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Jim Coleman Recipes

Berbere (Ethiopian Chile and Spice Paste) Recipes

Courtesy Myra Kornfeld, "Healthy Hedonist Holidays"

TRADITIONALLY MADE in huge quantities, berbere is the vibrant spice paste used in many Ethiopian dishes. This modest amount makes just enough to make all the Ethiopian recipes here, but it scales up well. You can also buy berbere powder from a well-stocked spice store, but this vibrant paste comes together quickly and will keep for months.


  • 2 ounces dried New Mexican or pasilla chiles (2 loosely packed cups)
  • 5 hot dried red chiles, such as Indian red chiles, Thai chiles, or chiles de arbol
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Seeds from 2 green cardamom pods
  • 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander seed
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup finely chopped basil leaves

Cut the stems off the chiles. Open them and remove the seeds. (If you miss a few, it's not the end of the world.) Place the chiles in a medium pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat, and let the chiles rest until softened, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the ginger, garlic, onion, and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, until the water is evaporated, about 5 minutes. Set aside. Dry-toast the cardamom seeds, fenugreek, peppercorns, coriander, and cloves together in a heavy skillet over medium- high heat until fragrant, stirring constantly, 2 to 3 minutes. Place in a mortar or spice grinder and grind to a powder. Drain the chiles, discarding the soaking water. Place in a food processor along with the ginger- garlic mixture and the dried spices, including the cinnamon and salt. Process until you have a paste, scraping down the sides as necessary. Add the basil and process until well blended. Spoon the paste into a clean glass jar. Seal well and refrigerate for up to 3 months.

Note: Crush the cardamom pods by pressing down with the side of a knife.

Nit'ir Qibe (Spiced Clarified Butter)

HERBS AND spices are cooked in the clarifying butter, then strained out, resulting in a fragrant and healthful cooking fat. Refrigerated, it keeps for 4 months. Make this along with the Berbere spice paste, so you can whip up any of the recipes in a flash.


  • 1 pound unsalted butter, preferably organic
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • One 1-inch piece unpeeled fresh ginger, grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 6 cardamom pods, crushed, pods and seeds
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh basil leaves

Melt the butter slowly in a small saucepan over medium- low heat until it is melted completely, about 5 minutes. The butter will start to gurgle as the water evaporates. When the top is covered with foam, add the other ingredients and reduce the heat to a simmer.

Simmer gently on low heat, uncovered, until the milk solids start to brown on the bottom of the pot, about 10 to 15 minutes. After 10 minutes, check frequently, pushing aside any foam and tilting the pan to see if the solids have lightly browned. As soon as the solids turn light brown, turn off the heat and let the residue settle to the bottom. Pour the liquid through a double layer of cheesecloth into a heat- resistant container. Discard the solids.

Ni'tir Qibe keeps, covered and refrigerated, for up to 2 months.

Yemiser We't (Ethiopian Lentil Stew)

THIS THICK lentil dish, highly flavored from the spiced clarified butter and Berbere, is a wonderful part of any Ethiopian gathering.


  • 1/4 cup Nit'ir Qibe
  • 2 cups finely chopped onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 tablespoon Berbere
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 1/2 cups dried brown lentils
  • 4 cups water
  • Salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Plain yogurt (optional)

Warm the Nit'ir Qibe in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and saute over medium heat for about 7 minutes, or until the onion is just translucent. Add the Berbere, cumin, and paprika, and saute for a few minutes more, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Mix in the lentils with the water and 11 4 teaspoons salt. Cover and bring to a boil.

Lower the heat and cook about an hour or so, partially covered, until the lentils are quite tender. Check now and then to see if there's enough liquid covering the lentils and add more water if necessary. Stir in the lemon juice and add a sprinkling of black pepper. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Serve hot, with a dollop of yogurt if desired.

Doro We't (Ethiopian Chicken Stew)

PROBABLY THE best- known Ethiopian dish, this version has skinless chicken cooked in a rich gravy until meltingly tender. It's a snap to make when you have the spiced clarified butter and Berbere already prepared.


  • 1 whole chicken, cut up, skin removed and fat trimmed
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 4 cup Nit'ir Qibe
  • 2 cups chopped red onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 6 tablespoons Berbere
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 2 cup red wine
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Soak the chicken in the lime juice with water to cover for 10 minutes. Drain the chicken. Warm the Nit'ir Qibe in a large skillet with sides. Add the red onion and garlic and cook over medium- low heat for about 10 minutes, until the onion is browned. Add the ginger, Berbere, water, wine, and salt and stir to combine. Add the chicken, turn to coat, and cover.

Cook over medium heat until the chicken is tender, 30 to 40 minutes, flipping the chicken from time to time. Remove the chicken to a bowl as the pieces become fork- tender.

Uncover the pan and simmer rapidly to reduce the liquid to a sauce consistency, about 15 minutes. Return the chicken to the pan, along with any accumulated juices, and toss to coat in the sauce. Serve hot.

Buy a whole chicken and have the butcher cut it up for you. Cut each breast piece in half, so that you have 2 legs, 2 thighs, and 4 breast pieces. Remove the wing tips and save for stock along with the back. When you are skinning the chicken, trim off any fat. Don't try to remove the skin on the wings for this dish! This dish is traditionally served with boiled eggs, which I've omitted here.

©2006 WHYY