Ethiopian Tastes

Famed chef  Marcus Samuelsson shares the secrets of his native cuisine.

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Ethiopian essentials

Some of the common ingredients in Ethiopian cuisine are available at large supermarkets or ethnic grocery stores.

Coffee: Ethiopia has been called the home of coffee. The robust arabica bean grows well in the hilly forests and highlands, and the country exports premium varieties from different regions. Depending on where they’re grown, coffee beans have varying notes, from fruity to sharp and acidic. The beverage, usually served after a meal, is such a part of the culture that a coffee ceremony exists to extend hospitality and friendship. Beans are roasted at the host’s home, then ground by hand, and the resulting coffee is strained several times before being poured into cups from a dramatic height.

Teff flour: The word teff in Amharic means “lost” because the grains are the smallest of all whole grains. Due to the popularity of whole grains (and gluten-free options), teff is available in grain and flour forms in health-food stores or from Bob’s Red Mill. Unlike other whole grains, because teff is so tiny, you need to buy the flour form for our recipe (or any requiring teff flour) because a spice grinder won’t be able to break down the grains. You’re more likely to find a mild-flavored, lighter-colored variety of the grain; the darker teff grains have a stronger tangy flavor. Kept in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, the flour should last up to one year.

Berbere spice: Like ras el hanout of Morocco or herbes de Provence in France, this Ethiopian chile and spice blend varies with each cook. You can have a berbere made solely of dried spices and chiles, or wet blends including garlic, fresh chiles, and onion. Typically, the dried blend contains smoky cumin; oniony fenugreek; toasted and ground pepper―either paprika, ground red pepper, or dried chiles; cardamom; pungent ground ginger; and citrusy coriander. Since few blends are commercially available (though you can find one at, we’ve added a few of the main berbere spices to some recipes.

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