Thursday, 27 September 2012

Eritrea - How I made Tsebhi Derho and Injera

There's quite a lot of choice when it comes to Eritrean dishes (although not a lot of fish, for a change!), but I plumped for a fairly simple traditional dish called Tsebhi Derho, a spicy chicken stew, which also involved learning how to make Berbere sauce and a purified butter combination known as Tegelese Tesmi.  And, of course, no Eritrean dish would be complete without a mountain of Injera - a kind of sourdough bread or pancake.

Mosob restaurant in London
I've eaten in Ethiopian restaurants before, where the food is quite similar to Eritrean, but to do some, ahem, research for this blog, I visited London's premier Eritrean restaurant, a really lovely place called Mosob, not far from Westbourne Park tube station, on the Hammersmith and City line.  I tried Tsebhi Derho at Mosob, so that was really useful, when it came to cooking it, a week or so later.

How I made Injera

I have to say that I'm becoming a big fan of Injera - it's very doughy, stretchy and tastes of yeast, but it's the perfect accompaniment to oily curries and stews, it's quite similar to Indian dosa.  This is the first meal that I've had to start preparing three days in advance!  Injera needs to ferment at room temperature for three days, until the dough starts to bubble and rise slightly, because of the yeast.  I wasn't sure if London room temperature would be quite as good as Asmara room temperature, but it seems to have worked out okay in the end!


Injera ingredients
Injera should really be made with teff, an Eritrean/Ethiopian food grain that is similar to millet or quinoa.  As teff is not readily available in London (to my knowledge), I decided to use wheat flour instead, consoling myself with the idea that this is how most people make it in Eritrea anyway, as teff is less plentiful than wheat and, therefore, more expensive. 

I used two main sources for all four recipes - mostly I used the Recipes Wiki - a site I've never seen before, but I also used one of my favourite sites - which has a great selection of world recipes.  Both sites had very similar approaches to making Injera.

380g white flour
100g self-raising flour
50g whole-wheat bread flour (I'd run out of this, so didn't use it)
1 packet of dry yeast
600ml warm water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

The main mistake I made with this, was that I added the baking soda and salt immediately, instead of after the three days fermenting - but it didn't seem to make a massive different to the outcome - all the same, I'd still recommend following the recipe.

Flour with yeast

Just mix all of the other ingredients together, cover with a tea towel for three days, stirring once a day.  To be honest, the mixture seemed to have fermented within twenty-four hours, but I dutifully left it for three days, as per the recipe!

Cover the mixture with a tea towel and leave for three days, stirring once a day

Injera mixture after three days fermentation

On the third day, I poured small dollops of the mixture onto a frying pan, in much same way as you would with a pancake mixture.  It's important to swirl the mixture around in the pan, so it's as thin as possible.  Once all of the moisture has evaporated from the dough and it is covered in 'craters', then you simply lift it out and leave it on a plate to cool.

Fry until all the moisture has evaporated

Through previous experience, I realised that it would be important to keep one piece of injera for each plate, to form the base of the served dish - with the others, roll them up into pancakes, which you can use later to scoop up the Tsebhi.

Rolls of injera ready to accompany the meal

How I made Berbere

Fresh red chillies
Berbere is a spicy paste that forms the base of the 'soup' for the stew.


Four types of seed - cumin, cardamom, coriander and fenugreek
Garlic (crushed)
Ginger (grated)
4 or 5 cloves
Turmeric powder
Black pepper
Ground cinnamon
Dried red chillies (although I use fresh red chilli, equally as good!)

Mash the chillies, garlic and ginger
Dry-roast the seeds on a frying pan, until they start to pop, then grind them with the other ingredients until you have a spicy paste.  I also added a little bit of water, to give the paste some moisture.

Berbere paste and three hard-boiled eggs

How I made Tegelese Tesmi

Tegelese Tesmi is a kind of purified butter infused with onion, garlic and ginger.

Melt the butter in some water

200g unsalted butter
100ml water
1 small onion (chopped)
2 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons ginger

Heat the butter and water together, until the butter melts, then reduce the heat, adding the onion, garlic and ginger - leave it to boil for 30 minutes, then strain the purified butter, which you can now call Tegelese Tesmi!  The only thing you need to remember with Tegelese Tesmi is not to stir it - I think stirring makes the mixture cloudy and messes up the delicate chemistry of the purifying process.  The end result looked and tasted a lot like Indian ghee.

Tegelese Tesmi - looks like ghee

How I made Tsebhi Derho
Ingredients for Tsebhi Derho


2 onions (chopped)
Berbere paste
Tegelese Tesmi
Some fresh ginger (grated)
2 garlic bulbs (crushed)
Juice of one lemon
Tomato puree
Sea Salt (or Table Salt)
3 large tomatoes (don't peel them, life's too short!)
500g chicken
3 hard-boiled eggs

Start by marinating the chicken for 30 minutes in lemon juice and sea salt. Fry the onion without any oil (and this seems to be an important point!) until it softens.  Add a little bit of water, as you're frying, to stop the onion from sticking to the pan.  Once the onion has softened, add the berbere paste and mix it through.  Then add the tegelese tesmi, mix and cook for about five minutes.

Marinate the chicken pieces in fresh lemon juice

By now the mixture is starting to look a bit oily, so add the tomato puree, tomatoes, garlic and ginger, to give it some more texture.  Bring to the boil, then simmer for about twenty minutes, until the tomatoes are almost melting into the base of the stew.

Fry the onion, then add the berbere paste
Add the tomatoes, puree, ginger and garlic

After twenty minutes, add the chicken, with another dash of water and let it simmer until the chicken is cooked through.

Add the chicken pieces with some water

Finally, put the boiled eggs into the stew and leave it for another few minutes, until the eggs have re-heated.

Add the hard-boiled eggs for the last five minutes of cooking

Serve the whole lot on a bed of injera with extra slices of injera on a side plate.  This dish is best eaten using your hands, tearing off pieces of injera and using them to scoop up the spicy mixture, dripping with oil and exotic flavours!  I had so much fun making this dish and the end result was really tasty - I look forward to making it again sometime soon!

Tsebhi Derho with injera

Don't forget to eat using your hands!

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