Image: Tina Asher
Great wildlife, arguably the continent's most beautiful mountains and an extraordinary array of cultures all await the invariably surprised, impressed visitor to Ethiopia. The cuisine is no exception - this might be Africa's finest, a combination of powerful spices, garlicky unctuous stews and flatbreads perfect for scooping up hearty mouthfuls. The twin classics of the Ethiopian cookery are wat, traditional stews, and injera, sourdough bread - check out our recipes to learn how to make them both.
Ethiopiamay well be the Cinderella of the African nations: unstarry and often overlooked, but beautiful and utterly compelling for those who have the curiosity and sense of adventure to explore there. The food likewise: any visitor to the country who expects eating to be a functional chore will have their expectations happily overturned shortly after touching down. There's much to like about meals here, from the spiced-up national palate to the communal approach to eating and, if you're lucky, the elaborate coffee ceremony that can sometimes accompany a good meal.
These recipes are the perfect introduction to Ethiopian cuisine: the national dish of wat, scooped up in big handfuls with torn off pieces of injera, the ubiquituous sourdough flatbread that every home, cafe and restaurant in the country will have piled-high stacks of. Wat includes Berbere paste, a mixture of various herbs and spices, which some shops will sell pre-made, but which invariably is tastier if homemade. Berbere's main ingredients are chilli, garlic, cumin, paprika and peppercorns. Note that the injera needs to be prepared in advance.
Doro Wat - Ethiopian chicken stew
Serves four hungry people
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
1 tablespoon Berbere paste (an Ethiopian spice mix)
1kg chicken thighs, cut into strips
1 clove garlic, crushed
30 g fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
juice of a lemon
50ml seasoned clarified butter
half a teaspoon each of paprika and cayenne pepper
some stock - about a cup should do
1 teaspoon fresh coriander
Salt and pepper to taste
several hard-boiled eggs - optional
Mix together the chicken pieces, lemon juice and some salt and in a bowl. Leave to marinade - ideally for an hour or over.
Heat the oil and butter in a large pot over medium flame. Add onion, and garlic until tender. Add the ginger and paprika, stir and cook the spice through, about 1 minute. Then stir in the berberé paste and cook for another couple minutes - it should be releasing a nice spicy aroma by then.
Add the marinaded chicken pieces, turning them over occasionally as they fry until they are sealed.
Pour in the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Add a litle water if the stew becomes too thick.
After 30 minutes, add the eggs and cook for another few minutes. Check the seasoning, then remove from the heat and stir in the coriander. Serve with Ethiopian flatbread (injera).
Injera - Ethiopian flatbread
For the real Ethiopian experience, use teff. If that's difficult to come by (try health food shops) then other flours will do. If you're short on time, soda water instead of normal water can quicken the fermentation process.
1 1/2 cups ground teff (or same amount of substitute flour)
2 cups water
salt, to taste
vegetable oil, for the pan
Mix the ground teff and water together in a bowl with salt to taste. Eradicate all lumps. Set aside for a couple of days to allow the dough to ferment - this will give the injera its distinctive tangy, slightly sour taste.
When you're ready to cook your injera, heat up a little oil in a frying pan. The injera dough's consistency should be loose like crepe batter. Pour some batter or dough on the hot pan, covering the entire cooking surface. The injera should be thicker than a crepe, but not as thick as an American-style pancake.
Little bubbles will rise to the surface of the injera as it cooks. Once its top is dry, the injera is cooked. You only cook one side of this bread and you don't allow the injera to brown on the cooked side. Serve with the wat, and do as Ethiopians, forego utensils and eat with your right hand, and follow the meal with a short, sharp espresso.
If that whets your appetite for a little more Ethiopian exploration, take a look at our amazing adventures there, from hiking the Simien Mountains to spending times with the tribes of the Lower Omo Valley.