Dear readers, I have found the holy grail!
I have often lamented – as regular readers may know – about the lack of a usable Ethiopian cookbook in English. I’ve looked at and owned several of the cookbooks available, but too many ingredients are unfamiliar (false banana stem? woody hops?) and unexplained, and the methods are often inscrutable (why do I need to prepare fenugreek seeds by cooking them with onion?) or vague (“dry chilies in the sun or moderate oven until crisp and then pound lightly”). Though well-meaning, they weren’t suited for any but the most brave and adventurous cooks.
And then I found Teff Love, an Ethiopian cookbook that also happens to be vegan (and gluten-free). Which I’m not, of course, but I love having vegan resources available.
I purchased the book online within 90 seconds of discovering its existence. The day it arrived in the mail I was so excited! I sat down to look at it right away, and knew immediately that I had made the right decision when I bought it.
Kittee Berns has done a beautiful job with this book. Aware that the ingredients and techniques would be a challenge for cooks just learning about this kind of cooking, she explains everything with great care but no condescension. The chapters on Ethiopian stews, for example, start with careful breakdowns of ingredients and methods that apply to all of the recipes in those chapters. She also adds really useful suggestions and cross-references between recipes within the book: for instance, as fitfits and firfirs are scattered throughout the book, she provides a list at the beginning of the fitfit chapter telling the reader where to find them all. I wish more cookbooks were so thoughtfully constructed.
But what, you ask, is a fitfit? Or a firfir?
A fitfit is a class of Ethiopian recipe where torn bread – usually but not always injera – is tossed with sauce. Kind of a loose, savory bread pudding. Fitfits are served cool, firfirs hot. (The word “firfir” is new to me; until Teff Love I had only seen the word “fitfit.”) If you like panzanella or bread pudding – or, more to the point, the stew-soaked injera at the bottom of a plate of Ethiopian food – you’re sure to love fitfit. Or firfir.
This fabulous breakfast dish, which my sweetie rightly dubbed “Ethiopian Huevos Rancheros,” is a firfir made with kulet, the spicy red sauce that characterizes some of my favorite Ethiopian foods (such as the famed chicken stew Doro Wat). The sauce gets its rich spiciness from a hefty dose of berbere – you can order the warm and luscious spice mixture online (at Penzey’s for example), but do consider making your own.
I almost had a disaster when I first made this dish. Three of the four injera I had saved for it had molded in the two days I’d stored them. (Note to self, always store leftover injera in the freezer.) Luckily, I recalled that I had a loaf of sliced pumpernickel bread from Great Harvest, and I thought its sourness and dark color would be perfect. To my delight, they were. Berns wrote the recipe for injera or baguette, but I also recommend a nice rye or similarly sour loaf. I made a few other changes, adding some pigeon peas for heft and texture and a tablespoon of tomato paste for color and flavor, and leaving out a jalapeno because I thought it would be spicy enough and some coriander because there was lots of coriander in my berbere recipe. (You might add a half teaspoon of ground coriander if you use a different berbere.)
The firfir comes together pretty fast, and would be nearly instant if you made the sauce the night before and just rewarmed it before throwing the bread in. It’s a fantastic breakfast, hearty and spicy, unexpected and absolutely delicious – and it’s a great way to experiment with the delicious flavors of Ethiopia.
This simple recipe was designed to be used with injera or baguette, but I found pumpernickel rye worked incredibly well, mimicking the color and sour character of injera.
- 1/2 small red or yellow onion, minced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
- 1.5 tablespoons berbere, or more to taste
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste, optional
- 1.5 cups water or mild vegetable stock
- 3/4 cup cooked or canned pigeon peas, blackeyed peas, or chickpeas, optional
- 2 cups torn rye, baguette, or sourdough bread, or 4 small injera
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons plain yogurt, for serving, optional
- Sliced cucumbers, for serving, optional