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Part 3: Ethiopian–a most delicious end!

2012 June 27

Wow…it’s been a while, hasn’t it? To be fair to me (and this isn’t much of an excuse), a lot has been going on. I’m currently dealing with the whole “moving halfway across the country” thing (for the next 3 months), so I’d say that’s a decent enough excuse, right? Sure. Regardless, I’m thrilled to be back on my home coast and out of the painfully slow Midwest. The alcohol prices, though, are sorely missed.

ANYWAYS, that’s beside the point. I’ve been putting off writing the final part of my Ethiopian food extravaganza, mainly because I knew this last post would be pretty massive. We have four recipes for this one and, despite the fact that the finished product looks like a cross between vomit and baby food, I can assure you that it all came out delicious. So, having said that–click below for the entire post!

Ethiopian may be one of the most difficult cuisines to cook–the sheer amount of spices that go into every dish rival, and in many ways overtake, Indian food. Most Ethiopian dishes use a kind of clarified butter called “Niter kibbeh.” It’s kind of like Indian ghee, but it’s loaded with various spices. There really are very, very few substitutes for niter kibbeh, so I did my best to recreate it. It was delicious, even if it was a bit of a pain to make.

Niter Kibbeh

  • 3 T. butter
  • ½ tsp. ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp. ground cardamom
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper
  • ¼ tsp. garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp. onion powder
  • ¼ tsp. curry powder
  • ¼ tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1 pinch ground cinnamon

–>So…the butter itself is actually pretty easy to make. I’d suggest having the spices pre-measured before starting. In a small bowl, melt the butter. Once it’s melted, stir in the spices and throw it in the fridge for a few hours (I did it overnight) until it’s completely solidified. Super easy, and absolute delicious!

 Another essential part of Ethiopian cuisine is berbere, a blend of various spices prevalent in most Ethiopian dishes. This picture above, despite looking wonderful, is actually nothing like real berbere. Although DC has a bunch of Ethiopian markets, Madison has none, and I had to take to the internet to find a recipe. Real berbere is mostly red, but honestly? This spice blend was great, and so was the finished product!

Faux Berbere

  • 1 T. paprika
  • 1 T. onion powder
  • ¾ tsp. ground cumin
  • ½ tsp. ground cardamom
  • ¼ – ½ tsp. cayenne pepper, to taste
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
  • ¼ tsp. ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1/8 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/8 tsp. ground clove (or additional allspice)
  • 1 pinch ground nutmeg

–> Mix everything up! Seriously, that’s it. Let’s move on to something a little more complicated.

So, a cursory glance at the menu of any Ethiopian restaurant will reveal a few things. Mainly, though, it’s that this culture is HUGE on lentils and peas. Well, split peas, to be more precise. Here are recipes for the two main dishes I made to go with the niter kibbeh, berbere, and injera–kik alicha, made from yellow split peas, and mesir wot, the classic Ethiopian lentil dish.

Mesir Wot

  • 1 c. dried red lentils
  • 2 c. water, plus more as needed
  • 1 T. tomato paste
  • 1-2 tsp. brown sugar
  • 1 c. filtered water
  • 1 T niter kibbeh
  1. Rinse and drain the lentils.
  2. Place them in a medium pot and add the water.
  3. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until tender but still hold their shape, about 30-45 minutes.
  4. Add more water as needed to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  5. Add the berbere to a small bowl and stir in the tomato paste, sugar and water…it should make a thin paste.
  6. Add this mixture to the cooking lentils and continue simmering until the lentils are soft enough to paste into a thick paste.
  7. Stir in the niter kibbeh until melted.
Kik Alicha
  • 1 c. dried split yellow peas
  • 3 c. water, plus more as needed
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp. ground turmeric
  • ½ tsp. salt, to taste
  • 1 T. Vegan Niter Kibbeh


  1. In a saucepan, add water to peas and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 30-45 minutes, or until the peas are tender but still hold their shape.
  2. While the peas are cooking, heat the oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until softened/slightly browned. Add the garlic and turmeric and cook for another minute. Remove to a bowl until ready to use.
  3. After the peas have been cooking for 20 minutes or so, stir in the onion/garlic mixture.
  4. Add the salt and continue to simmer the peas until they are very mushy and the liquid has evaporated (about 30 minutes). Stir in the niter kibbeh and adjust the seasonings as needed.

Serve both dishes warm, over injera! Oh, and remember, no utensils! Ethiopians eat with their hands and use injera to pick everything up–it’s a wonderful experience!

3 Responses leave one →
  1. Rebecca L permalink
    July 7, 2013

    Hey Dylan,

    I think I saw some berebere at Penzey’s Spices. Just FYI.

    • Dylan permalink*
      July 9, 2013

      Thanks! I actually brought back about a pound of it after living in DC last summer, so I’m still going through it! They have a massive Ethiopian population, so it’s probably a bit more authentic than whatever Penzey’s is selling.

  2. June 4, 2016

    Great article!
    Your photo and its’ source have been featured on the World Food Guide website

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