Exploring Doro Wot

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HOW HARD COULD IT BE TO MAKE: a few chicken drumsticks or thighs simmered in sauce made mostly of onions and a few spices? And yet, doro wot – sometimes called the national dish of Ethiopia – can make a big difference in a young woman’s life.

Fikerte Kidanemariam was the assistant to the Ethiopian ambassador in Washington, D.C., when I met her during the summer of 2009. I talked with her and other embassy personnel about Ethiopian cuisine, but she was the culinary sage and scholar of the group, and her sister is married to Daniel Mesfin, the author of Exotic Ethiopian Cooking, the very good Ethiopian cookbook.

Doro wot cooking in a shakla dist,  a traditional Ethiopian clay pot

Doro wot cooking in a shakla dist,
a traditional Ethiopian clay pot

Doro wot may just look like chicken pieces in a spicy red stew, Fikerte told me that day. But back in the 1960s, when she was a bride, if a woman couldn’t cook doro wot, she wasn’t ready to get married. She had to know how to cut the chicken up into 12 parts – no more, no fewer. “They don’t bother girls so much now,” she told me, “but back then, you had to know how to split the chicken properly.”

We talked about other dishes that day, including duba wot, or pumpkin stew, which some of the men in the room said they didn’t like. But Fikerte interceded: Duba wot cooked well tastes like doro wot. The men didn’t challenge her.

In his 1970 book African Cooking, part of the popular Time-Life Books series, Laurens van der Post shares this anecdote about doro wot that confirms Fikerte’s memories: “When Berhanu Wolde Emanuel, a civil servant in the Ethiopian city of Gondar, was about to marry Lishan Sefu, he made inquiries about the quality of her doro wot, or chicken stew. The report was good; in fact, it turned out that she was something of a perfectionist. For example, she insisted on preparing her own berbere seasoning for her wot, and making berbere is no simple matter.” One presumes that the marriage took place.

Marthe van der Wolf wrote a vivid piece in 2012 for the Mail & Guardian, a South African newspaper, in which she recalled her years of living in Ethiopia, where she learned how to make doro wot from an expert.

“You will never find a husband if you cannot cook doro wot!” My godmother has told me once too often. And she is not alone in this belief. My favourite taxi driver looked appalled when he overheard me telling a friend that I can’t cook any Ethiopian dish. He claims he chose his wife on her doro wot skills. . .Back home in Ethiopia, I am often reminded that a woman should know how to cook. Or, as one friend explained to me: “If you can’t make doro wot, your man will eat it somewhere else. And no woman is going to let a man go just like that after cooking a dish for him that takes all day.”

. . .Traditionally, the chicken is killed at 6 p.m. on the day before Easter. Only men that have been fasting are allowed to cut the throat of the chicken. Killing the chicken goes quickly. Although I find it awful to look at, my desire for doro wot is so great that I can’t feel sorry for the chicken. “I started watching my mother in the kitchen from the age of seven. Only by the time I was thirteen could I prepare it myself,” says Mrs. [Genet] Seifu as she plucks the feathers from the dead chicken that will give us seven good pieces of meat: two legs, breast and thighs, and the back. The wings, neck and kidney’s will also be mixed into the wot. Once the chicken is naked and the head is cut off, she starts blowing through the chicken’s neck to make the skin puff up, something I can’t imagine myself doing as I see the blood around her mouth. She then holds the chicken above a fire to burn off all the remaining hair and dirt. The cleaning process is very important to Mrs. Seifu and she takes her time to wash the naked chicken over and over again after removing its skin.

. . .Mrs. Seifu recommends that one chooses young chickens, as the older ones take longer to cook. “I prefer the younger ones. So when you go out to buy the chicken, closely check the fifth nail. The bigger that nail is, the older the chicken.”

If this dish challenges an Ethiopian woman, just imagine what it can do to an American man. As a graduate student at Stanford University several years ago, Dave Evans was part of a team that developed the Mighty Mitad, a steel band that wraps around a mitad – the traditional clay surface on which Ethiopians make injera – to strengthen it and keep it from breaking.

Evans loves to cook, and during his trips to Ethiopian while developing the Mighty Mitad, he decided to learn how to make Ethiopian food from the best, which was much easier said than done: “As a man,” he says, “I was shoved out of the kitchen.”

But he persisted, setting himself the goal of learning to make doro wot and injera.

Doro wot, duba wot, inguday wot

Doro wot, duba wot, inguday wot

The injera, he soon learned, was the easiest thing to fail at making. You have to get it to cook properly, pouring it onto the mitad in a spiral – not too quickly, not too slowly, and from not too high above the cooking surface. Lifting it off the hot mitad was also a challenge. “I probably tried 10 times,” he says, “and I maybe got one piece that they actually let me serve to the family.”

As for the doro wot, it’s not that there’s anything too difficult about the preparation. It’s just that it can take several days.

His lesson began with instructions on how to properly clean the freshly killed chicken, which you must wash “until it stops smelling bad,” his hostess taught him. This means filling buckets with water and then adding lots of salt and lime, then shaking the chicken in the mixture vigorously for five minutes, then doing it again and again, sometimes for six or seven hours. Then, you cook the sauce, which simmers for three or four hours, and then you add the chicken to the sauce – for another few hours,

“It became pretty clear that I wasn’t going to do it in the home kitchen,” he recalls. “The difference between Ethiopian food in the U.S. and Ethiopian food over there is the culture that surrounds it. You can take the time to lovingly prepare it. And of course, it’s fabulous, because you’ve been working on it for two days.”


JUST HOW LONG has doro wot been a part of Ethiopian cuisine? No one knows for sure, and we surely never will know. In her handsome Ethiopian cookbook, The Recipe of Love, Aster Ketsela Belayneh, who owns an Ethiopian restaurant in Toronto, says that the dish “goes back to the days of the Aksumite kingdom,” which existed in the northern part of what’s now Ethiopia from about 200 to 800 A.D. But that’s just lore and cultural pride speaking.

Chicken drumsticks for doro wot  just beginning to cook

Chicken drumsticks for doro wot
just beginning to cook

The archaeologist Stuart Munro-Hay says only this on the subject of chicken in the Aksumite diet: “One or two pottery figures of birds exist from Aksumite times, and (with a little imagination) we can perhaps identify chickens and pigeons or doves.” Other scholars have noted the absence of the chicken in rock art of the culture, although some archaeo-zoologists have found what they believe to be chicken bones.

So doro wot may be a more recent addition to the table – and by recent, I mean that it may have arrived 700 or 800 years ago. The word “chicken” appears frequently in the Serata Gebr, a 15th Century document about grand imperial Ethiopian banquets (the name means “The Order of the Feast”). But the word wot appears only once, and it’s written in its ancient form, wäsheh, and described as “one large bowl of turmeric sauce.” Today, of course, using turmeric rather than berbere would make the dish the milder doro alicha, not doro wot. But back then, Ethiopians hadn’t yet created berbere.

“It is in fact astonishing that the word [wot] does not turn up more often,” says the German scholar Manfred Kropp, who has translated portions of the valuable ancient document, “but I have the suspicion that the real thing is designated by other words in the text.” The document is written in Ge’ez, the ancient language of Ethiopia, and nobody has fully translated it, so we don’t know if it specifically mentions doro wot. It certainly seems likely, though, and because the document refers to feasts of earlier emperors, doro wot probably goes back to at least the 14th Century.

The dish is popular in Eritrea, too, where it’s called derho tsebhi, the latter being the Tigrinya word for wot (a spicy stew). Sometimes you’ll see it called dehro zigni, although zigni is more often the Tigrinya word for a wot of beef or lamb. Writing in Washington City Paper, Tim Carman described the derho tsebhi at Enjera, an Eritrean restaurant in Arlington, Va., as tasting like “the Eritrean version of Oaxacan mole — rich, thick, spicy, tart, even a little sweet.”

And in Afaan Oromo, the language of Ethiopia’s Oromo culture, doro wot is called kochee handaanqoo. The menu at the Oromo-owned African Restaurant in Salt Lake City describes it like this: “Tender chicken legs sauteed in seasoned butter and stewed in barbare sauce with boiled eggs, flavored with onions, garlic and ginger root with a pinch of cardamom and nutmeg and qimamii.” That last item is the Afaan Oromo word for niter kibe, so the description is a bit redundant.

Doro wot served with azifa,  ayib and shiro on teff injera

Doro wot served with azifa,
ayib and shiro on teff injera

But how different is doro wot from culture to culture in Ethiopia? According to the scholar Abbebe Kifleyesus, not very much at all. “Ethiopia’s fried meats (tibs) served with jellied red peppers (awaze) and mustard (senafich) have regional variants,” he writes in his essay The Construction of Ethiopian National Cuisine, “whereas the ubiquitous chicken stew (doro wot), which is served with injera especially, if not exclusively, during holidays or shared with dear and loved ones, has regional versions tasting almost alike.”

Then there’s doro wot that isn’t really doro wot. The scholar James McCann of Boston University identifies doro fanta, “a common dish served in roadside hotels in southwestern Ethiopia and now more generally even in Addis Ababa. Doro fanta is a southern non-Abyssinian dish. Its name literally means ‘substitute chicken stew,’ an allusion to Ethiopia’s iconic chicken stew, doro wot.” But doro fanta “contains neither the egg nor the chicken,” McCann writes. “This dish is a product of the cultural and economic change of the past quarter century in the wake of Ethiopia’s 1974 revolution; it demonstrates the expansion of a commercial road-hotel economy away from the areas of classic highland Christian culture that was the core of Ethiopia’s national cuisine.”

So just what is doro fanta? It begins with shallots (or onions), berbere and niter kibe, the three main ingredients in the kulet – that is, the thick rich sauce for doro wot. When the kulet is done, McCann tells me, you have a “lovely burgundy-colored rich sauce, but the meat is usually a prime bone from mutton or goat. Doro fanta is quite lovely, since it is the sauce that makes the dish.”

But as much as McCann enjoys doro fanta, it’s not quite the same. “Doro wot served in the home is the real deal,” he says, “sauce served as the first thing ladled out onto the injera, with individual pieces [of chicken] and an egg placed before [people] around the mesob.”

And the scholar Adamu Zegeye has studied whether doro wot tastes better with injera made from teff, sorghum, maize or barley. Everyone knows that pure teff injera is the most prized variety in Ethiopia, but the data from Adamu’s “sensory panel” revealed that “sorghum injera can best be used as a substitute for teff injera without affecting the acceptability of taste in combination with doro wot.”

A doro wot cooking contest in Ethiopia

A doro wot cooking contest in Ethiopia

After visiting Ethiopia, the Georgian-born physician and researcher Paul Merab, writing in the 1920s, once observed: “With doro wot, you judge the degree of the friendship of the one who invites you. The reason is that in the horribly complicated cuisine of the Ethiopians, chicken demands even more time and complex care than mutton or beef.”

This remains true in Ethiopian homes today, where “the smell of doro wot signifies that a guest is expected,” Daniel writes in Exotic Ethiopian Cooking. “The cook takes great pains to make it savory – ij yemiyasme’ti’t (a dish that makes you lick your fingers). But this only tells you how good it is, as to lick your finders is a social gaffe.”

What may be the earliest reference to doro wot in an American newspaper appears in an Oct. 26, 1966, article in The Los Angeles Times that rounds up the ways different cultures prepare chicken. “Then off to Africa for a hot taste treat in a chicken with hot sauce called Doro-Weutt,” says the article, which includes the recipe. “The spicy chili-flavored sauce is poured generously over the chicken when it is served, with some sauce served separately for dipping.” The spelling of the dish may be a bit unconventional, but this certainly sounds like how it’s done.

What Evans learned was doro wot in the extreme, the way traditionalist make it when their primary responsibility is cooking and taking care of a household. At home, the process is simpler but still rather labor intensive – that is, you can’t just throw things into a pot and let them stew.

Doro wot in Ethiopia

Doro wot in Ethiopia

The first challenge comes in preparing and cooking the onions or (if you really want to be authentic) shallots. You must chop them very finely because that makes cooking them much more easily. Some recipes say to cook the onions for 10 minutes – clearly not adequate. Some say to cook them for 60 to 90 minutes, stirring occasionally, which seems like a long time.

In truth, how long you cook the onions depends on how much onion you’re cooking. If you’re making a feast for a big group and you’ve chopped seven or eight onions, then plan on at least 30 or 40 minutes for cooking and browning them, adding a little liquid now and then to make sure they don’t. For smaller quantities, cut the cooking time accordingly.

This recipe is for the American kitchen, and I’m sure my Ethiopian friends and readers are appalled right now at my haste. But I’ve found that if you tend to the onions relentlessly and add the ingredients carefully, about half an hour or so of cooking them works well enough to get you a tasty doro wot.

A concise doro wot recipe  from Ebony magazine (1976)  (click to enlarge)

A concise doro wot recipe
from Ebony magazine (1976)
(click to enlarge)

Some recipes include tomato paste, but that’s a modern addition, not at all traditional. I don’t recommend it for that reason alone, plus there’s really no need for it. T’ej or wine will add a hint or sweetness to the dish, so you don’t need to adulterate it with an invasive species of vegetable (which is actually a fruit).

Or if you want an unusual variation on the dish, try celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s doro wot tacos: You make it just as you would doro wot (well, sort of), then you shred the chicken and serve it inside a tortilla. It’s not too traditional, but then, Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, and now lives in New York City.

As for a wine to enjoy with your doro wot, the Canadian wine writer Natalie MacLean recommends an oak chardonnay or a syrah, depending upon whether you prefer red or white. “These deep, voluptuous wines will marry nicely with the richness of the dish,” she told the Chicago Tribune.

But that’s only if you don’t have any t’ej.


SO HERE’S YOUR BASIC doro wot preparation, with a video at the end of this page to show you what it all looks like.

6 chicken thighs or drumstick with all the skin and fat removed
Lemon juice
2½ to 3 pounds of onions, very finely chopped or puréed
1 or 2 tablespoons berbere, to taste
1 tablespoon powdered ginger
2 or 3 tablespoons niter kibe (or more if you want it richer)
¼ to ½ cup t’ej or red wine
2 or 3 hard boiled eggs
1 teaspoon wot mekelesha (or a cardamom/clove mix)

Begin by marinating the skinless chicken pieces – six thighs (which I prefer) or drumsticks – in lemon juice, and let them marinate while you prepare the onions. I also shorten the bone of the drumsticks somewhat, both to make more room in the pot, and because that part of the drumstick isn’t necessary anyway. You can cut off the lower bony portion with a good sharp knife.

Then, chop the onions finely. Ethiopians do this with a knife, but I cheat and use a food processor. If you’re making doro wot with six pieces of chicken, enough to feed three people (with two or three vegetable side dishes), two and half to three pounds of finely chopped onions should be enough to make a thick and generous kulet. You can’t have too much kulet, and you can even eat the kulet with injera as a meal by itself, so always feel free to make more, increasing other proportions accordingly.

Cooking doro wot in Ethiopia

Cooking doro wot in Ethiopia

In a large pot, begin to cook the onions without adding any niter kibe (Ethiopian spiced butter). Stir them constantly to keep them from burning. When they begin to get a bit dry, add a little water to moisten them. Keep doing this as they cook.

When the onions begin to brown, add some niter kibe, then a little more water, then a little more kibe. Keep doing this until you’ve added all of the kibe. And how much should you use? That depends on how rich and buttery you want it to be. I use two or three tablespoons, but feel free to use much, much more if you like.

When that’s all cooking nicely, add some t’ej – about a quarter to a half of a cup, again depending upon how sweet you want it to be. I’d error on the side of caution and use less because the flavor of the t’ej really comes through in the finished dish.

Now it’s time to add the spices: some berbere, one or two tablespoons, depending upon how hot you want it to be, along with about a tablespoon of powdered ginger.

After you add the spices, you’ll need to add more water to keep it from burning and to increase the volume into a saucy stew. Let these spices cook in the water and onion for 10 minutes, adding more water if it begins to cook down. Now you have your kulet: the thick onion-based wot sauce before you’ve added the meat.

Next, it’s time to add the doro (chicken). Place the pieces into the bubbling stew, add enough water to cover them, and let it all simmer. You should stir and turn the pieces from time to time to keep them from burning and to help them cook evenly. If the water begins to disappear too quickly, just add more. Test the chicken with a fork now and then to see if it’s tender and cooked through. You’ll need to cook the chicken for 45 minutes to an hour to get it very tender. Keep adding water if it cooks down, and when the chicken is very tender, let enough of the water cook off until you have the chicken in the thick kulet.

About 10 minutes before it’s done, you can add some wot mekelesha if you have some or want to mix some yourself. This is a spice blend that adds extra flavor and effervescence to a wot. You can get it at an Ethiopian market, or you can make your own by mixing equal parts powdered cardamom and cloves. Authentic mekelesha has even more spices, but these two will do just fine in a pinch. Even some cardamom alone will enhance your doro wot.

Finally, toss in a few eggs: hard boiled, and added to the stew about 10 minutes before it’s done. This is a traditional element of doro wot, and if it’s too much trouble, you can do without it. Before you put the eggs into the stew, cut a few slits so the sauce can seep in.

A drawing of doro wot  in a cookbook from Ethiopia

A drawing of doro wot
in a cookbook from Ethiopia

When your doro wot is done, serve it on injera with the vegetable side dishes of your choice. Be sure to scoop a lot of the kulet onto the chicken and injera: It will be rich, spicy and delicious, practically a meal in itself.

In some homes, it’s the custom for each person to have his own piece of doro wot in front of him on the large round shared plate at the center of the table, and then everyone eats the accompanying vegetable dishes communally. This makes a lot of sense: It’s a bit of challenge pulling the meat from the bone with your injera, and you certainly don’t want to pick the bone up and just chomp the meat off of it.

And by the way, if you are starting from scratch, slaughtering your own chicken and cutting it up, your 12 parts will be two breasts, two thighs, two legs, the back, the neck, and the wings divided to create two parts from each.

Natasha Gregory, who teaches geography at George Washington University, notes that because the observant Ethiopian Christians follows Biblical dietary laws, men traditionally slaughter the chicken and drain the blood just as Jews or Moslems would for kosher or halal cooking. Women will then clean the chicken in boiling water, remove the feathers by hand, remove the fat, cut it into 12 parts and start the cooking process. Gregory says that women sometimes massage shirothe delicious dish made from spiced pea powder – “over the whole bird, into every tiny crevasse, to remove any nodule of fat or left over imperfection.”


MY FRIEND MENKIR TAMRAT is one of the most committed enthusiasts for his native cuisine that I know, and his affection for doro wot is both lively and insightful.

Doro wot is the ultimate expression of highland Ethiopian cuisine in its most complex form,” he tells me. “Many talented cooks don’t take it lightly because they know if they do it right – any shortcut will show in the end product – they can establish a sort of bragging rights in their circle. The amount of attention given to the preparation of a good doro wot is always self evident for the person eating it. You just can’t fake it with a Crock Pot.”

Doro wot is a popular dish in Ethiopian restaurants, especially when diners realize its importance to the culture. Still, when ordering the dish, you need to be on guard.

“I know the American consumer of Ethiopian food loves doro wot,” Menkir says, “but few restaurants do justice to it. It’s also not an easy task for Ethiopian restaurant owners to communicate to the customer the value of what separates a great doro wot – with just a couple pieces of meat and a boiled egg – from half a side of chicken with a tangy barbeque sauce and corn bread.”

Menkir knows restaurateurs who say that doro wot takes 24 to 48 hours to prepare, but he doesn’t think that’s necessary. “My wife’s Easter doro wot takes her about five hours to prepare,” he says, “and the end product is fit for royalty, just like my mother’s. Except my mother had enough help to delegate parts of the process, so it didn’t take her as long – if you don’t include the time it took to chase down the chicken around the yard. I have participated in the chase as a kid.”

Menkir recalls an old tale about a man who has just enjoyed an excellent meal of doro wot. “After finishing his meal,” the story goes, “he politely declined to wash his hands. When asked by his hosts why he would do such a thing, his response was: Why wash away so quickly such intoxicating flavors when I can just take a whiff of my fingers the rest of the day and remember this great meal.”

And he adds: ”Don’t forget, doro wot tastes better the next day.”

Of course, I can’t imagine there ever being any leftovers.

Harry Kloman
University of Pittsburgh

Watch my video of cooking doro wot in a shakla dist.


Here’s an Ethiopian hip-hop music video all about doro wot.

Planning Your Ethiopian Menu

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LET’S SAY YOU WANTED to eat Ethiopian food for a full week at all three meals. What would you eat? How would you plan your menu?

Just ask Zewdu Tadese.

In 1963, Zewdu published a book in Ethiopia about nutrition called Megebachin, which means “Our Food,” and at the end of the book, he has a chart that plans your menu for an entire week: breakfast, lunch and dinner, Monday through Sunday.

I found this wonderful book, and many other rare older Ethiopian cookbooks, at the Library of Congress, where they’re housed in the African and Middle Eastern reading room. But Zewdu’s book, along with most of the others I explored this summer, are in Amharic or Tigrinya. So I’ve taken the liberty of translating his week-long daily menu planner.

The book discusses such things as vitamins, proteins, starches and fats that the body needs to thrive, and at the end of each chapter, there’s a set of questions and answers to summarize the information. He seems to have created his menu planner to make sure people eat a set of balanced meals.

Just below is the planner as it appears in the book: You can click the image to make it larger. After the image, I’ll walk you through Zewdu’s mealtime recommendations.

Zewdu Tadese's week-long menu planner from "Megebachin" (1963)

Zewdu Tadese’s week-long menu planner from “Megebachin” (1963)

Down the left side of the chart, you’ll see the names for the three meals of the day: qurs, mesa, erat – that is, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Across the top are the seven days of the Ethiopian week: Sanyo (Monday), Maksanyo (Tuesday), Rabu (Wednesday), Hamus (Thursday), Arb (Friday), Qedame (Saturday), Ahud (Sunday). The Ethiopian calendar begins on our Sept. 11, and it’s seven years behind ours on every Ethiopian New Year’s Day. The difference has to do with how Ethiopian Christians – who worship in the Coptic tradition – mark the Annunciation of Jesus. So whereas Zewdu published his book in 1956 on the Ethiopian calendar, that was 1963 on our calendar. The Ethiopian calendar has 12 months of 30 days each, and a 13th month of five or six days to even things out.

But seven days are still seven days, and Ethiopians able to afford it eat three hearty meals a day. In fact, Zewdu certainly wrote his book for such an audience. Literacy there in the 1960s was well below 10 percent, so only educated people would have read his book, and only such people could have afforded to eat as well as he proposes in the daily menu planner.

At the top of the chart, in Amharic, it says: “Yesament Yemegeb Seleda,” which means “Schedule of Meals/Food of the Week.” The menus that follow touch upon all the basic dishes you know from eating Ethiopian food, except perhaps for some of the breakfast entries, but only because Americans rarely eat breakfast at an Ethiopian restaurant (or in the homes of Ethiopian friends). Most days include meat, although two days are vegetarian.

Megebachin (1963)

Megebachin (1963)

To save a little space below, I’ll note here that every lunch and dinner menu ends with the same word: wuha – that is, water. It’s a great drink, but still, I’d recommend you enjoy your evening meal (or maybe even lunch) with some t’ej, the wonderful Ethiopian honey wine, which you can learn to make by visiting another page on my site.

One more thing to note: Almost all of the lunch and dinner menus include injera, the spongy Ethiopian sourdough flatbread used to scoop up the food. But some of the entries omit injera and just say dabo, the Amharic word for “bread.”

It’s not uncommon for Ethiopians to eat a leavened bread for breakfast: yeferenj dabo, or “foreign bread,” as it’s often referred to. This appears on some of Zewdu’s breakfast offerings, and some Ethiopians even prefer not to have injera for breakfast. But for a meal where you’re eating some kind of wot (stew) or tibs (sort of like stir fry), you need your injera. So I can only assume that the “bread” meant to accompany a lunch and dinner with a wot or tibs on the menu is injera, or else how would you eat the food?

In the menus below, I’ll write what Zewdu wrote: If his menu says dabo, then dabo it is. But I’d recommend you eat with injera if the meal seems to require it.

Here, then, is what you’ll eat if you follow Zewdu’s suggestions.

Monday. For breakfast, the day begins with a combination that you might have in any Western home: dabo (bread), watat (milk) and enqualal tibs (an omelet of eggs, onions, jalapeños and spices). Lunch will be injera, kay siga wot (spicy beef stew) and ferfere (fruit – apparently any kind of your own choosing). Finally, end your day with a hearty meal of merek shorba (a meaty soup) and atkilt wot, a spicy stew of mixed vegetables. You’ll eat the stew with injera.

Oh, and enjoy your milk at breakfast: It’s the only time you’ll have a glass all week if you follow Zewdu’s plan, although you will be allowed some milk in your coffee or tea throughout the week.

Tuesday. Breakfast today is a bit more spare than it was yesterday: just a bowl of qinche (cracked wheat porridge) and a cup of coffee with sugar. For lunch, it’s a spicy yellow pea stew (kay atar kik wot) and some Ethiopian cottage cheese (ayib), along with injera. Dinner will be a meaty broth (yesiga merek), yogurt (ergo) and some bread. There’s no injera on the dinner menu, unless by dabo (“bread”) that’s what Zewdu means. But then you could eat your yesiga merek with a spoon and just have some bread along with it.

Wednesday. Hump day is all vegetarian because Wednesday is a fasting day in Ethiopian Christianity: That means no meat. But the meals are very filling, so you won’t feel hungry. Breakfast is especially starchy and will take a bit of preparation. It begins with a kita made with gebs (barley flour). That’s a personal-sized pizza-like dish, the batter pan cooked and then smeared with berbere-spiced niter kibe, easy to make (see my Recipes page) and delicious. You’ll accompany that with a cup of tea with sugar. Lunch, too, is rather hearty: injera, a spicy vegetable stew (atkilt wot), a potato stew (dinich tibs) and a salad. Dinner is vegetarian as well: a spicy lentil stew (misir kik wot), collard greens (gomen), plus injera, and “one cup of water.” (Oh, go ahead: Splurge and have two!)

A drawing from the book:   meat cooking on an open flame

A drawing from the book:
meat cooking on an open flame

Thursday. Today’s breakfast begins with cheko, a spiced barley meal served, more or less, raw (that is, you mix the spices, niter kibe and water into the barley but don’t cook it). To wash it down, enjoy and bercheqo ergo – that is, “one glass of yogurt.”

Then, for lunch, you’ll sort of make up for eating vegetarian cuisine yesterday: The main course is yebeg siga genter, a mildly spiced soupy stew made with meaty lamb bones, along with doro wot (chicken stew) and eggs (a hard-boiled egg traditionally accompanies doro wot) – and then maybe your cholesterol medication! You’ll need some injera to eat it all, and sometimes, the yebeg siga genter is so loose and soupy that it requires fitfit (chopped injera) to soak up the broth. Genter, by the way, is sometimes called kikil (or qeqel), which is how Zewdu refers to it elsewhere on his week-long menu.

Finally, if you’re hungry again by the time of the evening meal, dinner will be bread, a beef stir fry (diblik siga tibs) and a tomato salad, which probably means chopped tomatoes, onions and jalapeños in a light lemony dressing (this is common at Ethiopian restaurants in America).

Friday. It’s another fasting day for Ethiopian Christians, so once again, there’s no meat on the menu – and an unusual vegetable to add some variety. For breakfast, it’s kita again, just like you had on Wednesday. But this time, you’re making it with aja (oats) flour rather than barley. Enjoy it with some sugar in your tea. For lunch, you have three stews, two of them pretty starchy: berbere-spiced vegetables (atkilt wot), fried potatoes (dinich tibs), and godere qeqel (or kikil), a dish of boiled godere, a greenish-purple potato-like root vegetable eaten in parts of Ethiopia. Dinner will be especially filling: bread, a lentil soup (yemisir shorba), plus beets (kay sir, literally “red root”) and a salad.

Saturday. Breakfast begins the day heartily with genfo, a thick porridge-like dish made by mixing flour (often wheat) with water, cooking it until it’s thick and sticky, placing the glob on a plate, and then carving out a hole in the middle into which you pour a spicy mixture of berbere and niter kibe (spiced butter). You then dip bite-sized pieces of the genfo into the liquid in the center. Add a cup of coffee with milk and sugar. For lunch, it’s a spicy beef stew (kay siga wot) and an accompaniment of cottage cheese (ayib), along with injera. Dinner features “bread” (injera is best), the somewhat bland dinich tibs (a potato stew) and a salad.

Sunday. Finally, you’ll get to end the week with some dishes that you haven’t had before. Breakfast is an egg omelet and a cup of tea with milk and sugar. Lunch includes doro wot, the special dish that consists of chicken drumsticks or thighs in a rich spicy stew, along with a hard boiled egg. You’ll scoop it all up with injera, of course. Then, for dinner, enjoy some asa tibs (fried fish), kay siga wot (beef stew), injera, and as always, a cup of water.

Brewing coffee ,  an image from Zewdu's book

Brewing coffee ,
an image from Zewdu’s book


THIS MENU TOUCHES UPON all of the most basic and familiar dishes of Ethiopian cuisine, and you can get almost everything here at an Ethiopian restaurant in America. Still, a few of my favorite vegetable dishes are missing. I especially enjoy tikil gomen, a dish of cabbage and carrots, and duba wot, a rich pumpkin stew. I wouldn’t expect to see inguday wot, or mushroom stew, a less common offering at U.S. restaurants. And how about a nice hearty besso (barley flour) shake?

On the beefy side of things, I can’t say I miss dulet, a dish made of beef, liver and tripe (i.e., stomach), but I am a little surprised that Zewdu doesn’t offer it. He might also have suggested goden tibs (Ethiopian short ribs) or a dish made with quanta, which is Ethiopian beef jerky, sometimes served in a spicy wot sauce. Nor does he offer any dishes made with tere siga – that is, raw meat, an Ethiopian delicacy. There’s no kitfo, no gored gored, and no qurt. All of this is fine with me – I’m not a fan of raw meat – but some Ethiopians might miss the options.

But the most surprising omission of all is shiro, the delectable dish made from chick pea or yellow pea flour, richly spiced and cooked in water until it thickens into a creamy stew. (I enjoy shiro so much that I did an entire piece about it.) Some Ethiopians consider it to be a delicacy, but others consider it to be a peasant dish, and I’ve heard stories of poor families who eat it day after day because it’s all they can afford.

Perhaps Zewdu’s opinion of shiro falls into the latter category and he decided not to include it. Of course, there’s certainly no reason why you can’t go off-menu and add it a few times a week to top off your meal.


SO WHO WAS ZEWDU TADESE, and how did he come to write this book? That second question may remain a mystery, but thanks to a stroke of kismet, I can answer the first one.

During my visit to the Library of Congress in August, I scanned Zewdu’s book so I could explore it more closely at my leisure. I sent a copy to my friend Menkir Tamrat, who lives in northern California, where he makes Yamatt Tej and grows various kinds of Ethiopian vegetables for his nascent enterprise to make more authentic Ethiopian food products (spices and such) in the United States.

Menkir knows a lot about Ethiopian food, but I couldn’t possibly have imagined that he knew Zewdu. And he didn’t just know him: The men are brothers.

Zewdu, left, and young Menkir, center, in a family photo  from around 1959-60  (Courtesy Menkir Tamrat)

Zewdu, left, and young Menkir, center, in a family photo
from around 1959-60
(Courtesy Menkir Tamrat)

A journalist and writer in several genres, Zewdu died around 2000 in Cologne, Germany, where he had lived for many years, working for a time for the Amharic branch of German radio. He published another book, called Tenachin (“Our Health”), as well as numerous articles.

Menkir remembers his older brother as a generous, eloquent, opinionated fellow and a sharp dresser who once took second place in a dance competition – and was disappointed that he didn’t win.

“He had taught himself how to cook over the years,” Menkir recalls, “living abroad and all, and had become quite a good cook. His daughter Esther reminded me of a misir alicha [lentil stew] he made for me once when I was visiting them in Cologne. Once in a while he enjoyed some tere siga [raw meat], and he knew how to pick the perfect cuts at the lukanda [butcher shop]. He was also very generous, almost to a fault. When in high school, it’s customary to hit upon your working relatives for a little extra movie money on pay days. I made sure I looked him up during those days.”

Now we all can share in Zewdu’s generosity, although we’ll have to do the cooking ourselves.

Harry Kloman
University of Pittsburgh

A FOOTNOTE: Just below is another daily menu planner, from the 1980 cookbook Ethiopian Traditional Recipes, published by the Ethiopian Nutrition Institute of the country’s Ministry of Health. The names of the dishes are written in English, so you’ll know the main meat or vegetable ingredient of most dishes. For things like firfir, fitfit, chechebsa, besso and dulet, you can learn about them above (except for siljo, a bean dish not unlike shiro). You can also click the image of the menu to get a closer look. As with Zewdu’s menu planner, you’ll find no beef, chicken or lamb on Wednesday and Friday. But you will find fish, which some Ethiopians don’t consider to be meat for the purpose of religious fasting days.

And in the 2009 Amharic book Megeb Medhanite, which means “Food Medicine,” there’s a week-long, all-vegetarian, macro-diet menu planner. You can view or download it now as a PDF, and in the coming months, I’ll translate the menu and present it on my site. It offers such treats as soybean soup, red sorghum and carrots, oat porridge, onions with garden cress, and lots of black tea with no sugar.


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