I love Ethiopian food—all manner of stewy, spicy vegetables and meats served atop injera, a fermented teff flatbread that’s kind of like a sourdough pancake and that’s used in place of utensils to scoop and to eat with. But I’d never tried my hand at Ethiopian cuisine until recently when my dad sent me a berberé assignment.
I’ve gotten to do some pretty cool stuff as a cookbook author’s daughter. I consider myself so lucky for it. Along with copyediting and searching microfiche, Pops has tasked me with making smothered steak and nopalito salad, experimenting with sourdough starters and most recently, testing berberé recipes for his newest project, The Hot Sauce Cookbook from Ten Speed Press (May 2013.)
An Ethiopian spice mix might seem out of place in a hot sauce cookbook at first, but as usual, he’s taking a broader, more cross-cultural approach to the topic (which if you ask me, is the very most awesome thing about my dad’s approach to food. But, yanno, I’m biased and all that.) Berberé is super picoso made from several different spices and chiles, and it goes into flavoring a hot and spicy sauce. So while not a fermented pepper sauce or salsa, hot sauce it is indeed.
To make berberé, you start off by blending several ground spices, many of them similar to curry powder. My dad’s recipe calls for ginger, cardamom, coriander, fenugreek, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, salt, and three kinds of pepper (black, cayenne, and pequin.) In Ethiopia, they use a native spice called korarima or Ethiopian cardamom, which is central to both the country’s cuisine and herbal medicine, and Indian long pepper, which is closely related to black pepper.
You then make it into a paste by cooking the dry mix with onion and garlic, red wine, and a whole mess of paprika, and then by dumping it all in a blender or food processor. What results is a thick, intensely spicy and flavorful base.
The sauce reminds me a lot of mole, thick and complex, layered with flavors and full of a burn that creeps in slowly and stays for quite a while. It can be added to veggies or legumes, like in lentil misir wot, or to meats and eggs, like in the Ethiopian national dish, doro wot. I used it in the latter.
Unfortunately I didn’t have any injera, which I’ll have to learn to make next.