reserve just a little for the next step.
In a new pot, cook the onions and garlic in the olive oil for a few minutes until the onions begin to glisten. If necessary, add just a little water to keep them from burning. Now add the ginger, stir the mixture, and cook it for a minute more.
Add the well-cooked greens and just a little bit of water. Let the greens, onions and spices simmer until the water begins to cook off and the greens are very soft. You can always pour off excess water when the greens are ready or add water if they become to dry as you cook them.
In Amharic, the state language of Ethiopia, duba is the word for both pumpkin and squash. I’ve made this sweet delicious dish with a pie pumpkin, an acorn squash, a butternut squash and a kabocha squash (sometimes called a Japanese pumpkin). I’ll use the word duba in the recipe that follows. You can choose whatever variety of duba you like.
1 duba of about 1 pound
½ cup chopped onions
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ tablespoon berbere
2/3 teaspoon cumin powder, or a little more, to taste
2/3 teaspoon dried basil, or a little more, to taste
The first step is a labor-intensive process that could take half an hour. Cut the duba in half, scoop out the seeds, and cut each half into slices of about one inch or so in width. Using a potato peeler or paring knife, remove the skin from the orange flesh. Then, cut the slices of flesh into bite-sized pieces.
Cook the chopped onions in the olive oil, making sure not to let them burn. You can add a little water if you like after they begin to sizzle. When they glisten, add the berbere, add a little water, and let it all cook for a minute or two.
Now, add the duba to the pot, and stir it thoroughly to get the duba coated with the onions and spices. Add water until about three-fourths of the duba is covered with water. Stir thoroughly again, and as it cooks, stir every four or five minutes.
When the duba is tender, the dish is done. Remove it from the heat, add the cumin and basil, and stir the spices into the duba.
I’m especially fond of this dish, which I first had at Meskerem in New York City. More and more restaurants now serve it.
6 tablespoons chick pea flour
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder (optional)
½ teaspoon ginger powder
1 large jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
¼ cup finely chopped onions
2 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil
Measure two cups of water into a bowl, and dissolve about 6 tablespoons of chick pea flour in the water (three tablespoons for every cup of water, plus just a touch more). Add the olive oil and the lemon juice, mix the ingredients, then add the turmeric and ginger. You can forego the turmeric if you find the taste of this tart spice to be too strong or overwhelming.
When the mixture is smooth, put it into a large pot. Turn on the heat to low-medium, and bring it to a lightly bubbling boil. When the mixture begins to bubble, adjust the heat so that it doesn’t spit and splatter. You may want to put some aluminum foil loosely over the top. Don’t put a lid on it! The butecha needs to thicken, and that happens when the water slowly boils away. The volume will reduce as it cooks.
When it’s thickened, which will take at least half an hour, remove it from the heat and pour the butecha into the bowl in which you will refrigerate it.
Add the finely chopped onions and jalapeño. Stir it all together thoroughly. You can add a little extra onion and jalapeño if you like, but don’t overwhelm it with these ingredients. Refrigerate the butecha, and stir it thoroughly a few hours later. It should look like scrambled eggs after you stir it.
Serve hot or cold, reheating in a microwave before serving if you prefer it hot. Mix the ingredients one more time before reheating.
Doro Tibs Wot
This is my favorite chicken dish. It’s easy to make and a good staple meat dish to serve.
2 large or 3 small chicken breast fillets
1 cup very finely chopped onions
¼ cup red wine or t’ej
¾ to 1 tablespoon berbere, to taste
2 jalapeños, seeded and cut into slices
4 tablespoons niter kibbee (spiced clarified butter) or olive oil
Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces.
In a hot frying pan over medium heat, cook the onions, turning and stirring them often, until they begin to lightly brown and caramelize. Don’t let them burn.
When they seem like they might soon begin to burn if you cook them any longer, add the kibbee or oil, and stir the mixture. If you use kibbee, wait until it’s all melted until you add the next ingredients.
Add the berbere, and stir it into the moist sizzling onions. Let it cook for a minute, stirring it constantly. Then add the wine, and mix the ingredients together well. The wine will begin to cook off almost immediately.
Add the chicken and stir the mixture, then let it cook for a few minutes until the chicken begins to turn white on the outside. Slowly add ½ to ¾ cups of water, bring it just to a boil, and reduce the heat. Finally, add the sliced jalapeños.
Let it all simmer until the liquid is almost cooked off and the doro tibs remain in a thick red sauce, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Kitfo & Ayib
Kitfo is a beloved beef dish that Ethiopians eat raw, but I prefer it fully cooked. I’ll include both preparations. The traditional accompaniments are gomen (recipe above) and ayib, or Ethiopian cheese. Instructions for making ayib come at the end of the kitfo recipe.
1 pound finely ground low-fat beef
4-6 tablespoons niter kibbee (Ethiopian spiced butter), or more to taste (ghee is an adequate substitute)
1 teaspoon mitmita powder, or more to taste
1 teaspoon cardamom powder, or more to taste
32 ounces of buttermilk or plain yogurt
To prepare the dish tere, or raw, melt the niter kibbee in a skillet using low heat. When it’s hot and liquefied, remove the skillet from the heat, add the beef and mix the two ingredients well. Add the spices and mix well again. If you want it lebleb, or slightly cooked, return it to the heat for a minute before adding the spices.
To prepare it yebesele, or fully cooked, put the beef and niter kibbee in a skillet, and over low heat, stir constantly until the kibbee melts and the beef is cooked to your liking. Turn off the heat, add the spices, and mix the ingredients well.
To make ayib, boil the buttermilk or yogurt over low heat for about 15 or 20 minutes, until the liquid whey separates from the soft white curds. Gently pour off the whey, getting rid of as much of the liquid as you can. The curds left behind is your ayib. Allow it to cool a little before the meal.
Serve the kitfo with dollops of ayib surrounding it, or mix some ayib right into the kitfo.
3 tablespoons diced onion
3 tablespoons diced jalapeño pepper
3 tablespoons diced tomato
1 tablespoons niter kibbee or oil, or more to taste
¼ teaspoon cardamom
½ teaspoon berbere, or more to taste
In a skillet, melt the niter kibbee or heat the oil, then add the diced vegetables. Let them cook for a few minutes until they become soft. Add the berbere, stir the mixture, and let it heat for another minute or two. Finally, add two eggs – don’t scramble them in a bowl – and stir the mixture around in the skillet until it’s as done as you like it to be. You can serve this dish with injera, in a wrap, or in a pita pocket, or you can just eat it with plain old American toast.
Breakfast, Appetizers & Snacks
Ethiopians eat a number of breakfast porridges. There’s bula, made from powdered enset, which is definitely an acquired taste; and the more conventional qinche, made with cracked wheat.
But the tastiest, as well as the easiest to prepare, is genfo, a simple wheat or barley porridge made spicy with berbere and rich with niter kibbee. It’s sometimes called the Ethiopian fufu, the sticky staple western African dish made of pounded yams or cassava. So if you want a filling breakfast, try some genfo. This recipe is enough for two portions.
1 cup wheat or barley flour
2 cups water
1 tablespoon berbere, or more, to taste
2-3 tablespoons niter kibbee or oil
Touch of cardamom (to taste)
Plain yogurt (optional)
Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat and slowly add the flour, into which you’ve put the cardamom, stirring to avoid lumps. Keep stirring until the mixture is well moistened. Remove from heat, mold the genfo into the shape of a bowl, and hollow out a hole in the middle (see photo). If you’re using niter kibbee, melt the butter, then mix the butter (or oil if you’re not using butter) with the berbere. Finally, pour the spicy liquid into the hole you’ve hollowed out in the genfo, and eat it by the spoonful, dipping each scoop into the liquid center. You can dress up the dish by putting a ring of ergo (yogurt) about the rim.
Kita & Chechebsa
These delicious, easy-to-make dishes are often served as a traditional breakfast. They’re made with the same basic ingredients, but you serve kita (or qita) in the shape of a mini-pizza and chechebsa – which is the Oromo preparation – in small pieces. Both are made rich and spicy with niter kibbee (spiced butter) and berbere (red pepper powder).
You can use any type of flour, as long as it’s not white flour – which is just plain boring. I use whole wheat, barley or teff. The diptych with this recipe shows barley kita (on the left) and teff chechebsa (on the right). Personally, I prefer chechebsa because it’s more fun to eat, and I highly recommend making it with teff for the most authentic experience. You can click the photo to get a closer look at each variety. The following recipe is for one kita or one plate of chechebsa. Just multiply the quantities to feed as many people as you like.
½ cup of flour (barley, teff, whole wheat)
½ cup of water
½ teaspoon of cardamom (optional)
1 tablespoon (or so) of niter kibbee, or more if you want it richer
½ teaspoon of berbere, or more if you want it hotter
In a bowl, mix the flour and water well, until it forms a batter. Pour the batter onto a pre-heated non-stick skillet, which you can grease very lightly if you like. Let it cook on one side until you can safely flip it over without it falling apart or running. Then, let it cook on the other side until it’s ready to flip again. Keep flipping until it’s fully cooked, with no moist batter inside. While it’s cooking, melt the niter kibbee in a microwave, and add the berbere to the melted butter.
If you’re using a lighter-colored flour, like barley or whole wheat, let it brown just a bit. Teff flour will be darker, so you won’t really see it browning as it cooks.
Finally, when the batter is fully cooked: For kita, smear the berbere-spiced kibbee on top; for chechebsa, break it up into bite-sized pieces, and toss the pieces in a bowl with the kibbee.
Tip #1: If you’re making kita, and it breaks into pieces when you flip it, no problem – just turn it into chechebsa when it’s done.
Tip #2: If you prefer your chechebsa pieces crispy, throw them back onto the hot skillet after you’ve tossed them in the spicy niter kibbee.
If you have some extra injera on hand, use it to make this tasty treat (pronounced “ka-ten-ya”).
1 piece of injera
2 or 3 tablespoons of niter kibbee
½ to ¾ teaspoon of berbere, or more to taste
Divide the injera in half or into quarters, and in a skillet, heat the pieces until they become just a little crispy (just a little!). Turn them frequently as you heat them.
Melt the kibbee in a microwave, then add the berbere and blend the ingredients well. When the injera is ready, spread the spiced kibbee onto the bubbly side of the injera like you’re buttering bread. This dish is excellent before a meal with an apéritif of tej, or you can just enjoy it as a snack any time.
Ethiopia doesn’t have any desserts native to its cuisine, and for snacks between meals, or after a meal, Ethiopians often enjoy crunchy grains with coffee. This dish is easy to make and good to munch any time. Think of it as Ethiopian trail mix.
1 cup barley kernels
¼ cup dried chick peas
¼ cup dried soybeans (optional)
¼ cup peanuts (optional)
¼ to ½ teaspoon berbere
On a pan in an oven, roast the barley and chick peas until they get crunchy and begin to crackle, turning and tossing them occasionally. The basic recipe for kolo uses these two items, but if you choose to use soybeans, cook them in the oven as well.
When these two or three items are crunchy, put them in a bowl and dust them lightly with berbere. You can sprinkle a little salt over the kolo to suit your taste.
In Ethiopian markets around the country, you can buy various brands of commercially prepared kolo. Elsa Kolo (named for its creator), Wub (“beautiful”) Kolo and Dinsho Kolo (named for a city) are three brands that are now being imported from Ethiopia, and Addis Kolo is made by a company in Woodbridge, Va., that’s owned by an Ethiopian-American.
Ethiopian Cole Slaw
This dish is “Ethiopian” for one reason: I first had it at Enat, a wonderful Ethiopian restaurant in Alexandria, Va. The owner has no Amharic name for it, and he began serving it with his vegetarian combo platter after an Ethiopian woman in his neighborhood made it and he liked it. But perhaps there’s another reason it’s Ethiopian: karya (jalapeño peppers). Ethiopians love this vegetable and use it liberally.
3 large carrots
4 large jalapeño peppers
1 pound cabbage
3 tablespoons olive oil, or to taste
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, or to taste
2 tablespoons lemon juice, or to taste
Cut the carrots and jalapeños into tiny little pieces and toss them together. Chop the cabbage into small pieces as well, then add it to the other ingredients. You don’t want to overwhelm the dish with cabbage, so you may want to use less than a pound, and let your eye tell you when the combination looks balanced.
Then, add the olive oil, but don’t soak or overwhelm the vegetables. Toss it. Add the vinegar and toss again. Finally, add the lemon juice, then toss it and taste it. If the lemon flavor doesn’t just peek through, add a little more of the juice.
Serve chilled, either as a salad before a meal, or as a selection on a beyayanetu (combination platter). If you want to dine in the continental style, you can have the dish as a salad after the meal.
Kochkocha (Yekarya Delleh)
This delicious, blazing hot, easy-to-make dish is a sort of Ethiopian salsa verde – a dipping sauce for any occasion. It goes especially well with dirkosh – dried injera chips – but if you can’t get those, any type of chip will do (although the less salty, the better). You can also use it as an accompaniment for meat dishes: Just scoop up some of your entrée with your injera, then dip it into the kochkocha. Or you can make your own dirkosh: Simply put some injera on a baking sheet in a very hot oven and bake until it’s crispy, checking often to make sure it doesn’t stick to the sheet (which you might want to cover with aluminum foil).
1 pound jalapeño peppers (about two cups)
2 tablespoon chopped onions
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
½ tablespoon cardamon
½ tablespoon coriander
¼ tablespoon cumin
¼ tablespoon basil
Prepare the peppers by slicing them in half, removing the ribs and seeds, and then cutting them into pieces. In a skillet, cook the peppers in a little bit of olive oil, turning them often, until they begin to get tender. Rinse the peppers in cold water. In a food processor, blend the peppers, onions and fresh ginger until they’re as smooth and creamy as you can get them. Then, add the mixed spices in batches, a little at a time, and blend again after each time you add some spices. If you don’t want to use fresh ginger, you can use one-half of a tablespoon of powdered ginger. Chill the kochkocha before serving it.
University of Pittsburgh