In my cupboard at all times are a few favorite blends to ‘kick my food up a notch’. Of these my long standing love is a blend called Berbere, pronounced ‘ber-beray’, a popular Ethiopian spice mixture. Berbere, thought to have originally come about as a way to save ‘questionable’ meat, adds an amazing multi-tiered heat to foods. I was originally introduced to the mixture while on film sets as a homeopathic remedy, and topping, to put on salads with creamy dressings that had been in the sun to long on catering tables. After several bouts with food poisoning I was willing to try anything. Armed with a salt shaker of the mixture I sprinkled a bit on my salad, what do you know this stuff tastes great! Hit the jump if you want to learn more…
An essential ingredient in Ethiopian Doro Wat, berbere is used as a rub for meats and can be turned into a paste for soups, stir-fries, or as a curry base. Personally, I use it in just about everything I want a bit of heat in. My favorite examples are chili, pizza, eggs, and even on french fries. The earthy blend commonly includes chili peppers, ginger, cloves, coriander, allspice, rue berries, fenugreek and ajwain. While it seems this mixture can vary in quantities of each ingredient, some can be left out or changed, the mixture of chili peppers and fenugreek seem to be essential to Berbere. Just be sure that you use a small amount and wash your hands after working with it, this stuff you don’t want to get in your eyes!
You can buy pre-made Berbere from most Ethiopian markets, but if you don’t happen to live in D.C. or Los Angeles a quick internet search should help you out. Should you fancy making your own Berbere, here is my favorite blend from The Congo Cookbook (link contains numerous pop-ups):1/4 teaspoon ground allspice 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional) 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander (optional) 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (optional) 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional) 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric 4 to 6 tablespoons of a combination of ground cayenne pepper (red pepper, dried chili peppers, or red pepper flakes) and paprika 1 tablespoons salt 1 teaspoon dried ginger 1 teaspoon dried garlic
In a heavy skillet over medium heat, toast the dried spices for a few minutes — stirring or shaking the skillet continuously to avoid scorching. Remove from heat and allow to cool. If making dry berbere powder: grind the mixture in a spice grinder or blender, or use a mortar and pestle. Store the berbere powder in a tightly-sealed container.Starting with whole spices, the various nuts and seeds and dried red chili peppers, then pan-roasting, grinding and mixing them will produce the most authentic berbere. However, perfectly satisfactory results can be obtained using already-ground or powdered spices.