Friday, September 19, 2014

Ethiopian food - injera with spiced red lentils

I have wanted to make Ethiopian food for ages. It seems to have become a bit of a 'thing', or at least a cuisine I have seen featured more in recent years. There are even some vegan Ethiopian stalls around London's weekend markets. Possibly I should have tried their offerings before I attempted to make Ethiopian at home, but as it is, I jumped straight in. I don't know how authentic my results were, but they certainly gave a different dish to anything I'd eaten before!

Those of you who are familiar with Ethiopian no doubt know that the above plate is not particularly authentic. Injera flat bread is usually used to scoop up food, or as a 'plate' for the meal, rather than as a wrap. The background vegetables (kale, carrot sticks and red pepper) are also a little out of place. Still, the focus of the dish was thoroughly in Ethiopia, and I am hoping you won't begrudge me some hastily assembled vegetable sides!

What were the authentic parts? Injera is a sourdough flat bread unlike anything I've had before. Making it is a five day process, to give the flour and yeast time to ferment. Those of you who make sourdough bread will be familiar with the approach. I have yet to venture into sourdough, and five days of advance planning and starter feeding was a new challenge for me.

Injera bread

Injera is also characterised by the flour it uses - traditionally, teff flour. This is higher in protein, calcium and iron than most flours, and is also gluten free. Injera can be made with other flours too, and the recipe I followed used some plain wheat flour in the final stage. However, it was mostly teff. Teff is meant to taste slightly nutty, but as I haven't tried it in anything other than injera, it's hard to know how it tastes in other forms. It is exorbitantly expensive to buy, so I will be cautious in testing out the remainder of my packet.

I followed the excellent injera instructions provided by Mel at Veganise This. I read through them far enough ahead to know I needed to start the process five days before I wanted to serve the bread for dinner. I also knew I needed to feed the starter on the morning of the fifth day. I decided to plan the meal for a Monday night, and do the final feed before I went to work in the morning. Unfortunately, I hadn't realised that I needed to add in self-raising flour roughly four hours after the final feed of the starter and four hours before I wanted to cook the flat breads. In other words, in the middle of the day, when I was at work.

Luckily I discovered this on day four, and as a result did the final starter feed at the end of that day, and added in the self-raising flour on the morning of day five. A last minute complication was that the recipe called for 2 cups of self-raising flour, but I only had 1-1/4 cup. I added another 3/4 cup of teff flour plus some baking powder and hoped for the best.

As for the red lentils, I made some modifications to those too, although not due to disorganisation. Rather, many Ethiopian recipes flavour dishes with niter kibbeh, a spiced clarified butter, and berbere, a particular spice mix. Making up a batch of each would have given the most authentic results, but also far more of each than I needed. I went small scale and put non-dairy spread and spices into the one recipe, outlined below.

After that effort, how did we find our first forray into Ethiopian? If I am completely honest, I didn't like it as much as I expected. The injera was a little strong in flavour - the sour component was definitely noticeable - possibly because of my adapting the last stages of the recipe. The lentils, in contrast, didn't seem sufficiently spiced. It's possible my caution in catering to Mr Bite was responsible for that. I did like the meal (and I liked that Mr B. professed to like it), but it didn't seem worth five days of preparation.

With that said, I am glad to have ventured into Ethiopian and quite proud to have made injera. I think I need a re-run to really give the cuisine a chance, and also to test some authentic dishes from native Ethiopians. I can't say I mind an excuse to visit London markets on a weekend lunchtime...

Spiced red lentils with injera flat bread
An Ethiopian meal for four to six
Vegan and gluten free

For the injera recipe, see the detailed instructions at Veganise This

For the spiced red lentils, the recipe below was adapted from the Cooking Channel

Spice mix
3 tsp dried mild paprika
1/2 tsp each of dried ground ginger, allspice and cinnamon
1/4 tsp each of salt, ground black pepper, chilli powder and dried coriander (I might use 1/2 tsp of each next time)

Other ingredients
1 tbsp non-dairy spread
1 tbsp almond milk
2 tsp fresh grated ginger
1/4 tsp each of dried oregano, turmeric and nutmeg
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1-1/2 cups red lentils, rinsed

Combine the spice mix ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large saucepan, melt the non-dairy spread and almond milk over low heat. Add in the grated ginger, dried oregano, turmeric and nutmeg and stir through.

When the non-dairy spread has melted, add in the chopped onion and garlic and increase heat to medium-high. Stir regularly for approximately 10 minutes.

Add the lentils to the pan along with 4 cups of water and the prepared spice mix. Bring to simmering point. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer, uncovered, for 35 to 40 minutes. Stir occasionally.

When the lentils are cooked and the mix has thickened, serve with injera bread and vegetables of choice.

Have you tried Ethiopian food? Any favourite dishes?

This post is part of my participation in the 2014 Vegan Month of Food. This week I am focusing on main meal options.

Previous 2014 Vegan MoFo posts:
Breakfasts-                                                                      Snacks-
#1 - Vegan French toast                                                                                
#6 - Chocolate coated banana chips
#2 - Apple and strawberry muesli                                                             
#7 - Barbecue inspired nori snacks
#3 - Mango coconut buckwheat breakfast pudding                              
#8 - Carob latte
#4 - Tips for a vegan breakfast on the go                                                
#9 - Tide Tables Café
#5 - Chickpea pancakes with spicy kale and mango                             #10 - Dark chocolate and espresso almonds

Main meal options-
#11 - Moroccan tagine


  1. Interesting! One of my favourites for dipping breads is lentils. And spicy ones! So this is for me then :)

    Gourmet Getaways

  2. This sounds really good. I love lentils because of how healthy and cheap they are.

    1. They are definitely a fantastic staple. People who say eating healthy is too expensive just need to look into lentils ;)

  3. I've always wanted to try making injera myself, but I've never mustered up the effort (or confidence) to do the sourdough starter bit. Good on you for actually giving it a try!
    Have you seen the 1 day injera recipe from yumUniverse? ( Emma's used it with success ( It might be worth a try if you have Teff flour to use up x

    1. Thanks for reminding me of that Sharon! It would definitely be a good way to use up my leftover teff flour :-) I had seen Emma's post but completely forgot about the 1 day option when making this. It would be good to compare the two approaches now I've done the 5 day one :-)

  4. Ethiopian is something I have never tried but admired on a few blogs - I never considered injera to be similar to sourdough - it always looks so spongy but I can appreciate it is a similar process - though you only spend a week making a starter once and then it is quicker to make the bread once you have a starter on the go. I think what has put me off trying it is that it always seems very complicated - I would like to think that with tweaking your quicker method with the lentils could work.

    1. It has always seemed complicated to me too - I don't know how actual Ethiopians manage it every day! The simpler lentil method definitely helped and after comments above I may try the 1 day injera next time too, which would bring it all down to a manageable preparation.

  5. I really love Ethiopian. I sometimes feel I would like more toppings and less injera when I go out to eat to an Ethiopian restaurant so making it at home is good in that respect (markets are usually generous with toppings too!)
    It is hard to get those truly authentic flavours though.

    1. I definitely have to seek some out from a market to get a sense of what authentic actually is :-)

  6. Wow you really did go to a lot of effort for this! Anything with red lentils is good if you ask me ;-)

    And yes my comments are doing the crazy disappear thing after I press publish too, I think it's a blogger thing :-/ Hopefully they fix it soon!

    1. Yes, I have noticed it a few times now :( Annoying! As you say, hopefully also fixed soon.


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