Berbere is a spice mixture with at least six and up to sixteen ingredients, especially chillies.
The most fiery cuisine on the African continent comes from Ethiopia, due primarily to berebere. This complex seasoning takes its name from the Amharic beri-beri, in turn derived from the Portuguese piri-piri, denoting an African bird's-eye chilli. This small red variety, is extremely hot. In Ethiopia, the chillies are dried in the sun, then toasted, combined with at least a half dozen spices, and all finely ground. Cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice contribute a sweet counterbalance to the chillies and peppercorns. Many versions contain ajwain, a spice that has a flavour and aroma similar to thyme. Mitmita, a hotter Ethiopian spice mixture also based on the bird's-eye chilli, is less vibrant in colour and flavour.
Berbere, reminiscent of Indian curry powders, reflects the Arabic and Indian influences on Ethiopian culture. Essential for Ethiopian cookery, it is added in conjunction with onions and water to wots (stews); without berbere, a stew is an alicha. Mixing the powder with a little oil and tej (honey wine) and allowing the mixture to ferment produces a hot sauce called awaze, used as a condiment. Every Ethiopian household maintains a jar of berbere and/or awaze, often homemade from a time-honoured recipe. Marketplaces in Ethiopia have at least one and frequently several spice stalls featuring huge sacks of dried chillies as well as tubs of premade berbere. Although some cooks use it judiciously, many typically add prodigious amounts, resulting in very fiery dishes. When done correctly, a dish should have a combination of heat and subtlety. Injera (pancake bread) always accompanies these chilli dishes to somewhat mute the potency.
Gil Marks, Encyclopedia of Jewish food
Ethiopian Chilli Powder
- 7 to 8 small dried red chillies, 7-8 pequin chillies, or 3 ounces dried New Mexican chillies, or any combination (or 2 tablespoons cayenne and 3 tablespoons sweet paprika)
- 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon green cardamom pods or 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds or 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds or 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
- 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds or 1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
1. If using whole chillies, stir them in a dry skillet over medium heat until they darken and feel warm but are not burnt. Let cool. Remove and discard the stems. For a milder powder, also discard the seeds. Grind the chillies. If using cayenne, combine with all the other ingredients in step 3.