As a child growing up in the rural Texas Panhandle, I wasn’t exposed to a wide variety of ethnic foods. This was not my parent’s fault, the simple fact is that there is no diverse ethnic cuisine in the land well known for frito pies (as described by NPR: where the centuries old traditions of Mexican cooking meet the mid western tradition of food like marshmallow fluff). We could have steak, bbq, or Americanized Japanese/Chinese/Thai. Then I went to college in a similarly small town, so I was not widely exposed to global flavors. That all changed when I spent a semester in Washington, DC, my senior year. DC is a glorious mix of the old and the new, the old American, and the new immigrants. That makes for an amazing variety of restaurants and markets, all of which I reveled in. (My highest recommendation goes to Falafel and Fries, which is now apparently Amsterdam Falafelshop in Adams Morgan. Go if you can. I still dream about it).
I distinctly remember the first time I had Ethiopian food–I was disappointed. The area that I was in near DuPont Circle had a lot of African shops and eateries, and we tried one down from our office was not so spectacular. I could not eat the Tabouleah (I have never really found one I like), and the hummus was so so. The chicken was hard and rubbery, and the tastes were not spectacular. I later found out that that was just a bad resturaunt, that actually Etheopian food is complex and delicious. That is particularly true with Doro Wat. This recipe is a stew, but the way you prepare it is different. Because you simmer down the onions first (dry), the onions dissolve into the stew to make it thick and delicious. Like in Indian cooking, you roast the spices first before you put in the liquid, and that makes the spices so much more pungent and strong.
I tried to look up the history of Doro Wat on the internet, but there is not much out there. It is a traditional meal, the most popular in Ethiopia, and because it includes chicken and eggs, it is reserved for special occasions or when guests are over for a meal. We Americans may not understand why this would be such a special meal. We can have chicken or eggs any time we want. I once thought that too, but after spending a month in Africa I learned what a sacrifice having a meal with meat and an egg really is. In Africa there are no large farms where chickens are raised and butchered and wrapped in plastic. If you are very lucky, you will have a few chickens in the back that each produce a few eggs a week (when they can find enough food and water). I wondered about putting egg in this dish, but it is unexpecetly delicious. It adds a bit of creaminess. And think about it, if you have an honored guest you will feed them what is most valuable: that includes eggs. Most of the time people live on what they can grow in their garden, or what they can buy from the market. It all varies depending on the season and the weather. You are not sure that you will be able to get good food next week. Just think what a sacrifice having a chicken meal must be if you only have 10 chickens to your name, and you rely on them for eggs too. I know that if I visited Ethiopia and a family offered me this meal I would be so honored, and try to convince them to make something else with veggies. (It doesn’t work, trying to convince them to give you something less valuable. We got so sick of chicken and rice while I was in West Africa. No matter how much we insisted on eating what they would normally eat in a day, we always got what was most valuable and honored. I didn’t eat chicken and rice for years after.) I don’t mean to be a downer, but it is something to think about. We all need to remember to be appreciative of what we have and remember and help those who don’t have what we do.
Most people my age and older will probably remember the Ethiopian famine in the 80s and 90s. I was still a very young child, but I remember seeing pictures of all of those starving children. The thing is that Ethopia is actually in a very good area for growing crops. Unlike much of the rest of Africa, Ethopia is not excessively affected by the tropical heat. It sits on a very high plateau–between 5000 and 17000 feet at the highest peaks. Denver is 5280, to give you perspective. This means that even though it is in the tropical region, it is cooler. That makes it an ideal place to grow wheat, sorghum, millet, and other grains. Much of the land is arable, and would make for good farm land. Unfortunately, the lack of modern technology and good, consistent, means that Ethiopians still go hungry.
All of the spices in this dish are not native to Ethiopia. In fact, almost none are. Ethiopia is a land bound country in the horn of Africa. Because it is bordered by high mountains on the west, it was a natural stop on the trading routes from India and Arabia into Africa. This position means that Ethiopia was blessed with many spices that became an essential part of the national cooking palate. A diversity of cultures also helps. The nation is primarily Christian, that population is centered in the north. The south hosts a substantial Muslim population. These together helped create a varied food culture.
I love Doro Wat, and I hope you do too.
- 4 lbs chicken, bone in (you can buy a whole cut up chicken at the grocery store. Save the spine and giblets for broth!) (You can also use 3 lbs of veggies, cut in 1 in squares)
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp olice oil
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 large sweet onions, diced
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 Tbsp fresh ginger root, peeled, and minced
- 2 tsp fenugreek
- 1.25 tsp cardamom
- 1.25 tsp ground cloves
- 1Tbsp + 1 tsp paprika (make sure that you have good paprika, not the scentless stuff from the grocery store).
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp chili powder
- 4 Tbsp butter
- 1.5 C water, plus more as needed
- 4-6 eggs boiled and peeled
- Ethiopian injera, or other flat bread (like pita)
1. I de-skinned the chicken, you can either leave the skin on or off. Regardless, pat it dry. Rub with the lemon juice and 1 tsp salt. Cover and let sit in the fridge for 30 min.
2. Heat 1 tsp olive oil to med heat in a large pot. Wipe excess liquid from the chicken and add to pan, browning. Remember, don’t crowd the meat. Do it in batches so that they have enough room around them to brown. If you crowd it, it won’t brown. Put aside and keep warm.
3. Dry cook the onions (ie: don’t add more oil) in the same pot until it begins to soften and just turns brown. It took about 20 min with that much onion.
4. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for about 2 min until fragrant.
5. Stir in the butter and spices and 1 tsp salt and stir for 3-5 minutes until the aroma of the deliciousness hits you in the face.
6. Pour in the water and increase to a boil. This is called the Berbere Sauce.
7. Once boiling, put the chicken/veggies in the sauce, turning to coat all sides. Reduce the heat and simmer for 25 min, or until chicken is almost done. Turn the chicken occasionally so that it cooks evenly. I left the lid tilted to let some of the evaporation escape to make a thicker sauce.
8. Pierce the hard boiled eggs in 3-4 places. Put them in and turn gently to coat in the sauce. Cover, and cook an additional 5 min. Serve with bread.
9. Pre-do option: I had agility tonight, and I didn’t want to take the while hour after I got home to do all of this. So I pre-cooked the onions and pre-browned the chicken. That way, when I got home, all I had to do was to start up the onions again and go from there.