IF YOU’D LIKE TO BECOME an Ethiopian chef, these cookbooks will help.
My book, Mesob Across America: Ethiopian Food in the U.S.A., has a chapter that teaches you how to prepare a six-course Ethiopian feast. But Mesob Across America is not primarily a cookbook. These books are, and they offer myriad recipes. They’re available on many new and used bookselling sites.
Ethiopian cooking has long been an oral tradition, and it’s usually quite difficult for even the best cooks to turn their instincts into measurements and proportions. In the past quarter century, dozens of cookbooks have appeared in English and Amharic, some written by Ethiopians, some by Ethiopian-Americans, and some by Americans with no ties to Ethiopia apart from a love of the cuisine. Many of these more recent books are in print, and I’ll describe them below.
The earliest Ethiopian cookbook I can find is The Empress Menan School Cook Book (1948). It has two sections, “Ethiopian Recipes” and “European Recipes,” and everything in it appears in both Amharic and English on facing pages. The school, located in Addis Ababa, is named for the wife of Emperor Haile Selassie.
In his 1985 book Cooking, Cuisine and Class: A Study in Comparative Sociology, Jack Goody writes: “The cuisine of Ethiopia does not seem to have been elaborated in literary works. The only text I know is of recent date, impregnated with the strong flavor of ‘domestic science.’ The Empress Menan School Cook Book was composed from recipes submitted by students and staff of the school. While the total range of the recipes is not great, the sub-varieties of dishes are considerable.” He’s referring to the book’s variations of numerous dishes: five versions of “Meat Wat,” 12 versions of “Split Pea Wat,” and even two versions of shimbra asa.
But Goody missed a number of cookbooks that had already been published when he wrote his scholarly study. The Talent of Cooking by Mekdess Zeleke appeared in 1953 in Amharic and was republished in 1998 with a 20-page English-language section that contains recipes and a short essay on the nature of Ethiopian food and spices. The original Amharic portion of the book also has numerous black-and-white drawings of women at work preparing food in their kitchens.
And there’s also Ethiopian American Cook Book, published in the early 1970s, a wonderful artifact written to foster understanding between the two cultures. I’ll write more about this book below and include a link to a site where you can occasionally find a copy for sale.
Here, then, is a closer look at a wide variety of Ethiopian cookbooks.
♦ Exotic Ethiopian Cooking by Daniel J. Mesfin. This is the most thorough cookbook available, perhaps the best and certainly the best-known Ethiopian cookbook in circulation. Published in 1990, and revised some years later into an expanded edition, is has “178 tested recipes” along with tables showing the nutritional content of its many and diverse ingredients.
There’s a glossary, a table of measurement equivalence, more than 30 pages of introductory material on the history and culture of Ethiopia, and a center section with 15 pages of sharply reproduced color photographs of food, spices and restaurants.
“An Ethiopian man is always the diner, never the cook,” Daniel writes in the preface to his book,” which is now just a bit behind the times. “The kitchen is off limits to him. His woman doubles up as cook, servant and waitress. A woman worth her salt values her cooking no less than her looks. In fact, she is more partial to her cooking because she is socially judged by it: An unaccomplished woman makes her husband a laughing stock.” The truth of that last assertion depends upon where you are in Ethiopia: The more urban the setting, the more likely the cook – woman or man – might need a little help from a cookbook.
To add to the delight of the recipes, Daniel’s wrote a lengthy introduction that’s filled with history, anecdotes and insights about Ethiopian life and Ethiopian cuisine. For example: What’s the Amharic word for “wimp”? Daniel writes: “It is often the berbere [red pepper] that tells the story of a wot [spicy stew] and gives away a bad cook. Its importance and potency is so widely recognized that a derogatory phrase, ye’wend alicha, has been coined for a man who displays cowardice. [It] literally means a man who, like alicha [mild stew], has no pepper in him.” In English, that would be a wimp (or worse).
♦ Auntie Tsehai Cooks: A Guide to Making Authentic Ethiopian and Eritrean Cuisine by Tsehai Fessehatsion and Erin Peterson. This big colorful cookbook, with some thoughtful lessons and perspectives, uses the phrase “Ethiopian and Eritrean” in every mention of the cuisine, which leads me to believe that its primary author is Eritrean. Far more people know the brand-name Ethiopian than its northern kin Eritrean, but clearly, the author wants the two to take their place side by side. Her only oversight comes in not include a paragraph explaining the historic relationship between the two countries, which would explain why their cuisines are the same.
Another thing marks the chef as Eritrean: tomatoes. Many of her recipes contain them, something you rarely see in Ethiopian cuisine. This reflects more than half a century of Italian colonialism in Eritrea (roughly 1880 to 1941).
Throughout the book, the name of every dish appears in English, Amharic (the state language of Ethiopia) and, when the name differs from Amharic – which it usually does – in Tigrinya, the primary language of Eritrea. There is just one surprising exception: When discussing the essential injera, Tsehai never teaches her readers the Tigrinya name taita. I can only suppose that injera is just too well known a brand to contradict.
Tsehai’s book, written with her sister-in-law, has all the popular Ethiopian recipes, some dishes that we don’t often see, and some that seem unique to Tsehai’s culinary imagination. For example, there’s tempeh alicha (a mild stew made with the vegetable protein), tofu alicha, squar dinish betelba (spicy sweet potatoes with flax seed), and key gomen bekaria/keyh hamli ms guh (red kale and yellow pepper). These all come in Chapter 4, “New Sauces.”
But don’t worry: Tsehai has recipes for doro wot, misir wot, gomen, kik alicha and all the other familiar favorites of Ethiopian restaurants. She also spends a generous 25 pages teaching us how to make injera with a variety of grains, and then adds some creative recipes for using injera – like injera rolls and layered injera stuffed with vegetarian sauces.
Tsehai begins her book by explaining the spices used in the cuisine and some of its basic tenets. Onions in Ethiopian cooking come in three forms: thinly sliced for some dishes, diced for others, and minced into a paste for the ubiquitous wot (stew). This type of sauce is called kulet, a term she never uses. In the top right corner of every recipe, you’ll find one or more of four initials: F for freezer-friendly, G for gluten-free, Q for quick preparation, and V for vegan. This is a helpful addition, unique in the world of Ethiopian and Eritrean cookbooks, and Tsehai repeats the information in a chart at the end of the book that lists every dish.
♦ Taste of Ethiopia by Webayehu Tsegaye and Tamiru Degefa. Filled with color photographs of Ethiopian dishes, this nicely done book offers several dozen popular recipes, with glossaries describing commonly used grains, flours, legumes and spices, as well as the names for many dishes and ingredients in Amharic and English. There’s even a section of breakfast dishes. The authors published the book in 1991, and although it’s long out of print, you can often find copies on Ebay or used book sites (I’ve provided a link above).
♦ Ethiopian Feast: The Crown Jewel of African Cuisine by Mulunesh Belay. For many years now, I’ve searched for a cookbook written in Afaan Oromo, the language of Ethiopia’s plurality Oromo culture, but with no luck. This book, written by the owner of a restaurant in Bellingham, Wash., may be the closest I’ll ever come.
The author, Mulunesh Belay, is Oromo, as she tells us in her introduction. But “despite my country’s cultural variety,” she writes, “we Ethiopians are all bound by one great culinary tradition.” Given the cultural conflicts between the Oromos and the ruling cultures in Ethiopia, all off her kinspeople may not agree.
In any case, her book is very nicely done, filled with recipes from the basics (niter kibe, berbere, injera) to all of the favorite meat and vegetarian dishes. Every dish has a color photo to illustrate it, and her pages are somewhat color coded as well. She begins with a few pages talking about her culinary upbringing – she’s the oldest of 11 children – and then she explains some of the cuisine’s basic spices and ingredients. To make injera, she recommends using the Wass Mitad, which other Ethiopians have told me they like.
I’ve had Ethiopians insist that for a woman to be marriageable, she must be able to efficiently cut a chicken up into its component pieces, and Mulunesh’s book offers before-and-after photographs of such a chicken to accompany her recipe for doro wot. She includes such unusual recipes as an Ethiopian-style shrimp scampi, an asa (fish) wot made with salmon – most restaurants use a whitefish, so she also has an asa tibs recipe with tilapia – and lib na gubet, a stew of beef hearts and liver.
Her recipes are easy to follow, although I’d recommend using red onions or shallots rather than the yellow onions that you’ll find in most of her ingredient lists. In fact, that’s rather unusual in Ethiopian cooking. Must be an Oromo thing.
♦ The Recipe of Love: An Ethiopian Cookbook by Aster Ketsela Belayneh. The author of this big bright book owns Addis Ababa, an Ethiopian restaurant in Toronto, which she opened in 1992 at the age of 26. The photography is vivid, the recipes are diverse, and the author’s life-affirming philosophy winnows through the book.
♦ Ethiopian Foods and Drinks by Getty Ambau. This informative book offers more than a dozen recipes for main dishes along with preparations for injera, t’ej and t’alla. But it’s also about the nutritional values of Ethiopian cuisine, with chapters on the culture’s many spices as well as teff, the protein-rich, gluten-free grain used to make injera. Getty dedicates his book “to the generations of Ethiopian women who created the many wonderful foods and drinks we enjoy today.” An Ethiopian woman once informed him that a good cook “can make as many as 750 or more dishes,” an accomplishment achieved through the use of the cuisine’s many spices.
♦ Cooking with Imaye by Lena Deresse. This charming little book is as enjoyable for its anecdotes as it is for its careful selection of recipes. In her introduction, Lena admits that her mother’s cooking so intimidated her that she didn’t learn to cook her native Ethiopian cuisine until later in life.
“She would start by putting on proper attire: a sash for her hair and something loose and comfortable, often a pair of sweats, for herself,” Lena recalls of her mother’s work in the kitchen. “She then went through the painstaking labor of peeling and chopping what was often an enormous bag of onions. Afterwards, she would repeat this process with a smaller bag of garlic and ginger. Day after day, week after week, my mother would cook like this.”
Lena then offers a quick glossary of terms, more reflections on some key Ethiopian dishes, and finally, a collection of recipes – her mother’s specialties. Imaye is an Amharic term of endearment for “mother,” and Lena’s little book promises cooking lessons based on “insight, perspective and practical experience” rather than “an anthropological description of Ethiopian culture and customs.”
♦ Lucy’s Legacy: Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia. Recipes from Afar and Near. In October 2008, the Pacific Science Center in Seattle opened an exhibit focusing on Ethiopian history and culture that revolved around Lucy, the 3.2-million-year-old fossil specimen found in Hadar, Ethiopia, in 1974. It was the oldest and most complete example of an early, upright-walking human ancestor ever found. As part of the exhibit, the center published this charming and colorful little book that includes 16 recipes and more than a dozen short pieces on various aspects of Ethiopian history and culture. The title puns on the pastoral Afar culture of northeastern Ethiopia, although the book has no uniquely Afar recipes (if there even are any). The city of Hadar, where Lucy was found, is in Afar territory.
To illustrate the book, the center commissioned original drawings by four Ethiopian and Ethiopian-American artists. The cover was painted by Yadesa Bojia, and the Amharic words in the illustration are the names of Ethiopian foods and dishes. Inside, you’ll find recipes for injera, doro wot, shirro, kategna, tibs, kitfo, ful, chechebsa and numerous other dishes. There’s a page about coffee, an entry that describes the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, and a few Amharic lessons, including a list of the words for various food items. It’s a nice keepsake for Ethiopian food lovers, and Amazon.com usually has copies available.
♦ My First Ethiopian Cookbook by Jon Motsinger. This book is a great place to begin if you want to try cooking some Ethiopian dishes. The author and his wife, Jan, adopted two sons from Ethiopia, and to honor the culture, they scoured the web looking for Ethiopian recipes, which they put together in an e-book that you can download for free as a PDF from their website. The recipes are diverse and, generally, easy enough and thorough enough for a novice to attempt.
♦ Taste of Eritrea by Olivia Warren. This nicely done little book has an introduction about cultural influences on Eritrea and its cuisine, followed by dozens of recipes, many of them familiar to fans of Ethiopian food, along with numerous Italian-influenced dishes popular in Eritrea. The recipe for making beer – talla in Amharic, suwa in Tigrinya – is easy to do in your kitchen.
♦ Eritrean Cooking by Samuel Mahaffy. This little book offers a nice introduction to Eritrean cuisine through the eyes of an American who was born there to a couple who moved to Eritrea to work as missionaries. The book names most of its dishes in Tigrinya, the primary language of Eritrea, although strangely, Mahaffy teaches readers to make injera rather than taita (as it’s called in Tigrinya). He also has a recipe for a sauce he simply calls “essence.” This is kulet in Amharic or silsi in Tigrinya – the basic onion-based sauce used in spicy dishes. And there’s a recipe for t’ej, which is mes in Tigrinya.
♦ Gurage Food Preparation. I’ve included this interesting little book (pictured above) as a curiosity and an artifact. Published in Amharic in Ethiopia, it offers 46 recipes either unique to Gurage culture or with a Gurage spin on them. The beloved raw meat dish kitfo has long been a favorite all over Ethiopia, and the book includes instructions for making it, along with the Gurage version of niter kibbee.
♦ Sidama Sustenance by Donna Sillan. This isn’t quite a cookbook, although it does have a section of recipes. I’ve included it here to give it a nod. The Sidama people of southern Ethiopia, just like the Gurage who live near them, rely on the enset tree for a lot of their food. The tree has no edible fruit: These cultures chop up the tree and make a bread-like fermented food called qocho, as well as various other foods. Sillan’s book explores the Sidama “kitchen” and includes a recipes chapter to show how the Sidama use the enset tree for food. The book’s website allows you to read the entire book online by flipping the pages, so you can see all of the recipes.
♦ Ethiopian Traditional Recipes. Published in 1980, and written in English, this rare book from the Ethiopian Nutrition Institute has 176 pages of recipes, along with information about Ethiopian food and culture, and more than a dozen color photo plates sprinkled throughout the text.
The book begins with a foreword from Teferra Wonde, the country’s minister of health, promising that “the presentation of this standardized traditional recipe book is a milestone in the application of proper nutrition in that not only a vast variety of foods that can be prepared have been covered, but also the nutrient content of each prepared food has been included.”
In fact, each recipe features a handy chart with “analysis per 100 grams of the product,” presented in such categories as food energy, moisture, protein, fat, carbohydrates, thiamin, riboflavin and more. There’s also a “weekly menu” chart with breakfast, lunch and dinner selections for seven days. The meals add up to about 3,000 calories a day – about 50 percent more than the current recommended daily calorie intake for Americans, but apparently quite appropriate for Ethiopians in 1980.
“Therefore,” the book’s introduction continues, “if a person who has eaten 100 grams of injera, 200 grams of meat wot and 100 grams of vegetable alicha wants to know his nutrient intake, he can calculate exactly what his intake is for calories and other nutrients for the particular meal.”
Next comes about 15 pages of definitions, “useful cooking hints,” utensils used in Ethiopian cuisine, tips for storing prepared and unprepared foods, and the names of herbs and spices in English and Amharic.
Finally, the recipes begin, and there are a lot of them – everything from shiro and a variety of ways to make injera to traditional beverages like t’ej and t’alla, as well as all of the meat and vegetable staple dishes you’ll recognize from Ethiopian restaurants in the U.S., along with many that you won’t recognize. There’s even a section of color photos showing spices and prepared dishes.
This book is hard to find, but Mereb, the Ethiopian version of Amazon.com, has had copies available and can probably search for more. On the other hand, if you don’t want an original copy, you can just buy the “reprint” edition. Read on. . .
♦ Teff Love: Adventures in Vegan Ethiopian Cooking by Kittee Berns. This book takes a slightly different approach to Ethiopian cuisine: The author is vegan, which doesn’t affect her many recipes for vegetables dishes, including several breakfast foods. For the traditional dishes that use animal products, she’s adapted them, using spiced oil rather than niter kibe (spiced butter), or soy milk rather than buttermilk to make ayib (Ethiopian cheese). The book has dozens of recipes, some for rarely seen dishes like daata (a sort of Ethiopian hot pepper chutney), bamya (okra) and ersho (sourdough starter for injera). For the delicious beef dish bozena shiro, she substitutes soy protein, and a few other recipes use soy as well. Numerous rich color photos illustrate her dishes, and for each recipe, she includes a calorie and nutrition count. Berns is also the author of Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian Food, a quirky ‘zine with some of her favorite Ethiopian recipes (see below).
♦ How To Cook Ethiopian Food by Lydia Solomon. This book has more than 100 recipes (not 300 as it says at Amazon.com), with lots of color photographs of prepared dishes and nutritional charts for many of the recipes. Sound familiar? It should: It’s a reprint of Ethiopian Traditional Recipes (see above), but it gives no credit to – in fact, makes no mention of – the 1980 original published in Ethiopia, which says “Copyright 1980.” The new book’s copyright page says “all rights reserved, international copyright secured.” I’ll leave it to the lawyers to sort things out.
In any case, this isn’t a good book for beginners: The recipes are for huge portions of each dish, the measurements are stated in terms not common in America cooking, and some of the dishes involve ingredients that you’d only find in Ethiopia. But it’s a big colorful book, certainly of interest to collectors and Ethiopian food enthusiasts. The book is also available in a Kindle edition.
♦ Ethiopian Cookbook: A Beginner’s Guide by Rachel Pambrun. This is a quirky little book with some unusual recipes. You’ll find familiar fare like doro wot, misir wot, gomen, shiro and berbere, along with a quick preparations for t’ej (water, honey, white wine), injera (no fermentation) and ayib (cottage cheese and yogurt) that suffice. But then there’s the recipe for a chapatti, an Indian-cum-East-African flatbread that’s really just the Ethiopian kita (so why not call it that?)
Stranger still is a dish that the book calls “hot cabbage salad” in English and, right below it, “Moringa Stenopetala,” the scientific name for a plant that grows native to East Africa. It’s colloquially called the cabbage tree plant, hence the name of the dish – which is actually the familiar (and tasty) Ethiopian dish called tikil gomen in Amharic. Finally, the book has a recipe for the very non-Ethiopian tomato and cucumber salad, also named quia by Pambrun. That seems to be an Amharic word for cucumber, according to a book by the distinguished linguist Wolf Leslau, although it doesn’t appear in modern Amharic dictionaries.
♦ Yemuya Quncho by Konjit Zewge Hailu. This book with an usual history was once just available for Amharic readers. But now there’s an English translation on sale in America. The process began in 2000 in Addis Ababa with an edition, still in print, published by the French Center for Ethiopian Studies. That book has more than 100 recipes, all in Amharic, along with a foreword in French and a short introduction in French by Berhanu Abebe. The book has no illustrations apart from the color cover.
Then, in 2013, the author’s son and daughter, who have lived in America for decades, published a new Amharic edition lush with color photographs accompanying its many recipes. You can buy the book at a website they’ve created, and you can watch an interview with the author – who is now in her 90s.
Finally, in 2015, the author’s daughter translated many of the recipes and published them in an English-language edition. This book, too, has many color illustrations, and the family promises another edition with even more of their mother’s traditional recipes, which she learned while growing up in Ethiopia.
♦ Traditional Ethiopian Cuisine by Hirut Campbell. This nicely illustrated book offers dozens of easy-to-prepare recipes, some of them rather unusual. The author was born and raised in Ethiopia, the daughter of a man who served as an ambassador for Emperor Haile Selassie, and after moving to America, she owned a café in San Jose, Calif., that served European-style food. You’ll find some Italian-influenced dishes in her book, perhaps a result of Italy’s presence in the Horn of Africa for the first half of the 20th Century.
The preparation for each recipe is very concise, perhaps too much so at times, and she seems to like tomatoes more than I’ve seen in any other Ethiopian cookbook. She even says that tomato paste “is extremely useful for adding flavor and color to dishes.” In Amharic, Hirut calls it yetafach tematem, which means “sweet tomato.” Some of her transliterations of the Amharic names for the dishes into English are also quite strange. Her doro wot recipe calls for cut-up Cornish hens rather than the traditional chicken drumsticks or thighs, a choice that belies the book’s title. Still, the other ingredients in the dish are traditional (except for tomato paste), so it should taste fine.
♦ A tavola con la Regina di Saba/Dining with the Queen of Sheba by Teshome Berhe. The author lives in Italy, where he owns an Ethiopian restaurant, and his book features each recipe in English and Italian on facing pages, plus a 20-page introduction to Ethiopian cuisine in both languages. There’s also a French-English translation of the book, A Table avec la Reine de Saba.
♦ Laga Kryddigt: Etiopisk & Eritreansk Mat för Svenska Kök by Gennet Awalom. Here’s an unusual cookbook: It’s written in Swedish, and the title means “Cook Spicy: Ethiopian & Eritrean Food for the Swedish Kitchen.” Gennet was born in Addis Ababa to Eritrean parents, has degrees from Boston University and Concordia College (in Minnesota), and has lived since 1970 in Sweden, where her husband is a pastor and teacher. She wrote this book because of her children and grandchildren’s interest in traditional Ethiopian and Eritrean food, so she adapted some recipes for the Swedish palate.
Her book, which has many color photographs of both food and family, offers many familiar recipes – doro wot, minchet abish, kik alicha and more – but with all of them named in Swedish, as well as in Amharic and Tigrinya. And so we get kycklinggryta (chicken stew) followed by dårå wöt and tsåbhi dährå, which is how the Amharic and Tigrinya, respectively, would look in transliterated Swedish. It’s for sale online at two German booksellers: Amazon.de, which ships to the United States, and Buecher.de, which does not. And here’s a site where you can preview the book.
♦ Ostafrikanisch Kochen by Ketsela Wubneh-Mogessie. The title of this German cookbook means “East African Cooking,” but the author is Ethiopian, and so are most of the recipes. Every now and then, Ketsela offers dishes from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan, Somalia and Rwanda. But clearly, her kitchen is Ethiopian at heart, and she includes eight pages of sharp color photos, all of them taken in Ethiopia.
For the book’s many Ethiopian dishes, Ketsela give us the name translated into German, and along with it, the more familiar Amharic name. The recipes are all very traditional, except perhaps for a few that use cauliflower, a vegetable uncommon in Ethiopian cooking. Stranger yet, the Amharic names for the dishes using cauliflower (Blumenkohl in German) refer to gomen, which is collard greens.
♦ Foods of Ethiopia by Barbara Sheen. This book was written to teach young readers about Ethiopian food and culture, but it includes nine recipes, some of them very authentic, and some adapted for easier preparation (the kategna uses tortillas rather than injera). It’s liberally illustrated with color photos, and it’s a fine primer for young readers and chefs.
♦ Better Eat Well Than Sorry by Sara Gabriel. In 2003, 16-year-old Sara Gabriel published this little paperback with Ethiopian recipes along with some Ethiopian-inspired dishes. She’s the daughter of the owners of Zed’s, a long-established Ethiopian restaurant in Washington, D.C., that has since changed hands and is now called Das Ethiopian Cuisine. Sara’s book emphasizes healthy eating and offers recipes that use no fat, oil or butter. In her introduction, she says that she had recently lost 50 pounds, and she now cooks “the most healthy meals that one can eat without experiencing starvation, anorexia or malnutrition.”
♦ You Can Make Injera by Mulusew Yayehyirad. If this step-by-step guide doesn’t have you making injera in your kitchen, then nothing will. The author came to America in 1993 and now works as a nurse at a hospital in Madison, Wis. Her colorful book teaches you how to make injera and also includes some recipes for other dishes. All proceeds from the sale of the book benefit Clinic at a Time, a charitable organization the helps improve medical care in Ethiopia by funding clinics throughout the country. You can listen to the author talk about her life, her book, Ethiopian cooking and the charity in an interview she did in April 2011 with Wisconsin Public Radio. I’ve used the book to make injera, and I chronicle my adventure in a post on my site.
♦ Ethiopian Recipes by Hagossa Gebrehiwet-Buckner. Homemade food is always the best, and this homemade book – written by an Ethiopian woman married to an American man – has recipes, photos, and an introduction by the chef’s husband. It’s also available for download to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod.
♦ Cook Book by AACASA. Published by the Australian African Children’s Aid Support Association, this little book illustrates some of its recipes with step-by-step photos of the ingredients. Many other photos of dishes and ingredients, both in color and in black and white, accompany the recipes.
♦ Feeding Ethiopian Children. Alive & Thrive, an international organization that teaches people how to care for children age 2 and under, has published a book, in English an Amharic, to help the parents of Ethiopian children. Although it includes some meal preparations, it’s not really a cookbook. I include it here as a service, perhaps for the parents of adopted Ethiopian children, or for anyone interested in reading about child care and nutrition in Ethiopia. The organization offers the book for free, and you can download PDF copies in English or in Amharic.
♦ Not on Injera Alone: Nutrition of the Ethiopian People of Israel. This interesting cookbook is written in Hebrew and was published in Israel for the Beta Israel – that is, Ethiopian Jews, most of whom migrated from Ethiopia to Israel during two massive and dangerous airlifts in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The book names the dishes in English and Hebrew, and the recipes are all in Hebrew. You can download this book for free as a PDF from an Israeli government site.
♦ Ha-Miṭbah Ha-Etyopi (Ethiopian Cuisine) by Avner Clove. This handsome glossy book is written in Hebrew and published in Israel. It collects dozens of authentic Ethiopian recipes, and it’s sprinkled with drawings and some rich color photographs. At the top of each recipe, you’ll find the name of the dish written in Hebrew, followed by the Amharic name of the dish transliterated into English letters, and then that name transliterated into Hebrew. But the recipes themselves are all in Hebrew.
♦ For the Injera Basket. This rare cookbook was published in 1970 by the YWCA in Addis Ababa and features recipes for both Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian dishes – most of them European, but some Indian and even Mexican. Each recipe appears in a rectangular box, two to a page, that looks like a recipe card, and some of them feature the name of the contributor: There’s Mrs. Patricia Brumit, Gladys C. Lawther, Wzo. Tebereh Wolde Gabriel (meatloaf, tuna noodle mushroom soup casserole), Wzo. Esther Malaku (awaze and berbere), and even Ato Seisaye and his recipe for “hot rolls.”
There are sections with recipes for bread, cakes, cookies, desserts, eggs and main dishes, along with advice on menu planning, salads and salad dressings, high-altitude baking, measures, and “Ethiopian fasting and feasting” (hundreds of days for the former, but only nine for the latter). The Western recipes include such standards as meatloaf, apple cake and cole slaw, while the Ethiopian recipes are just as standard: There’s kitfo, doro wot, chechebsa and injera. You can also learn to make Ghanaian groundnut soup, Armenian fish, a tamale pie, and shish kebab. The introduction assures readers that all of the “receipes” are “suitable for the high altitude of Addis Ababa (7,500 ft.),” and if you want to bake at lower altitudes, “adjustments must be made in the quantities of flour, liquid and baking powder.”
So this may not be the most useful book for American cooks today, but it’s certainly an interesting piece of culinary history. The book mixes up the recipes: Two or three foreign recipes might be followed by two or three Ethiopian ones. The two pages of “menu planning” information discuss the climate on the day of your dinner party, the type of occasion, number of guests, age of guests, and even the texture and color of foods (“should not all be soft foods or all white”). One caution warns about the use of peppers: “Should be used sparingly, as they are exceedingly irritating to the intestines and kidneys. Moderate amounts to stimulate the appetite and increase the flow of blood in the mucous membranes and stomach linings.”
♦ Ethiopian & Foreign Cook Guide Book by Girma Bekele. The author of this rare and interesting book identifies himself as a “hotel expert,” and like Ethiopian American Cook Book (see below), the text is in both Amharic and English, with recipes for Ethiopian and foreign dishes. “Food preparation is a science that has been practiced for a long time,” Girma writes in the book’s preface, “now gaining attention, but not yet perfacted” [sic]. Part one of the book presents dozens of recipes and preparations in Amharic, and part two has the same recipes in English, along with dietary guides for people with such conditions as diabetes, arteriosclerosis and kidney disease. (Girma must have worked for a full-service hotel!) The non-Ethiopian dishes include caramel pudding, vanilla ice cream, Hungarian goulash, veal cutlets, French dressing and sponge cake. Girma also teaches you how to prepare a martini, a Manhattan, a side car, a bloody Mary and devil’s milk. Both sections also tell you how to select a good wine or champagne to accompany your meal.
There’s no copyright date in the book, but the back page is an ad from Ethiopian Airlines celebrating its 35th anniversary. “In 1946, we had a dream,” begins the ad, which means the book must have been published in 1981. Throughout the book, you’ll find numerous ads in both English and Amharic (or both) for Ethiopian hotels and restaurants. Girma also gives tips on selecting dinnerware, setting the table, and even arrange your guests around a table, with diagrams of the “T” shape and “U” shape floor plans.
♦ Ethiopian Cook Book by Zahmir Lee-Myers. This little book has 10 basic recipes, including injera, doro wot and gomen, and each recipe has a color illustration. It’s for sale, but also available to read for free online. The author, by the way, was 12 years old when he wrote the book in 2008.
♦ Ethiopisch Koken. If your native language is Nederlands (Dutch), and you don’t speak anything else, then this pamphlet with a few recipes is available for download as a PDF. It has recipes for such staples as injera, shiro, atkilt alicha, kay sir and even berbere paste, along with a short article on Ethiopian cuisine and some pictures of cooking in Ethiopia.
♦ Ethiopian Pepper & Spice. Although this vividly illustrated book has some recipes, it’s essentially a guide to the many spices used in Ethiopian cuisine. Written by Fetlework Tefferi – who owns Brundo Ethiopian Spices, a market in Oakland, Calif., that also sells on the internet – this crisp hardcover has many glossy color photographs of peppers, spices and dishes.
“Sheltered in isolation, Ethiopian culinary art flourished for centuries in the high plateaus and low rift valley,” Fetlework writes in the book’s introduction. “Each of the main culinary ingredients used in Ethiopian cuisine originated in different regions throughout the vast and multifaceted terrain. Ethiopian cuisine is based upon the belief that hot chili peppers are the basis of overall healthy eating. In ancient times, peppers were used not only for their nutritional and culinary value but were also considered potent palette stimulants and aphrodisiacs.”
Of course, some of this depends upon how “ancient” is ancient: 2,000 years ago, proto-Ethiopians in the kingdom of Aksum didn’t have chili peppers, which came to the culture around the 16th Century from Europe. But no matter: Fetlework’s book is an authentic look at the spices that Ethiopians use today and how they use them in cooking. There’s a helpful glossary in the back of the book, along with “fun facts” throughout.
♦ Cookbooks in Amharic. If you read Amharic, and you’d like to use a cookbook from Ethiopia written in the state language of the country, then you can find some at the website of Mereb, an Ethiopian version of Amazon.com. The company’s website has a link that lists its various cookbook offerings. They’re very inexpensive, although of course, there are shipping costs. Mereb offers good customer service and ships by registered mail, so you can track the shipment and sign for it when it arrives. The website allows you to search in both English and Amharic.
One such book is Y’Enat Guada, or “Mother’s Kitchen.” The last few pages have illustrations of cooking and kitchen utensils, along with their names in Amharic, but apart from that, it’s more than 350 pages of recipe after recipe from a variety of Ethiopian cultures, as well as numerous Western recipes, from gnocchi and lasagna to rice pudding and “party cookies.” There are two versions of this book in print: One with Ethiopian and Western recipes, and one with just Western recipes – both written in Amharic. You can download the version with just Western recipes as a five-part PDF at a website that’s put this and other Amharic-language books online.
If you want an Amharic cookbook with Ethiopian recipes, try Y’Ager Bahel Megebachin Saretan Enbeka (Ej Yaskoretimal), written by Sewnete Tefera and published in 1984. The first part of the title means “Let Us Make and Eat Our National/Traditional Foods,” and the parenthetical subtitle means “It Makes You Want to Eat/Crunch Your Hand,” which an Ethiopian friend tells me is the Amharic equivalent of “finger lickin’ good.” The book has dozens of traditional recipes, along with some nice simple black-and-white drawings. You can download it as a PDF from the website that posts Amharic books, most of them Biblical tracts, with a few cookbooks thrown in (so you can cook Sunday supper after church).
The same site also has a copy of Yemigiboch Ena Metetoch Aserar Zede, which means “Food and Drink Preparation Method.” It offers more than 200 pages of recipes, along with several pages of illustrations.
♦From Ethiopia to Minnesota – Recipes by the VanZila Wise Family. This book was written by an American woman who adopted two Ethiopian children. It’s not uncommon for the parents of adopted Ethiopian children to introduce their kids to food from back home, often in restaurants where other families gather – if they’re lucky enough to live in a city with an Ethiopian restaurant.
♦ Ethiopian American Cook Book. This remarkable little book – which is nearly impossible to find, and very interesting as a cultural artifact – was printed in Asmara in the 1970s (it has no copyright date), by the National Literacy Campaign Organization, to foster understanding between its two cultures. (Asmara is the capital of the now-independent country of Eritrea, but back then, Eritrea was a part of Ethiopia.) Half of the book is Ethiopian recipes for Americans to try, and the other half is American recipes for Ethiopians. Each page appears in each language, with the English and Amharic pages facing each other.
The Introduction to the book says it’s “the result of the combined interest and contribution of a group of American and Ethiopian women in Addis Ababa,” and the acknowledgment page thanks the Ethiopian-American Women’s Committee for helping to compile the recipes.
Clubs for Ethiopian women and girls were common in Addis Ababa at the time, says Wilhelmine Stordiau, who was born and raised in Ethiopia, and who now bottles Begena Tedj in Frankfurt. These clubs united Ethiopian women with women from other countries, and their meetings took place at the homes of the members and at the foreign embassies of the non-Ethiopian women.
“The hostess had to prepare tea, coffee and cake snacks,” recalls Stordiau, whose great-grandmother was Ethiopian. “The preparation used to take one day at our place, and the house employees, especially the cook, hated these days as it was a lot of work. After having had their tea, the women sat down to do some charity work: preparation of fundraising parties, making bandages for hospitals, stitching – and writing cookbooks!”
This particular book may intimidate the modern American chef because, it seems, the Ethiopians who contributed recipes didn’t understand the American supermarket. Pages 47 to 49 offer detailed instructions on how to prepare a freshly killed chicken for cooking. “Take off its head and the big feathers,” the book instructs. “Dip the chicken into a pot of boiling water holding it by its feet. Take off quickly the small feathers.” And so on, through 20 numbered instructions.
The book’s recipes are authentic and easy to follow, but don’t miss page 17. It offers measurement equivalents, so you can translate a recipe’s instruction for “two ladles butter” and “½ ladle red pepper” into more familiar proportions: “1 ladle = 10 tbsp. or ¾ cup,” the instructions say.
A page on the Ethiopian side offers the Amharic names for spices with their English counterparts, although two of them, “kebebe sine” (a pepper-like plant that tastes like allspice) and “hidar filfile,” have no translation. The American portion explains protein, calcium, iron, fats, carbohydrates and five types of vitamins, telling readers the foods in which they’re found, and recommending a daily allowance for each type of nutrition.
The American recipes, by the way, include egg salad sandwiches, tomato soup, hamburgers, brownies, Sunday chocolate cake, lemonade, crabmeat rounds – and a martini. Letenachin!
♦ Kagnew Zighini Pot. This very rare book is a collection of recipes by the wives of the men who worked at Kagnew Station, a U.S. Army installation from 1943 to 1977 in Asmara, Eritrea, which was then a part of Ethiopia. The book opens with a section of “foreign” (i.e., non-Ethiopian) recipes, followed by Salads, Main Courses, Vegetables, Bread, Sweets, Miscellaneous and Household Hints. There is, in fact, only one Ethiopian recipe in the book: the first one, and it’s for – what else? – zighini (beef stew). You’ll also find recipes for Yorkshire pudding, dolma (grape leaves), meatloaf, chicken divan, sweet and sour bean salad, and Gesundheit Kuchen.
♦ African Cooking. Every well-stocked home library of the ’60s and ’70s had something published by Time-Life Books. This popular series – which ceased publication in 2003 – traversed the world for its subject matter. In 1970, the series published African Cooking, which included a 20-page chapter on Ethiopia, filled with vivid photographs and historical information. The book itself contained six recipes, but the spiral-bound “Recipes” supplement, pictured here, offered nine more. The book even has preparations for berbere and niter kibbee, along with such favorites as doro wot, kitfo, gomen, shimbra asa, injera, ambasha and atkilt kilkil.
America’s first Ethiopian restaurant opened in 1966, and it wasn’t until the late ’70s that the cuisine began to spread. So this book may well be the first time Ethiopian recipes appeared in an American book. Copies are available online at used bookselling sites, although beware: You may need to buy the text and the recipes supplement separately. Be sure to ask which one you’re getting when you buy a copy. The cover of the recipes book includes a photograph of an agilgil, a round leather Ethiopian “lunch basket.”
♦ Let’s Eat (Enebla): My Favorite Ethiopian Recipes by Sari Nordberg-Tafassa. The author of this lithe and elegant little English-language book, which was published in Ethiopia in 2009, is a Finnish-born woman who lived in Tanzania for a time before moving in 1976 to Ethiopia, where she met the man who would become her husband (hence her multi-cultural surname). The book’s text is printed in script on glossy paper, and its pages brim with small, hand-drawn illustrations. Drawings of spices and other foods run up and down the sides of each page, and Nordberg-Tafassa even includes a page at the front of the book identifying them. It’s a unique and lovely addition to any Ethiopian cookbook collection. The recipes cover all the basics that you can find in other cookbooks, although the simmer sauce kulet – which the book calls “hot tomato sauce” – is something I’ve found in no other cookbook. Just be careful if you decide to make the lentil dish azifa: The author forgot to include lentils in the list of ingredients! You can order a copy of the book online at Mereb, an Ethiopian online bookseller with an English-language site modeled after Amazon.com. By the way, the “enebla” of the title is the Amharic word that means, more or less, “let’s eat” (or more accurately, “we eat”).
♦ Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian Food by Kittee Berns. This quirky and personal book – which Berns sells herself along with her other food-related ‘zines – has a few dozen recipes adapted from other books and tempered with the passion and experience of its author, who came to love Ethiopian food when she grew in the Washington, D.C., metro area some years ago. Filled with do-it-herself illustrations, it’s very knowledgeable and thorough in its recipes, which include many familiar dishes as well as preparations for berbere and the ever-difficult injera. She even recommends using berbere to spice up such things as chili, potato salad dressing, tacos and pasta sauce (something Ethiopians like to do). Just one thing to note: Berns chose her nom de cuisine, Papa Tofu, because she’s vegan, which means you won’t find any of your favorite Ethiopian meat dishes in her book. Her recipe for niter kibbee uses margarine rather than butter, which is somewhat unusual, so you may just want to use vegetable oil. That’s what most Ethiopians use when they make vegetarian dishes anyway.
University of Pittsburgh