Berbere Spice Mix
If ever walking into a kitchen has inspired me to visit a country, pushing through the swing doors of Adulis, an Eritrean restaurant in Brixton South London, has managed it. The heat, the smell of spices and the buzzing activity were overwhelming. Various rich stews bubbled and spat in large pans on a roaring stove and the deep aroma of foreign spices was overwhelming.
Each of the vivid dishes looked like it had been slow cooking for hours, but watching one of the cooks prepare a dish from scratch, after adding a healthy glug of cooking oil and a heap of chopped onion to hissing pan, she went for a plastic jug filled with a dark contents. A heaped tablespoon of the tacky paste was scooped from inside and added to the hot pan, releasing a violent sizzle and rich aromatic aroma.
Asking what this scented paste was I was told it was berbere. Dipping a cautionary little finger inside I took a taste of the raw paste and my mouth filmed with intense foreign flavours. Cinnamon, turmeric, cloves, cumin, fenugreek, seeds.
The diversity of ingredients in berbere tell a story of Eriteras’ fortunate trading position, its rich history fertile lands and connection with ingredients and their flavour. Not dissimilar in flavour of consistency to a curry paste from South East Asia or perhaps a mole from Mexico, the berbere is used in much the same way.
It is used as a dry rub on grilled meat, but more often than not it is implemented to create a rich curry like paste in which lamb, chicken, egg and beef are transformed into rich highly flavorsome stews that are scooped up with tears of injera, Eritreans unique flat bread.
I was tempted to put another recipe on this website after our visit to Adulis, but after some thought and research it seemed that to understand Eritrean cuisine you have to understand berbere Along with injera it is one of the foundations of Eritrean cuisine and here is a recipe so you can begin to prepare some Eritrean dishes such as Tsebhi birsen and Tsebhi derho (spicy chicken).
This recipe will make a large amount of paste that can be stored in the fridge or in the
• 1 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
• 1/2 tsp ground coriander
• 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
• 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
• 1/8 tsp ground cloves
• 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
• 1/8 tsp ground allspice
• 2 tbs finely chopped onions
• 1 tbs finely chopped garlic
• 2 tbs salt
• 3 tbs dry red wine
• 2 cups paprika
• 2 tbs cayenne pepper
• 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
• 1 cup of water
• 2 tbs vegetable oil
1. In a heavy frying pan, toast the ginger, cardamom, coriander, fenugreek, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and allspice over a low heat for two or three minutes. Remove from the pan.
2. Next combine the toasted spices, onions, garlic salt in a blender and whiz with the wine until you have a smooth paste.
3. Now add the paprika, cayenne pepper, black pepper and the rest of the salt to the frying and toast them over a low heat until your kitchen smells wonderful and the chili gets to the back of your nose.
4. Stir in the water 1/4 cup at a time and then add the spice and wine mixture from the blender.
5. Stir vigorously and cook over the lowest possibly heat, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon for 15 minutes.
6. Transfer the spice paste to a jar and pack it in tightly. Let it cool to room temperature and then cover with enough oil so it makes a film about 1/4 inch thick. Refrigerate until ready to use. It will keep for a few months.