Here are the top five reasons I love Ethiopia and find it one of the most fascinating places on the planet:
- Ethiopia is believed to be the origin of all humanity. Some of the oldest human skeletons and fossils, including the 3.2 million-year-old Lucy, have been discovered there.
- Ethiopia is also believed to be the origin of coffee. Coffee ceremonies are also really important to Ethiopian culture.
- Ethiopia was never colonized. It is one of only two countries in sub-Saharan Africa that was not colonized by Europeans, the other country being Liberia.
- Ethiopia might have the Ark of the Covenant. Consisting of the two stone tablets engraved with original Ten Commandments, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims to have it under guard (though no one really knows for sure…)
- Shiro wat! This is my all-time favorite Ethiopian dish and one of my favorite foods period. I ordered it almost all the time when I was in Ethiopia, and have memories of downing entire plates of injera with shiro. I’d best describe it as a spicy, creamy chickpea “stew”. Not only does it have complexity in its taste, it’s fast and easy to make!
The shiro wat recipe below is adapted from the Gourmet Gourmand’s version, which really can’t be much improved upon. It’s easy and can be complete in 20 minutes!
The two biggest struggles I had with this recipe were finding injera and getting the right texture. I visited the two closest Ethiopian restaurants looking to buy a side of injera, the fermented teff-based bread that is central to Ethiopian food, only to be turned down twice. I was disappointed, but since I didn’t have injera of my own and I couldn’t easily find it, I decided to cheat and eat the shiro over brown rice. Sacrilege, I know, but I really didn’t have a choice. Don’t let a lack of injera stop you from enjoying this food!
As for the texture, shiro wat should be completely smooth. Most chefs and restaurants do this by using a shiro powder, which only requires adding water. I did find shiro powder at Kalustyan’s, but it was $24 for a 1-pound bag (no thank you!) so I made it from scratch. The result is that it’s not as silky smooth as a version you’d get in a restaurant. I first tried it using a food processor to puree the onions, tomatoes and garlic before adding them to the pan, then I attempted with an immersion blender. The latter worked well and left some chunks of onion (which I actually enjoyed!)
Start by frying the onions, either pureed or finely chopped, in a hot pan without oil. After the onions start to brown, add the oil and berbere.
Next, add the tomato and garlic (pureed or finely chopped, your choice!)
Add the chickpea flour and water. This is a great time to blend your shiro if you didn’t start with puree.
Add the niter kibbeh (Ethiopian clarified spiced butter) and flavoring, and simmer for at least 5 minutes more. Serve with injera, or if you’re unable to find it, rice is a good substitute. True, you don’t get the experience of eating it with your hands, but I really couldn’t imagine dipping another type of bread into it.
Ethiopian Shiro Wat
20 minutes, serves 4-6
- 2 yellow onions, chopped finely
- 1/2 cup neutral oil, such as canola
- 3 tablespoons berbere spice
- 1 tomato, chopped finely
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup chickpea flour
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons niter kibbeh*
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- Pinch sugar
- Salt to taste
- Large skillet, saucepan, or stockpot
- Immersion blender (alternative: food processor)
- Bring your pan to medium heat. Add onions to the pan and fry until they become clear and start to brown slightly, about 4-5 minutes.
- Add canola oil and berbere spice. Sauté for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant.
- Add tomatoes and garlic, cook for 2 more minutes.
- Stir in half the chickpea flour, followed by a cup of water. Add the remaining flour and an addition 1 1/2 cups of water. Use the immersion blender to puree the ingredients into a soupy texture.
- Add the niter kibbeh, garlic powder, sugar, and salt. Simmer for 5-10 minutes until the oil starts to separate.
- Serve warm with injera.
*If you don’t have niter kibbeh, ghee is a decent substitute. And if you can’t find ghee, your dish will still taste good with butter, but it might not have quite the same taste as what you’d find in Ethiopia.