Growing up in Washington, DC, Ethiopian food was a staple – and I’m delighted to help you explore it (or cook your faves with top-notch spices).
In large part, Ethiopian cooking relies heavily on different spice blends, so that’s most of what we’re featuring here, to be applied at different points, in different quantities, and in different dishes.
In addition to the items that came in this box, you'll also probably be interested in making injera from teff flour (described in the Essentials post for this month), and you'll want some good salt and pepper and turmeric.
Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of excellent Ethiopian cookbooks (which is a shame!). On the advice of the good folks at Kitchen Arts & Letters, I used Ethiopia, by Yohanis Gebreyesus, as my primary guide. I've also heard great things about In Bibi's Kitchen, which is more regional, though haven't used it as much myself.
For the most part, while some steps might be a bit unfamiliar, nothing is overly complicated – it’s mostly a matter of putting things together in ways that might be a bit unfamiliar. And you can dial the spice levels up or down as you choose.
Ethiopian meals will often have several dishes, and usually they'll be of varying complexity -- so there might be one complex stew, alongside an easy bean dish and a simple veg or two (or much more!).
And don't forget to tag @Ben2Table on Instagram or Facebook with your creations!
Here's what's in the box, and then I've got a bunch of dishes and recipes at the end.
* Berbere Blend (Spice Tree Organics)
* Makulaya Wot Blend (Brundo Spices)
* Nitter Kibbe (Brundo Spices & Ahara Ghee) OR Kibbe Manteria (Brundo Spices)
* Mekelesha Blend (Brundo Spices)
* Awaze Chili Blend (Brundo Spices)
* Matafecha (Brundo Spice)
* Nigella Seeds (Curio Spice Co)
Berbere Blend (Spice Tree Organics)
Berbere is the most essential of the Ethiopian blends, and the folks at Spice Tree Organics have put together another knockout for us. Made with the right chilis from Ethiopia, plus Ethiopian basil and cardamom, this blend will underly quite a few of your Ethiopian creations.
You’ll generally want to add this early on to stews or low-and-slow dishes (though not with high heat), and you can also sprinkle onto a wide variety of dishes, both Ethiopian and not, as a seasoning at the end.
One fun non-traditional "recipe" I made was just to do some Berbere croutons with some crusty bread that was getting stale. Cubed the bread, tossed in oil, berbere, and salt, and baked at 300 until nice and crunchy!
I also had some leftover rye berries, which I sauteed up with some ground beef, veggies (carrots, greens, peas, celery), berbere, and matafecha blends. It was a great way to turn leftovers into something new and different.
Makulaya Wot Blend (Brundo Spices)
Along with Berbere, Makulaya is an often-used base blend for certain stews, especially Wots (like Doro Wot, perhaps Ethiopia’s most famous dish, with a recipe below!). Consisting of fenugreek, shallots, nigella seeds, and ajowan, you’ll add this blend in hearty proportions to bring a wonderful and distinctive flavor. In addition to the Doro Wot, below, this is also the crucial base for Minchet Abish (a ground beef stew), and pops up elsewhere.
With recipes that don't explicitly call for the inclusion of a Makulaya blend, look for fenugreek, nigella, and ajowan together as a clue that this would probably be a great place to include it.
Mekelesha Blend (Brundo Spices)
In contrast to the Makulaya, this blend is often called a “finishing” spice – it’s generally sprinkled on at the end of main dishes and primarily serves to enhance aroma (which is no small part of our impression of flavor!).
This blend consists of cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, and long pepper.
In addition to Doro Wot, you can usually add some of this at the end of most any warming stew, including the Minchet Abish below. You'll probably only want to do so with one or two items per meal.
Awaze Chili Blend (Brundo Spices)
This is a more mild blend of chilis, herbs, and spices than Berbere, and is often blended with honey wine (or honey + wine), olive oil, or nitter kibbe to form a sauce.
Matafecha (Brundo Spice)
Our final spice blend, Matafecha will find its way into many dishes outlined at BenToTable.com/Tips. It consists of black pepper, cardamom, fenugreek, cinnamon, cloves, and some additional herbs.
Check out the berbere section above for one interesting dish I made with matafecha, and more below, including a whole-roasted cauliflower!
Nigella Seeds (Curio Spice Co)
You’ll recognize Curio from some previous boxes, and you’ll definitely appreciate their nigella seeds! You’ll want a grinder to get the most out of these, and then you’ll never get tired of the flavor and aroma they add. Necessary for the distinctive raw beef dish kitfo, these also go very well on roasted meats and veggies -- including the roasted chicken with nigella and sesame seeds below.
It's also a crucial part of the Makulaya blend above.
Nitter Kibbe (Brundo Spices & Ahara Ghee)
Nitter Kibbe is seasoned, clarified butter, and is vital to getting the rich deep flavor of certain dishes. It’s generally used toward the end of a dish’s preparation – the base fat for cooking in Ethiopia is usually more of a neutral oil, with some Nitter Kibbe mixed in toward the end.
It’s a key addition to many Ethiopian dishes, though, like the Berbere blend, you can also add it for an incredibly rich flavor into non-Ethiopian recipes. In many ways, it’s like ghee, just better! The seasoning used to flavor it is called Manteria, and generally consists of Besobela (Ethiopian basil), grains of paradise, cardamom, ajowan (bishop’s seed), and Kosseret (like an Ethiopian version of oregano).
OR, plant-based subscribers instead get:
Kibbe Manteria (Brundo Spices)
This is the underlying spice blend mentioned above. To make a version of nitter kibbe with oil, simply heat up a bunch of this blend in a neutral oil on low heat for a while, and then strain it out with a fine sieve or cheese cloth. Then you can use a swirl of the seasoned oil at the end of your dish, in lieu of nitter kibbe.
+++Recipes and Dishes: Hearty/Mains+++
Kitfo (Steak Tartar)
This is one of my absolute favorites -- usually served fully raw, but you can also cook some/all depending on the comfort level of your diners. My family prefers it more cooked, so I went with half and half.
This is another one where I mostly followed the instructions, except that instead of the Mitmita blend called for in the recipe, I used a combination of Awaze and Nigella seeds.
This will feel especially rich and unctuous, so the pairings are important. I'd recommend the fresh cheese and greens with ginger, both below (the beet batons also work well!).
This chicken stew (with hard-boiled egg) might be the most famous Ethiopian dish. I used the recipe in Ethiopia, with two changes: I used a whole chicken, instead of just 2 legs, and in lieu of the nigella seeds, cardamom, and ground ajowan, I used the makulaya wot spice blend included in this box.
I can't find this recipe posted anywhere -- Saveur has an "adapted" version which is overly simplified -- so I've taken a photo, which is linked here. From the ingredients in the box, this uses Berbere, Makulaya, and Mekelesha.
Whole Roasted Cauliflower
This one didn't come from a book — I just washed and trimmed the whole head, and cut enough of the stem for it to sit flat on the bottom of my dutch oven. I then basted it all over with a rub of oil + matafecha + turmeric + awaze, and roasted, covered, at 425 or so, for 30-45 minutes.
Ground Beef in Spicy Fenugreek Sauce (Minchet Abish)
This one was a real winner -- and a great place for the Nitter Kibbe to shine. A couple of notes:
* Tej is Ethiopian honey wine. If you don't have access to any (likely!), you can substitue at a ratio of 1 tablespoon of honey whisked into 1 cup of dry white wine
* This uses Shiro flour (spiced chickpea flower), which was an add-on available with this box. If you don't have any, you can use another thickener like cornmeal or wheat flour, though you'll certainly lose a bit.
* If you don't have fenugreek, you can use your makulaya blend here instead of both the fenugreek and the nigella called for in the recipe.
* This uses beef, but you could certainly sub in a veggie ground meat substitute without losing much.
Here's an image of the recipe page from Ethiopia, and here's my version:
Roast Chicken with Nigella and Sesame Seeds
This is more of a modern dish from Ethiopia — I followed the instructions pretty much to the letter, except I used bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs instead of a whole bird, roasted more veggies, and only had black sesame seeds at hand.
Sizzling Beef Strips with Awaze Chili Sauce (Zilzil Tibs)
This one is stupidly easy for how much deliciousness you get out of it. Just cut strips of lean beef, and brown on each side. Then heat up nitter kibbe with a sauce of the Awaze blend + the honey & wine mixture described above, add the meat back into that sauce, and cook to your desired doneness (might just need another minute or two). Full instructions here -- the "awaze dipping sauce" is the awaze blend + honey wine.
+++Recipes and Dishes: Sides+++
An easy and delicious side is Shiro -- a smooth paste/stew made from seasoned chickpea flour. Shiro mitten was available as an add-on with this box, or else you may also be able to find some online. Two recipes for you to check out -- one from Ethiopia, and one from In Bibi's Kitchen. For the latter, you don't need to worry about any of the additional ingredients, as the Shiro Mitten flour itslef is already heavily seasoned.
This one's pretty easy -- I just blanched and chopped some greens, heated up a bit of nitter kibbe and awaze powder, and quickly sauteed before serving.
Braised Greens with Ginger
Also pretty easy — chop the greens, some onions, garlic, and ginger. Sauté the onions in oil for ~10 minutes, add the garlic and ginger for a minute or so, then add the greens, mixing thoroughly from the bottom to disperse all the aromatics, then cover tightly and cook for 20-30 minutes (you can add a bit of water if it might scorch).
This actually doesn't use any of the ingredients in this month's box, but it's a great and easy accompaniment to many items above, and *especially* the kitfo.
There's a great writeup here.
Braised Beet Batons with Jalapeños
This one's pretty similar to the braised greens above. Peel the beets and cut them into thick strips (think like a thick-cut fry). Sauté onion for 10 minutes, then add garlic for a minute, then the beets, salt, and some water (for a lb of beets, roughly 300 ml of water). Cover and let simmer for 45-60 minutes, until fork-tender.
Transfer to a bowl, let cool, then cover and refrigerate. Before serving, toss in some lemon juice and top with thin-sliced jalapeño.
This could show up on a table in a large % of the world — including Ethiopia. Just toss some tomatoes, onion, and pepper with a simple vinaigrette of oil, balsamic, fresh lemon juice, salt, and pepper.