Tag Archives: Ethiopian spices and dishes

Ethiopian Vegetarian Platter Recipe & Story


When a beloved restaurant closes, the food obsessed among us panic at the prospect of losing a favourite dish forever. So when that appears to happen with Dukem, my go-to Ethiopian spot on the Danforth, I act quickly. I immediately invite owner Michael Kidus to the Star test kitchen to make four dishes from his vegetarian platter. I’m being greedy. Usually I ask chefs for just one recipe, but Ethiopian meals always involve multiple meat and/or vegetable stews, so he says yes. Kidus arrives, groceries in hand, with an unexpected guest. Banchi Kinde, the chef/owner of Rendez-Vous restaurant. They quickly unload the groceries. Red lentils, green lentils and yellow split peas. Piles of fresh garlic, ginger and onions. Jalapenos, bell peppers, cabbage, white potatoes, carrots and green leaf lettuce. Turmeric and berbere, the essential Ethiopian ground red pepper and spice blend. In a way it doesn’t look like much to work with, but I know a feast is imminent. Besides, there’s a bag of injera, the platter-sized, spongy, flatbread made from teff that Ethiopians use as an edible utensil. It’s delicious, nutritious and filling.

Without wasting a split second, Kinde starts chopping onions. “You can use a food processor to chop them up nicely and evenly,” she says. I prefer the free-form way she chops. It’s refreshing. I’m surprised to see that the garlic and ginger is puréed into a paste instead of minced. (Don’t even think about buying the jarred version as a shortcut. But feel free to cheat like I did and buy a bag of fresh, peeled garlic.) There’s no time for chitchat as the chefs cook and I scramble to measure ingredients and jot down the recipes. Like most chefs, these guys don’t work from recipes. They do switch easily between English and Amharic. Kinde calls Kidus “Mikey” and gives him tasks. He seems happy to play sous chef to her chef.

In just 1 hour and 45 minutes, the feast is ready.

Read the full article beneath the recipes below or at The Star


If you feel ambitious, you can make this entire meal. You just need four burners and four sturdy pots.

But you can also start slow. Make one dish and eat it with injera or even bread. Make the salads on their own. Build your way up to the full meal.


My personal favourite dish is intensely spiced, thanks to Ethiopia’s complex and fiery spice blend, berbere. It’s sold in Ethiopian grocers, but I buy mine at Mister Greek Meat Market (801 Danforth, west of Jones Ave.). Serve this and all the following Ethiopian recipes with injera (the spongy flatbread).

3/4 cup (185 mL) canola oil

1-1/2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped

1/2 cup (125 mL) berbere spice blend, or to taste

1 tbsp (15 mL) puréed fresh, peeled ginger

2 tsp (10 mL) puréed fresh garlic

1 cup (250 mL) dried red lentils, washed

3 cups (750 mL) water + more if needed

1/2 tsp (2 mL) fine sea salt, or to taste

In medium saucepan, heat oil over medium. Add onions. Cook, stirring, 8 minutes. Stir in berbere, ginger and garlic. Cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add lentils. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Add 3 cups (750 mL) water. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, stirring often and adding water if needed, until lentils disintegrate and mixture is a thick stew, about 30 minutes. Taste; season with salt.

Makes about 4 cups (1L).



1 cup (250 mL) dried yellow split peas, washed

1/4 cup (60 mL) canola oil

1-1/2 medium yellow onions, finely minced

1-1/2 tbsp (22 mL) each: puréed fresh garlic, puréed fresh, peeled ginger

1/2 tsp (2 mL) turmeric

3 cups (750 mL) water + more if needed

3/4 tsp (4 mL) fine sea salt, or to taste

Optional garnish:

Thinly sliced jalapenos with seeds

Finely chopped red bell pepper

Place split peas in medium saucepan. Cover with water; Bring to boil over high heat. Boil 5 minutes. Let sit in water until ready to use; drain.

In medium saucepan, heat oil over medium. Add onions. Cook, stirring, 8 minutes. Add garlic and ginger. Cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in turmeric, then drained split peas. Cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add 3 cups (750 mL) water.

Raise heat to high; bring to boil. Cook, stirring occasionally and adding more water if needed, until split peas are very soft and stew is thick and not soupy, about 30 minutes. Taste; season with salt.

If desired, serve garnished with jalapenos and bell peppers.

Makes about 3 cups (750 mL).


1 cup (250 mL) dried green lentils, washed

1/4 cup (60 mL) canola oil

1-1/2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped

1-1/2 tbsp (22 mL) each: puréed fresh garlic, puréed fresh, peeled ginger

1 tsp (5 mL) turmeric

3 cups (750 mL) water + more if needed

1-1/2 tsp (7 mL) fine sea salt, or to taste

Optional garnish:

Thinly sliced jalapenos with seeds

Finely chopped red bell pepper

Put lentils in medium saucepan; cover with water. Bring to boil over high heat. Cook 5 minutes. Let stand until ready to use; drain.

In medium saucepan, heat oil over medium. Add onions. Cook, stirring, 8 minutes. Add garlic, ginger and turmeric. Cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add drained lentils and 3 cups (750 mL) water. Raise heat to high and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer briskly, adding more water if needed until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Stew should be fairly thick and not soupy. Taste; season with salt.

If desired, serve garnished with jalapenos and bell pepper.

Makes about 4 cups (1L).


1/2 cup (125 mL) canola oil

1-1/2 medium yellow onions, halved, thinly sliced

3 large carrots, peeled thinly sliced on diagonal

2 white boiling potatoes, peeled, cut in 1-inch cubes

1 tbsp (15 mL) puréed fresh garlic

1 tsp (5 mL) pureéd fresh, peeled ginger

1/4 tsp (1 mL) each: turmeric, fine sea salt, black pepper

1 cup (250 mL) water

8 to 10 cups (2 to 2.5L) chopped, coredgreen cabbage

1 jalapeno, chopped with seeds

In large saucepan, heat oil over medium. Add onion. Cook, stirring, 4 minutes. Add carrots. Cook, stirring, 4 minutes. Add potatoes. Cover; Cook 5 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, turmeric, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add water. Cook, stirring, 3 minutes. Add cabbage and jalapeno. Cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft, about 5 to 8 minutes. (Don’t let it burn.)

Makes about 4 cups (1L).


1 tbsp (15 mL) each: extra-virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar

1/2 tsp (2 mL) puréed fresh, peeled ginger

1 tsp (5 mL) each: fine sea salt, black pepper

tomato, halved, thinly sliced

1/2 head green leaf lettuce, cut lengthwise, chopped

1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced lengthwise

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped

1 jalapeno, seeded if desired, chopped

In large salad bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, ginger, salt and black pepper. Add tomato. Whisk gently. Add lettuce, onion, bell pepper and jalapeno. Toss well.

Serve immediately.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.


2 tbsp (30 mL) each: extra-virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar

1 tsp (5 mL) puréed fresh, peeled ginger

1-1/2 tsp (7 mL) fine sea salt

1/2 tsp (2 mL) black pepper

2 large tomatoes, finely chopped

1 medium yellow onion, minced

jalapenos, seeded, minced

In medium bowl, whisk oil, vinegar, ginger, salt and pepper. Add tomatoes, onions and jalapenos. Stir well. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 to 6 side servings.

Enjoy …

There’s my favourite dish: yemisir wot, a spicy, oily red lentil stew. There’s my daughter Lucy’s two favourites: Yekik alicha (yellow split peas in a mild turmeric sauce), and tikil gomen (cabbage, potatoes and carrots in turmeric sauce). To round things out there’s misir alicha (green lentils in mild turmeric sauce). Yes, there’s a love of turmeric happening here, as well as two bonus items: a green salad and a tomato salad, both Ethiopian-style. We invite about a dozen colleagues for a communal meal. Most have eaten Ethiopian before. A few are new to it, and quickly learn how to tear the injera into small pieces, use it to scoop up the stews and salad. “Eating Ethiopian food with family and friends lets you get closer,” says Kinde. “It’s a very intimate thing. It’s always a pleasant experience to feed yourself with your fingers.” At home, she says, a family might make a meal of three vegetable stews and two meat stews. The richer you are, the more meat you have. We’re rich in vegetables today. We feed a newspaper army and still have leftovers. As we’re cleaning up (they insist), Kidus tells me that Dukem is merely on hiatus. His lease was up and he’s looking for a new, bigger space on the Danforth. He has changed his storefront sign to let devastated customers know the good news.  What a relief.

I’ve been eating at Dukem since it opened nine years ago. It’s a special place and Kidus is a wonderful host. I even made it a stop on my Saucy Lady Food Safari last May when I took a busload of readers to my favourite haunts to celebrate my Toronto Star Cookbook. “Dukem always addressed the broader community and had a mission to introduce a wide variety of cultural groups in Toronto to Ethiopian culture and cuisine,” says Kidus, who loved to showcase local artists. Both Kidus and Kinde are Danforth Mosaic Business Improvement Area board members and are lobbying to get the strip from Greenwood to Monarch Park named Little Ethiopia. It’s an idea that has been floating around for several years but hasn’t yet gained traction. During Ethiopian Day celebrations in Christie Pits in September, Kidus encouraged people and restaurants to display signs mentioning Little Ethiopia.

As our kitchen time winds down, the chefs share a few trade secrets.

Kinde gets gluten-free injera flown in on Ethiopian Airlines three times a week. Kidus used to do the same for Dukem.

They both like the lamb from Mister Greek Meat Market on the Danforth, which caters to its Ethiopian customers by selling injera. They recommend Addisu Kullubi, a local brand, which costs $4 for about five pieces.

While Kidus searches for Dukem’s new home, he’s starting to organize an Ethiopian business association “to create one cooperative group that has a stronger voice in the general community.” He hopes to launch a vegetarian food preparation and delivery service for large retailers.

“I’ve reflected on the past with Dukem restaurant and I’m ready to move forward.”

I’m ready to move forward, too, sharing these six fabulous Ethiopian recipes, planning to visit Rendez-Vous restaurant, and waiting for Dukem’s triumphant return to the Danforth.


History of Ethiopian Food

IMAGINE AN ETHIOPIA without Ethiopian cuisine. Was there ever such an unappetizing place? When did Ethiopians begin to prepare spicy wots and serve them atop spongy injera? And when did they begin to wash it all down with copious quantities of t’ej, their famous honey wine?

Drawing of Teff 
(c. 1780)

As I write, in much greater detail, in my book, Mesob Across America: Ethiopian Food in the U.S.A., nobody really knows how this cuisine emerged because very few written records of dietary habits exist from thousands of years ago. But scholars who have studied the ancient cultures of the land we now call Ethiopia and Eritrea have other evidence to document when the various elements of the cuisine began to emerge. 

The most prominent of these cultures, called Aksum, began its ascent in the first century B.C., was famous among its contemporaries by 300 A.D., and had faded into the mist of history by around 800 A.D. Almost two millennia later, we know that the food of Aksum was the nascent cuisine of Ethiopia.

In the fourth millennium B.C., agriculture emerged in the fertile highlands of what’s now western Eritrea and the Sudan. It then spread to the lowlands and eventually the plateau of Ethiopia, although it wasn’t called Ethiopia back then. By the first or second millennium B.C., these proto-Ethiopians ate sorghum, wheat, barley and possibly teff, along with many other grains, vegetables and pulses (lentils, peas, fava beans, chick peas and more). 

The language scholar Christopher Ehret suggests that these cultures may have had teff more than 5,000 years ago: He’s compared ancient Cushitic and Semitic languages of Ethiopia, and he speculates that teff “began to be cultivated at least several millennia before Christ, and possibly as early as the Near Eastern shift” – that is, about 5,000 B.C. Teff was a “local independent invention,” Ehret says, originating in the “northern and eastern fringes of the highlands” of Ethiopia in ancient times.

A variety of archaeological evidence confirms teff in Aksum early in the first millennium A.D., and probably in pre-Aksumite cultures of the first millennium B.C., when they had the proper cattle and plows to harvest it, although there’s no definitive physical evidence of teff that early. Teff, of course, is the grain required to make injera as we know it today.

The kings of Aksum drank t’ej and beer in the third century A.D, a knowledge that comes from inscriptions on Aksumite stones translated in 1962 by the Dutch scholar A.J. Drewes in his book Inscriptions de l’Ethiopie Antique. His revelatory work requires no reading between the lines: The ancient inscriptions that he deciphers tell us explicitly what some Aksumites ate.

Memorandum concerning the food of the royal court according to the law of the country,” begins one text, written in the middle of the third century A.D., less than a century before the height of Aksum’s power under King Ezana (321-360). The inscription goes on to describe the victuals: There’s virgin mutton, virgin beef, honey, wheat, beer, bread, a bucket of butter and – best of all – honey wine.

A passage from the Serata Gebr

Next up: injera. When do we know for sure that Aksumites baked it? Ethiopians today make their injera on a large round skillet called a mitad. In modern cities, these are often electric; in the country, the injerabakes on a clay mitad placed over an open flame. But regardless of the technology, the principle is the same: Making a piece of injera requires a big round skillet.

Enter Neville Chittick, whose 1972-74 excavations at Aksum yielded myriad treasures. In a close look at the pottery from the Chittick site, archaeologist Richard Wilding discovered some Aksumite mitads, placing them in the late fifth or sixth centuries, thus some time before 600 A.D. “The presence or absence of so basic a piece of specialized equipment,” Wilding writes, “might tell much of the diet and the principal cereal crop of Aksum.” That cereal crop is teff.

Read the full article here