Cultured Palate: International Dishes from Ethiopia

It’s never been easier to get hooked on Ethiopian food. The spicy, primarily vegan cuisine of this small country is spreading rapidly around the world, and it’s easy to understand why. Ethiopian cuisine is eaten primarily with one’s hands, and feeding each other is considered an act of love and respect. Sharing a plate of Ethiopian food with anyone, friend or family, is enjoyable. Let’s explore the basics of Ethiopian cuisine and discover some of the key international dishes that create Ethiopia’s unique culinary landscape.

1. Injera

If you’ve ever stepped into an Ethiopian restaurant before, you’ve seen injera. It’s a teff-flour based flatbread made of batter that ferments for a few days before being poured onto a metal or clay griddle. The resulting bread is large, circular, and dotted with tiny pockets made from the air bubbles escaping during cooking. Injera has a slightly sour taste from the fermentation, but it’s deliciously chewy especially when served fresh. Most meals in Ethiopia are served on top of injera, which is ripped into pieces and used to scoop up the food on top in place of utensils.

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2. Qocho

Qocho is another type of bread popular in Ethiopian cuisine. It hails from southern Ethiopia, where it was a staple of the Oromo people before becoming popular throughout the country. It’s made with mashed pulp from the enset tree, which is sometimes called the “false banana” plant because of its resemblance to the banana tree. The enset tree doesn’t produce fruit, so in order to make qocho chefs will chop the trunk of a tree into pulp, bury the pulp until it’s fermented, then cook it on a griddle. If you’re in Ethiopia, this is a must-try dish – it’s almost impossible to find outside of the country.

3. Niter Kibbeh

While niter kibbeh isn’t exactly a dish on its own, it’s such a staple of many beloved Ethiopian dishes that we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about it. It’s essentially clarified butter, or ghee, but spiced with herbs including fenugreek, cumin, and cardamom among many others. The result is a deeply flavorful cooking oil which retains the aroma of the spices after the solids are strained out. Trying to make Ethiopian food without it is impossible.

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