Berbere – Mild

Back when I had more time on my hands, I used to make Ethiopian food from scratch. The hardest part was the day required to make the two main condiments, niter kebbeh (spiced clarified butter) and berberé. But both made large batches, and they keep for months, so it was worth it to make up a batch of doro wat (chicken stew) or other food on short notice.

I’m going to give you my recipe for berbere. It is relatively mild, with a lot of flavor but not so much heat. The commercial version I’ve tried is far too hot for my taste, and this is closer to what I’ve had in Ethiopian restaurants. The recipe originally came from the Time Life Foods of Africa cookbook. It is a bit like curries, in that once you have the theme, you can vary it to suit your preferences. Tomorrow I’ll post a fast-day recipe using the berbere.

So, you need a bunch of spices, some red wine, and an hour or so of time. I prefer to use a moderate paprika, since you need two cups of it. Once you’ve gotten the basic idea down, feel free to experiment with hot, sweet, smoked, and different dry spices.

For two cups of the blend:

In a heavy saucepan (2-3 quart, nonstick is better), over low heat, toast: 1 t ground ginger, 1/2 t ground cardamon, 1/2 t coriander, 1/2 t fenugreek, 1/4 t ground nutmeg, 1/8 t ground cloves, 1/8 t ground cinnamon, 1/8 t ground allspice. Stir constantly and keep over a low fire until the spices are heated through. Set the pan aside to cool.

Finely chop two T onion, 1 T finely chopped garlic. Put spices, onion, garlic, one T salt, and 3 T red wine in a blender and blend into a smooth paste. (Or you can use a mortar and pestle, but G-d gave us the blender so let us enjoy it.)

Once more with the saucepan, combine 2 c. paprika, 2T ground hot red pepper, 1/2 t freshly ground black pepper. Toast as before. Add 1 1/2 cups water, one quarter cup at a time, then add the blended spices. While stirring vigorously, cook for 10-15 minutes on the lowest heat possible. Do not let it scorch!

Transfer the berbere to a jar or crock using a spatula. Pack it tightly into the container. You don’t want air holes. After it cools, drizzle oil over the top to make a 1/4 inch film. Cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge. If you keep the layer of oil intact after each use it will last up to six months. (Actually, it will last over a year. Nothing dares to grow on it. The flavor isn’t as strong, though.)

Berbere is used in a number of Ethiopian recipes.

11 thoughts on “Berbere – Mild

  1. Considering that the ancient Greeks used to refer to foreigners as “barbarians”, because their speech was incomprehensible to them, sounding like “bar-bar-bar” . . . could berbere be described as the spice that dare not speak its name?


  2. Wait, was that a barracuda being loaded in the carpapult?

    Sounds like a good project for a quiet afternoon, or a time to drive away rodents. I have some dried but unsmoked poblanos that might be good, after powdering them.

    • The more spices you add, the more liquid you’ll need to keep the paste from getting too dry. I like to keep a little water ready and add a teaspoon or two at a time if the paste seems to be getting too thick.

  3. Interesting, and out of my capability range, since I just go out for Ethiopian (and not that often)… 🙂

  4. OMG, it’s been so long since I had doro wat….

    (Uses search engine, knowing full well it is in vain)

    (Finds out there’s been an Ethiopian restaurant north of town for the last couple years)

    (Makes agonized noises)

    (Makes resolution)

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