Earlier, I posted a suggested method for Ethiopian injera. (I’m still working on getting it consistent enough to post a real recipe.) Injera, both staple bread and eating utensil, is critical for an Ethiopian meal. Almost as critical is berbere, a lush and complex spice blend that flavors many Ethiopian dishes, including the iconic chicken stew Doro Wat. Berbere is so delicious you’ll find lots of ways to use it: as a rub for grilled chicken or sprinkled over deviled eggs, for instance.
Berbere is not hard to find in specialty spice shops online: Penzey’s and Savory Spice Shop both sell it. (I like to shop with Savory because it’s closer to home, but the ingredients list on Penzey’s version looks much better to me.) But it’s not hard to make your own incomparably fresh and aromatic blend.
There are a lot of berbere recipes online. Though there are many differences, all agree on hot dried red pepper, usually cayenne (though I made a different choice). Most also agree on paprika, fenugreek, ginger, cardamom, black pepper, cloves, and allspice.
I started with a recipe I liked the look of from The Daring Gourmet. Ethiopian-born chef Marcus Samuelsson swears by dried onion, so I added some. I saw black cardamom in a berbere recipe and I have some kicking around (I like its smoky flavor), so I put some of that in too. The recipe called for whole dried red chilies, but I’ve had good success in other projects using crushed red chile flakes, so I used them. They have good flavor and milder heat than the cayenne often called for. I’d say if you decide you want more heat in your final dish, add the cayenne then. This blend is nice and spicy but won’t blow your head off.
The ingredients list is long, but you’ll see at the top of the recipe that if you don’t have all the ingredients on hand, you can leave some out. You can also halve the recipe – I doubled it from the original – but, except for shelling the cardamom, it’s just as easy to make twice as much. When you twist the lid off the spice jar and inhale your homemade berbere’s incredible aroma, you won’t be sorry.
In the next few days I’ll post a recipe Arne dubbed “Ethiopian huevos rancheros,” an egg-topped breakfast stew of bread in a scrumptious red sauce flavored with lots of berbere. It’s a great way to try the flavors of Ethiopia without a lot of investment, and will be the perfect place to use your homemade spice mix.
This is a flexible recipe. If you're missing any (or even several) of these spices - black cardamom, for instance, is not easy to find - you can leave out almost anything but the chiles. The result will be slightly less complex but still delicious. If the recipe calls for a whole spice and you only have it ground, feel free to use the ground version, adding it after grinding the whole spices.
- 4 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
- 2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
- 4 whole allspice berries
- 1-inch piece cinnamon stick
- 8 whole cloves
- Seeds from 8 pods green cardamom
- Seeds from 1 pod black cardamom, if available
- 1/4 cup crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons minced dried onion, optional
- 1/4 cup sweet paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons turmeric
- 1 teaspoon salt, optional