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Ethiopian Cuisine

If you enjoy exotic and spicy flavors, then Ethiopian food may soon join your list of dine out favorites. The cooking of the oldest independent country in Africa stars an array of spices that give its stews, sautéed meats, and vegetable dishes a deep, rich, aromatic, oft-times fiery taste. Ethiopian cuisine also features its own distinctive bread.

“It’s very authentic,” explains Zed Wondemu, who has owned the upscale namesake restaurant Zed’s in Washington, D.C. for 17 years. “The country and the culture have a history of more than 3,000 years.”

Ethiopian cooking hasn’t been influenced by other cultures, Wondemu continues. “It’s like an art. It takes a long time to fix the food.”


At the heart of Ethiopian cooking is injera, a flat bread that looks like a large pancake but has a spongy texture and a tangy taste reminiscent of sour dough. Injera is made from a tiny, highly nutritious grain called teff that is rich in fiber, iron, protein and calcium. Learn about other super good-for-you grains.

Injera takes the place of utensils in Ethiopian dining. Entrees and side dishes are arranged in small mounds on top of the round, flat bread and a plate of injera is also served on the side. Before you begin eating, it looks a lot like an artist’s palette. You can mix and match flavors using injera as a scoop much like an artist blending colors with his brush. Taste-wise, the results are pretty sensational. The injera complements the other foods and it sops up the sauces wonderfully.

Wot's Cooking

Ethiopian stews, known as wot, are a staple. Red stews are made with berbere, a hot spice blend that includes red pepper, cumin, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, and coriander. Ethiopian food is famous for being spicy, but while many dishes may have heat, they don’t make you gasp for water. There are also milder-tasting yellow stews that are seasoned with turmeric.

“In Ethiopian food, we use natural ingredients. Everything is made from scratch – fresh onions, garlic, cardamom, bell peppers, chili – we don’t use anything frozen,” says Wondemu. For that reason, she says, it takes more than six hours to cook wot.

Savory Tibs

Tibs, bite-sized chunks of meat sautéed with jalapeno, garlic and onion and other seasonings, are another key Ethiopian dish. Beef and lamb are classic tibs, while ground beef, lamb and chicken are usually used to make wot. The Ethiopians do not cook with pork .

Ethiopian chefs use specially prepared herbed butter to make wot and tibs. For balance, be sure to partake of the similarly interesting and tasty Ethiopian vegetable dishes. Vegetables are naturally wholesome and these dishes are prepared with oil not butter.

Vegetarian Delights

There are lots of great vegetarian choices on the menu. Lentils simmered in a berbere wot are an earthy and delicious option. Homemade Ethiopian cottage cheese pairs well with many flavors. You will find chickpeas, collard greens, eggplant, cabbage, yellow split peas, tomatoes and carrots are other popular ingredients.


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