Sunday, April 23, 2006

Berbere: The Ultimate Ethiopian Flavor Profile

No spice blend has a flavor profile more to my liking than berbere. In the top photograph is a serving from the Berbere-crusted Rack of Lamb that Mrs. Yi and I enjoyed this past Easter. It was made from a recipe that appeared in the October, 2000, issue of Gourmet. We have prepared many times, and you can find it by going here:

Within its recipe for Berbere-crusted Rack of Lamb, Gourmet included a separate recipe for the berbere spice mix pictured in the lower photograph. It can be had by going here:

We typically seek to share either our own recipes or ones not found elsewhere on the web. Since the recipes pictured on this post are available at, we feature them to create awareness about them and to share our photographs.

As a former specialty foods entrepreneur, I suspect that increasing numbers of producers will be bringing berbere spice mixes to market. Heavy on New Mexican (it works) chili powder, and paprika, the version featured here incorporates ten other spices, not counting the salt. If you find yourself grinding fenugreek seeds for powder, be patient. We ended up having to whir several tablespoons of rock-hard fenugreek seeds in a mini-food processor for a lot longer than expected before they threw off the meager 1/2 teaspoon of powder that was called for.

When in Washington D.C., we've dined at several of its dozens of Ethiopian restaurants. Interestingly, the only one where we observed any specific mention of berbere on the menu was Madjet at 1102 U Street, NW. A beef selection called TIBS FETFET is prepared with berbere. Also offered was a similarly prepared lamb selection that we learned about by inquiring. Like at all Ethiopian restaurants, every dish comes with that soft and spongy Ethiopian flatbread known as injera. In the fashion of an edible tablecloth, it serves the function for which we Americans typically rely upon a fork. Injera is great for soaking up all the delicious flavors that,like berbere, are definitive of Ethiopian cuisine. As a matter of fact, our Berbere-encrusted Rack of Lamb is the only Ethiopian dish I've ever encountered where untensils were in order.