Sunday, August 21, 2005

TAGS food

Berbere on Injera

I rarely write about recipes for a couple of reasons: (-1-) I'm not good at keeping a record (measures, notes, images) of what I'm doing when I cook and (-2-) I rarely follow recipes.  Instead, I work with what I've got on hand, and as often as it turns out great, it turns out, well, just so-so.  Berbere sauce, the Ethiopian treat E. taught me how to make, might be one of the few exceptions in terms of consistency.  When I make it, I'm generally satisfied with the results; it's not easy to make it badly, in other words.  And so, because I'm making berbere sauce for topping the injera we carried home from Rochester Friday, I thought to break down the rough process I follow, blog the making of this stuff (because I'm crazy about it, and I mention it here at least once a month).

First, close the doors to all non-vital rooms.  The onions can be overpowering, and they'll linger in your clothes, seep from your pores, and make you think you smell of them for at least at day.  Obviously the more fresh air circulating around your cooking space, the better.

Here's what I'm using to cook for the three of us (D., Ph. and me) plus company.  You should know, too, that I like to carry this stuff forward for a couple of meals, so I cook to have leftovers.  This amount should last at least two meals, maybe three--for three people.  So, serves nine or so?

Today, I'm using six fist-sized yellow onions, two small tomatoes, two boneless chicken breasts, a small can of tomato paste, a cup+ of vegetable oil and a basic mix of seasonings: salt, garlic powder, seasoned salt, and berbere powder.  Berbere powder is a mix of roasted spices; you can order it online or pick it up from a specialty foods shop. You can make the sauce without the chicken or substitute chicken for beef (chunkable beef rather than hamburger).  The tomato paste is also optional.  It thickens the sauce and deepens its red color, but what it adds in terms of flavor is negligible in my opinion.

  Chicken and Onions Ingredients

To begin, in a large pot, heat the oil.  I usually start with about a cup, then add depending on whether it looks like enough.  Basically, my gauge is that the onions should seem thoroughly oiled while cooking.  Heat the oil, then add the chopped onions.  I halve the onions and use a food processor to break them down into small pieces.  Lately, I've been starting with room-temperature onions, chopping them in the processor, then putting them in the refrigerator for a few hours.  When the come out of the refrigerator, their liquid is somewhat separated and easy to drain.  This makes for a drier start to the process, but it boosts the capillary effect of the onions as they mix with the oil (and eventually the spices), so as they emulsify, they pick up a nicer flavor--or so I like to think, whether or not the science holds up.

Tomatoes Oil in Pan

Okay.  The oil is heated.  You've added the chopped onions.  Stir it regularly over high heat for about twenty minutes.  Add a small bit of water if it seems too thick or prone to burning (lower the heat just a bit, too).  Next, add a teaspoon of garlic powder, a teaspoon of seasoned salt (regular salt will work too), and a heaping tablespoon of berbere powder.  Also drop in the tomatoes.  I halve the tomatoes then slice them thin; you can use one tomato or two.  Stir, stir, stir, reduce the heat just a small bit, and continue to cook/stir for another ten minutes.

Onions and Oil Berbere Powder

Add the chicken.  Stir, stir.  Reduce the heat just a bit.  Then let it cook.  Maybe a half hour.

Everything Except Meat On Injera

So the actual cooking part takes about an hour.  You can cook it longer; it only improves the flavor of the chicken.  What you have will be a chili-like consistency--a berbere sauce ready for putting atop spaghetti or injera.  If you want to make this more like Doro W'et, you can add a couple of whole boiled eggs with slits in the sides (add them around the same time as the meat...after the sauce is relatively well established).  And you could use bone-in chicken, but that would probably add ten or fifteen minutes to the cook time.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at August 21, 2005 9:15 PM to Gobstuff

Speaking as "company," I can verify the relative quality of the process outlined above...yum!

Posted by: collin at August 22, 2005 8:20 AM

Oooh, thanks for this. I’ve been meaning to get around to learning since early summer.

Posted by: Krista Kennedy at August 22, 2005 8:57 AM

Have you ever made injera? I'd be curious to know how.

Posted by: joanna at August 22, 2005 11:37 AM

Glad you thought it turned out okay, Collin. I'm really tempted to put out an open invitation to the CCR listserv establishing that I'll cook the w'et sauce if somebody else will drive to Rochester to bring fresh injera. If only I could have it couriered to my front door...

I hope you'll let me know how it turns out if you try it, Krista. Oh, and all of the berbere spice online seems expensive to me. At Ethiomart in Shawnee Mission, Kan. (far from Minn.?), I think it comes in a one pound bag for somewhere around $20-30. But I could be wrong about that.

I haven't ever tried to make the injera, Joanna. Actually, I've been discouraged from attempting it because it involves a few days of fermenting the batter. After that, it's something like cooking a one-sided pancake on low heat. The taxi driver in March tried to convince me that I could just use some kind of pancake mix and yeast, blend it to a soupy consistency, then pour it on a low-heat griddle.

Posted by: Derek at August 22, 2005 4:07 PM

Have you seen this recipe, Derek? They advise letting the batter sit for 24 hours. Their berbere is (relatively) cheap, too; and they'll send you 2-day delivery injera. I haven't made Doro Wot in a while because of all the spice preparation (berbere + niter kebeh from scratch is a bit of work), but now that I've just ordered a pound of berbere (and your post having gotten me longing for Fasika's or Dukem), putting together a little spiced clarified butter is starting to look like less of a difficulty and more of an imperative.

Posted by: Mike at August 22, 2005 5:50 PM

I'm grateful for these links, Mike. I haven't looked at this recipe in particular, but I like to think I'll have time for attempting a batch of injera sometime this fall. My friend E. in Kansas City swears by the clarified butter; he keeps a large container of it in his freezer just for making the sauce, and I think he gets it quite easily when he visits D.C. My recipe here is a kind of making do version of Ethiopian food--good enough to tide me over until I can get the really good stuff. We eat this stuff on spaghetti probably twice a month during the winter.

Posted by: Derek at August 22, 2005 6:01 PM

Looks like you CAN get fresh injera delivered to your doorstep now. It's always been the thing keeping me from cooking Ethiopian food, but now I'll try ;) Search the internet for "fresh injera" or try this link.

Posted by: Angela Percival at September 13, 2005 4:49 PM

Wow. That's terrific, Angela. Thanks for the link. I will definitely place an order soon to see if it's good stuff. The price definitely seems reasonable.

Posted by: Derek at September 13, 2005 7:26 PM