Sunday, March 4, 2007

Adventures in African Cooking: Don't Taste the Berbere

Berbere is a spice blend used in Ethiopian national food. It can be a powder or a paste. I made the paste this past Friday, March 2, 2007.

Toasting ground spices, processing with fresh onion and garlic, adding a little water, toasting cayenne and paprika (which, incidentally, burns the eyes), mixing in oil, then putting the spice-onion-garlic puree back in the skillet with the cayenne-paprika-oil mixture for a final heat-through before cooling.

I made a big mistake. I licked my finger.


The sad thing is that I know better. WHAT was I thinking? I wasn't. Perhaps I can say it was a reflex action--a little smidge of something I'm cooking got on my pinky and... on the tongue it went.

I ran right to the sink to rinse my mouth. Best move. I didn't swallow it (thank God), just kept spitting.

The roof of my mouth burned for hours.

But the berbere is perfect. It's going to make a fabulous doro wat. Here's the recipe:

Berbere Paste
Combine in a bowl:

  • 1/4 tsp tumeric
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground fenugreek
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice

Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat until hot, then reduce heat to very low. Pour spices into skillet and stir constantly to toast. When spices release their frangrance, remove skillet from heat and set aside to cool.

This took me less than a minute. Other recipes suggest this takes 2 or 3 minutes. I say use your judgment--you don't want to burn these delicious spices.

Transfer cooled spices to blender or food processor with:

  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped onion
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp water

Blend/process until smooth. Set aside.

Wipe out that skillet you used for the spices above and heat over a medium flame until good and hot, then reduce heat to low. Add:

  • 4 Tbsp ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 Tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Toast over low heat for a minute or so. (Be careful here. These spices toasting burned my eyes!)

Add to cayenne mixture in skillet:

  • 1/2 cup cooking oil

Stir to combine well. Add the spice-onion mixture and cook over the lowest possible heat, stirring constantly, for about 5-10 minutes to heat through and combine.

Transfer berbere to a jar, packing tightly. Let paste cool to room temperature, then cover with a film of oil. Store covered in the refrigerator between uses.

Next time... the niter kebbeh.

Mrs. W

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