What’s cooking in Ethiopia?
Shiro, Tikil Gomen and Tibs
Rahel was born in Addis Ababa but raised in the Southern Ethiopian town of Awasa until she moved back to Addis for her studies. Shortly after her marriage, her husband got assigned to a job in Geneva. Rahel took her time to think about whether she wanted to move here or not, as she had her life and occupations in Addis and didn’t know if she wanted to leave all of it behind. After a year of travelling back and forth, she did decide to join her husband in Geneva. Rahel takes some time here to work on her thesis, and is looking forward to explore Switzerland with her husband on the weekends.
About Ethiopia and its cuisine
Ethiopia is a very diverse country with more than 80 different ethnicities. The ethnicities have different languages, traditions, music, and ways of cooking. A common language is Amharic, which is the working language and the language children learn in school. Despite the various differences and traditions, everyone eats the dish we will make today, with different sauces (according to the region, the ingredients may vary a bit) beautifully put on an Ethiopian pancake, called ‘Injera’.
Rahel was taught to cook Ethiopian dishes by her mother. ‘The most important ingredients in Ethiopian cuisine are onions and garlic’, she says, ‘the more the merrier’. She offers me a drink called Tej, which is a honey wine served to welcome guests. In the generation of her parents, everyone always had Tej at their homes. Another important drink in Ethiopia is coffee, which even has its own ceremony! According to Rahel coffee actually has its origin in Ethiopia! But let’s talk about the dish first 😊.
Music tip: When I arrive at Rahel’s home, she has some Ethiopian music on. I also show her which Ethiopian song we like to listen to at home: ‘Enkèn Yèlélèbesh’ meaning ‘Spotless’ by the Ethiopian singers Girma Bèyènè & Akalé Wubé. Rahel says this song is very known in Ethiopia and it is a remake of a song of Mr Bèyenè’s father, who was a singer as well, (Youtube link to the song). In case you will try out the recipe, I would recommend you to listen to this happy song while cooking!
What’s cooking in Ethiopia?
Depending on the part of the region you live in there are various type of dishes in Ethiopia. But today we will be preparing the most common Ethiopian dishes which all kinds of eaters can enjoy.
Shiro, Tikil Gomen (cabbage, vegetarian) and Tibs (meat)
These 3 different ‘sauces’ are beautifully displayed on a big plate on top of the Injera, the Ethiopian pancake. You can always choose whether you make vegetarian, or meat sauces, and you can also vary the type of meat you will use according to your own liking. In order for everything to be warm when you serve it, Rahel cooks the 2 sauces at the same time, and keeps them warm until the meat is also finished.
Cooking time: about one hour.
Necessary ingredient: Injera. Rahel buys this in a specialized store in Geneva.
Shiro sauce (vegetarian):
There are two types of Shiro, one is made with Berbere (spicy pepper powder) which will color the sauce red, and the other one is more of a cream color, and then you would add Spanish peppers to spice it up. You can put meat and/or butter to your liking as well.
Cooking time: one hour is needed for both sauces and the meat.
Ingredients (serves 4):
- 3 onions, chopped up
- Oil, for instance sunflower oil, olive ( any type of oil could work)
- 2 big teaspoons of Shiro flour (bought in the Ethiopian store)
- 2 big teaspoons of spicy pepper powder, (Berbere from the Ethiopian store, or otherwise any other spicy pepper powder)
- 3 cloves of garlic, cut into small pieces, or crushed
- 3 tomatoes
- A bit of warm water
- Black pepper and salt
- Butter ( optional)
How to prepare vegetarian Shiro sauce:
- Chop up the onion.
- Fry the onion in a bit of oil on medium heat until nicely browned, keep stirring so it doesn’t burn.
- Cut the tomatoes into small pieces, and add them to the onions. Tomatoes will make the sauce milder, so if you like less spicy, you can add more tomatoes.
- Once the mixture is nicely cooked and brown you add the spicy pepper powder.
- Then you add a bit of warm water so that the mixture won’t burn.
- Keep stirring and add a bit of black pepper and some more water if necessary.
- Let the sauce cook for a while and keep looking if it needs a bit more water or not.
- When it has been cooking for a few minutes, add the garlic.
- After 2 more minutes, you add the Shiro flour.
- Keep stirring so that there are no lumps.
- If necessary, for the consistency of the sauce, add a bit more warm water.
- Add a bit of salt to taste and put the cover on the pot. You can leave it on medium fire. The sauce will get thicker.
- After 5 more minutes Rahel adds a big tablespoon of butter. She uses a special spicy butter from Ethiopia. If you don’t have this you can use normal butter.
- You will know that your sauce is done cooking when the oil separates from the sauce and floats on top on the sides of your pot.
- Put your sauce aside, off of the heat, until you are ready to assemble the dish.
Tikil Gomen (cabbage):
- Half a cabbage cut into pieces
- 2 onions, chopped
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, cut into pieces or crushed
- 2 tomatoes
- 2 Spanish peppers
- A half a teaspoon of curry powder.
Optional ingredients: carrots or potatoes. If you choose to add these, you add them before adding the cabbage
- Fry the onion in a bit of oil until they are brown.
- Add the tomatoes, cut into small pieces.
- Stir and cook for 2 minutes and then add the garlic.
- Cook again for a few minutes and add the curry powder and some salt to taste.
- Keep stirring.
- Once it looks nicely cooked, you add the cabbage and stir to mix the cabbage with the sauce.
- The cabbage will shrink while it cooks.
- Leave it to cook on medium heat.
- After about 15 minutes you can taste the cabbage to see if you like the way it is cooked. Rahel likes it when it is still a bit crispy, but others prefer when it is very soft.
- You then put the cabbage aside until you are ready to assemble the plate.
The third ingredient to put on our pancake is Tibs (meat):
Tibs can either be made with sauce, or without. Since we already have 2 different sauces, we will prepare the meat without a sauce.
- 500 gr of beef (or goat or lamb, which ever one you like)
- 2 onions cut into slices
- 5 cloves of garlic, cut into pieces or crushed
- A bit of Rosemary
- 1 tomato, cut into pieces
How to proceed:
- Cook the meat without adding butter or oil.
- Once the meat is cooked, add the onion and then the garlic.
- Cook it for a few minutes and add the tomato.
- Cook again for a few minutes and add 2 big teaspoons of butter (Rahel uses the Ethiopian butter).
- Cut open a Spanish pepper and remove its seeds and membranes.
- Cut into pieces and add it to the meat.
You are now ready to assemble the dish. On your biggest plate, fold the Injera open, and add the different sauces and meat, and make sure you put something on each side, so that it can easily be reached for everyone. The dish is eaten by taking a bit of the Injera and use it to take sauce and meat with it and with your hands.
On the photo of our dish, you also see a 4th sauce, called Doro wet (chicken sauce) which Rahel had already prepared in advance and which takes quite long to prepare.
Rahel has kindly prepared for a coffee ceremony which is traditional to Ethiopia. She says nowadays people are too busy to keep doing this, but they still do it on Sundays. You should not be in a hurry for the coffee ceremony, as you should at least drink 3 cups of coffee.
I feel honored when Rahel puts on traditional coffee ceremony clothes and starts to roast coffee beans on her kitchen stove. ‘Normally, the beans are roasted on charcoal’ she says, and the roasting of the coffee is all part of the ceremony. Once the beans are roasted, they make the guest smell the beans, which is part of the ceremony. I personally love the smell of coffee beans, so I am quite happy when this delicious smell fills up Rahel’s kitchen! In the meanwhile, water is boiled on the stove in a traditional coffee pot. Rahel mixes the roasted beans in a small mixer and adds the coffee into the pot. She pours it several times into a small cup for the coffee to mix well. Out of this pot, we drink our first two cups of coffee, after which the coffee is heated again while adding water, and then the third cup of coffee is served. The taste of the coffee is really very good and so I happily drink my third cup!
Thank you so much Rahel for everything you have shared with us! The recipes, and stories about your culture!
For Genevians: the address of the Ethiopian supermarket is: Rue de la Prairie 23 in Geneva.