An ancient bread : Injera from Eritrea and Zigni

ERITREA : Wholemeal Flatbread with Spicy Beef Stew

“Oh no” my son groaned – “not more African food!” Not much can be done about it, there just are an awful lot of African countries! So in our quest to cook from every country in the world, African food will feature a lot obviously.  However this meal was a surprise, very spicy (which we like) and the bread was delicious.

History

Eritrea wasn’t on the maps when I was growing up, then it was part of Ethiopia (which my mum called Abyssinia) but became a separate country in 1993. The modern name comes from early Greek meaning Red Sea, once part of the fabled Land of Punt in the horn of Africa. That’s the hook that sticks out into the Red Sea opposite Arabia.

Known as the cradle of (human) life, many ancient kingdoms have risen and fallen in and around this area. After 1869 and ‘the scramble for Africa’ Italy claimed this territory and it became Italian Eritrea in 1880.  A legacy of that time is the wonderful Italianate architecture in the capital city Asmara.

Danakil Depression Dallol

Now sadly Eritrea is a little visited place, due to on-going hostilities with Ethiopia (who may possibly want some of their coastline back)  and Djibouti. Eritrea has a long coastline, and in a world first in 2006, made the entire length an environmental protected zone.  Wildlife is protected and is rich and varied, with lots of large animals like lions, leopards, elephants, wild ass, oryx, jackals, gazelles and baboons.

Landscapes

Keren

Eritrea is a volcanic hot-spot, where three tectonic plates meet, giving the dramatic Martian landscapes of the Dankalia region with psychedelic sulphurous pools, and the impressive Danakil Depression, one of the hottest and lowest places on earth, with virtually no rain, Never-the-less it was where ‘Lucy’ the 3.2 million year old hominid the earliest ever. was discovered.

Sharing part of the Great Rift, there are awesome mountains in the south, and thick tropical jungle in the cooler fertile highlands.

Dahlak Islands

Coral Reef off Dahlak Islands

Cuisine

Obviously the traditional food of Eritrea is very similar to Ethiopia and Somalia, using lots of spices and tomatoes but less butter. A huge favourite is the herb and spice paste Berbere, which is eaten with just about everything. Basic foods are flat-breads (injera)  made from teff, sorghum, barley or wheat, and grains cooked like porridge (akelet) .

Legumes especially lentils and fava beans and vegetables are also key staples and the meats are beef, goat, lamb and near the coast, fish. Milk products like yogurt and fresh cheeses also feature and  spicy meat and vegetable stews known as sebhi are the main type of dish.

Drinks are a beer  brewed from corn and barley and flavoured with wild buckthorn (sowa) and mies a sweet wine made from  honey. Coffee preparation and serving has a very important ceremony and is drunk in enormous quantities.

Injera

INJERA

Ingredients

  • 125 gm wholemeal flour and 125 gm white flour
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 pinch baking soda
  • 2 cups warm water
  • ½ teaspoon of salt

Preparation

  1. Process all ingredients except salt for 1 minute
  2. Add salt and whizz again for 15 seconds.
  3. Let mix stand covered for 30 minutes in warm, or in fridge for 48 hours if possible to ferment slightly.
  4. Heat a nonstick frypan or griddle on medium high, add a dribble of oil. Pour a small ladle of batter for each injera and swirl mixture quickly with the back of a spoon to spread it out.
  5. Cook on one side for 1 minute 30 seconds to 2 minutes, turn to brown other side. Keep warm

Mimsey’s Zigni with Injera

ZIGNI: Spicy Beef Stew

Ingredients

  • 500 gm beef mince
  • 1 x 400 gm tin diced tomatoes in juice, not drained
  • 3 spring onions/scallions sliced
  • 1 red capsicum, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves,  chopped
  • 4 tablespoons berbere (recipe below)
  • 1 bunch coriander/cilantro, chopped
  • 5 tablespoons oil
  • Salt
  1. Heat oil in medium frypan or saute pan over medium-high heat. add the beef mince and brown.
  2. Add the onions, garlic and cook till softened. Add capsicum and cook 2 minutes.
  3. Add the berbere and mix well and cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Adding the tomatoes and their juice, season lightly, reduce heat and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.
  5. Five minutes before serving,mix in the chopped coriander.
Berbere

Berbere Spices

BERBERE

Ingredients

  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 ½ tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 8 cardamom seeds
  • ½ teaspoon of white pepper
  • 2 cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1 pinch ground cinnamon

Method

  1. In a small heavy frypan, toast the whole spices on low for 2 minutes till fragrant.
  2. Allow to cool, grind to a fine powder
  3. In the pan, put all the ground spices and salt and toast on low heat for 1 minute.
  4. Add garlic, onion, salt and water, gradually, stirring constantly. Mix well.
  5. Add the ground spice mixture, stir thoroughly and cook over very low heat for 15 minutes, then blend to a smooth paste.

All this took quite a while to make, so my advice is to make the Berbere spice paste one day and the Injera dough if you want, and then make the beef stew the next day and cook the injera too. We were surprised how spicy this dish was, and it was very tasty, particularly with the flatbread which really was delicious. We liked it enough to have it again, a rare accolade indeed. Score: 7/10

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