I’m working on Ethiopian food when time permits. The problem I am running into is that, unlike Italian cuisine, I can’t walk into the local grocery store and pick the spices and ingredients needed in order to do certain dishes. This means either scouring the little Ethiopian stores in the Central District here in Seattle, special ordering ingredients over the internet, or making my own from scratch.
Berbere is a melange of spices, sort of a cross between a spicy paprika and a curry, yet even this explanation doesn’t do it justice. It’s one of those spices that you have to take part of before you can go “Oh yeah! That’s berbere!”
Berbere is a red pepper spice, as peppers are a staple in Ethiopia and it should come as no surprise that they use it as such. They use it in both Berbere and a paste called awaze. Berbere is used in w’ets and stews and should be considered a regular part of a pantry if one is to cook Ethiopian on a regular basis.
Its taste is something that is new to me. Certainly the spiciness of the peppers is present, but when I compared it to a curry, I wasn’t simply being pithy. Cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves were clearly present in the sample that I had tasted. My presumption is that berbere is similar to curry in that there is no one standard recipe for the spice, but hundreds.
Now for the bad news: If you can’t find berbere, you’ll have to make it. Luckily for me, I was able to find some here in Seattle. I won’t publish the recipe for berbere here, as my standard on this site is to try to only post recipes that I have tried. But I do have a traditional recipe in my collection, and if you want it, I can e-mail it to you.