Growing up in DC (home to the largest Ethiopian population outside of Ethiopia), I’ve gotten used to a city with a plethora of cheap and delicious Ethiopian restaurants. My favorite place is a mere half mile from me and offers up a vegetarian platter big enough for two or three people for ten dollars. So it’s understandably difficult for me to motivate myself to try cooking Ethiopian food. But I might not be in this city forever, and the flavorful filling stews and spongy sour bread has become somewhat of a comfort food for me so I recently decided to try my hand at making them. The very first step in cooking delicious Ethiopian food is the spicy and fragrant spice mix known as berbere. This deep red mixture is vaguely reminiscent of Indian garam masala with warm sweeter spices like cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg playing a role on top of spicy chiles, cumin, fenugreek, cardamom, and coriander. Berbere adds a large amount of paprika to these spices for a unique and unmistakable flavor that serves as the base for many different Ethiopian stews.
Ethiopian Berbere (adapted from Veggie Belly)
Yield: approximately 1 cup
- 1 Tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 Tbsp fenugreek seeds
- 1/2 Tbsp cardamom seeds
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1/2 tsp whole allspice
- 10 – 12 whole dried red chili peppers
- 10 whole cloves
- 1 1″ stick cinnamon
- 1/2 cup paprika*
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
*A mixture of sweet and hot paprika is ideal, but smoked paprika should be okay if that’s what you have on hand.
- Heat a non-stick or cast iron pan over medium high heat, then toast, one at a time, 1 Tbsp cumin seeds, 1 Tbsp fenugreek seeds, 1/2 Tbsp cardamom seeds, 1 tsp coriander seeds, 1 tsp black peppercorns, 1/2 tsp whole allspice, 10 – 12 whole dried red chili peppers, 10 whole cloves, and 1 1″ stick cinnamon. Toast each spice until fragrant, about 60 seconds, then remove to a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
- Grind the toasted spices to a fine powder (or your desired consistency).
- Stir in 1/2 cup paprika, 1 tsp turmeric, and 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg. Store in a jar at room temperature; this spice mix will stay good for 6 months but will decrease in flavor with time.