EPICURIOUS: THE CHARM OF ETHIOPIA

Published November 26, 2023
Photo by the writer
Photo by the writer

Nothing can beat the ultimate in comfort food — daal and chawal but I’d say Misir Wat, lentils cooked Ethiopian style with injera (a fluffy, fermented roti) come close. There’s something very charming and wholesome about Ethiopian food — its simplicity belies the powerful flavours it packs with a punch. Central to every meal is the injera on which the dishes are scooped and served thaali style. Also, á la thaali, you eat communally with everyone sharing the same big bread and the dishes it features —breaking off a bit of the injera here and there till it is all gone (and believe me it is gone very quickly).

Injera is made from a fermented millet-like grain, teff, which is indigenous to the horn of Africa. According to historians, the injera’s origins can be traced back thousands of years ago to Ethiopia. Like rice or roti, injera is a staple in Ethiopia, Eritrea and parts of Sudan. The other ingredient which makes Ethiopian cuisine so unique is the use of berbere spice (a blend of spices that adds a certain subtle spicy and sour kick). With its flavourful spices and filling injera bread, Ethiopian food is something that is sure to appeal to a Pakistani palette.

Misir Wat and Injera

Ethiopian food is traditionally eaten with injera. However, injera is made from teff flour which is unique to the region and hard to find in Pakistan. So I went with an alternative — a sort of dosa made with a mix of fermented white and rice flour. Of course, we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to rotis and naans so go with whatever you prefer or eat Misir Wat old-school as you would daal – with steaming, fragrant rice and a dollop of achaar.

Ethiopian cuisine, with its flavourful profile, is sure to appeal to the Pakistani palette

Ingredients
Berbere spice

2 teaspoon dhania/coriander seeds
1 teaspoon zeera/cumin seeds
½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
4 green cardamom/choti iliachi
4 cloves
5 dried red small chilies (with seeds removed)
3 tablespoons sweet paprika powder
¼ teaspoon nutmeg powder
½ teaspoon ginger powder
¼ teaspoon cinnamon powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 whole allspice berries (you can substitute with kebab cheeni)

Misir Wat (Ethiopian red lentils)

1 cup masoor ki dal/red lentils
2 yellow onions, finely chopped
3 gloves garlic, minced
1 tomato, finely chopped
3 tablespoons tomato sauce
2 tablespoon berbere spice (see recipe above)
Salt, 1 teaspoon or to taste
2 ½ cups chicken or vegetable broth (to save time, you can make this using bouillon or stock cubes)
4 tablespoons clarified butter or ghee

‘Injera’ dosa (makes 8 to 10 dosas)

1 cup all purpose/white flour
1 cup rice flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast
Salt to taste
1 cup warm water
½ – ¾ cup boiling water

Method

  1. Make the spices. In a pan or tawa, roast all the whole spices/seeds and the chilies and then blend in a spice grinder. Add all the remaining powdered spices and salt and mix well. Store in a clean, dry bottle in a cool, dry space.

  2. Soak the daal for half an hour before cooking. Melt three tablespoon of the ghee/clarified butter in a sauce pan and sauté the onions until golden brown. Add the rest of the vegetables — the garlic, tomatoes and tomato paste. Then sprinkle over one tablespoon of the berbere spice and stir well. Reduce heat and cook for five to 10 minutes.

  3. Make the broth. Add the soaked lentils and broth to the pot. Add the salt and stir well. Let the lentils cook on low heat while stirring occasionally. Cook for 40 minutes or until the lentils are done.

  4. Spoon over one tablespoon each of the clarified butter/ghee and the berbere spice. Simmer again for a couple of minutes.

  5. Make the ‘injera’ dosa. Activate the yeast by adding it to a cup of warm water (please note that the water has to be lukewarm; if it’s boiling hot, it’ll kill the yeast). Rest the mixture for 10 minutes.

  6. Now add the yeast mixture to a bowl. Then add both the flours and the salt. Mix well till a thick batter forms. Cover the bowl with a lid or plate, and rest in a dry, warm place in the kitchen.

  7. Once the batter doubles in size, add boiling water to it. Mix in and rest the mixture for 10 minutes.

  8. Grease a tawa with oil and heat it. Pour the batter in a circular motion and spread thin as you would when cooking a crepe. Cover the tawa with a lid and cook on medium heat till the dosa is cooked. Serve the freshly-made ‘injera’ dosa with piping hot Misir Wat.

Published in Dawn, EOS, November 26th, 2023

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