Mouthing Off

Wot's happening: Arada Restaurant (see review above) isn't the only Ethiopian eatery in this town that's generous with the berbere. There's also the Ethiopian Restaurant (2816 East Colfax Avenue), which has good food--it takes special pains with the sides--but sloooow service; Saladwich (3510 South Broadway), which does sandwiches during the week and Ethiopian food on the weekends (check out the non-greasy tibs); and Queen of Sheba (7225 East Colfax Avenue), which makes killer doro wot, the country's signature chicken-with-sauce dish. This Queen also pours the best Ethiopian coffee in town.

Many historians think coffee actually originated from the part of Africa that's now Ethiopia; ask any Ethiopian and he'll tell you the same thing. At Queen of Sheba, chef/owner Zewditu Aboye offers coffee "with ceremonies" all the time--some places, like Axum Restaurant (also reviewed above), will do it only on weekends--and Aboye does a beautiful job. First she brings the green coffee beans out for your inspection, then she pan-roasts them until they are dark brown and oily. These, too, are brought out to the table, mostly so diners can enjoy the intense aromas of just-roasted beans (in comparison, the ones you buy in the grocery store smell like day-old bread). She then grinds and brews the beans, and finally brings both the coffeepot and the cups to the table so the heavenly elixir can be poured directly over sugar cubes.

You'll never look at that morning pot of Folger's the same way.
Unlike Ethiopian coffee, good doro wot isn't hard to make at home. But unless you're feeling really adventurous, you'll have to eat it without the fermented flatbread injera. (Pita will work, however, as will spice bread, another Ethiopian tradition--or you can just serve the doro over rice.) Make a batch of niter kebbeh, or spiced butter oil, first; it will solidify in the refrigerator and keeps for about three months. Then you'll have it on hand for anything that calls for sauteeing, like stir-fries. You can buy berbere at a specialty grocery store or at Arada's market; you can also make your own, experimenting with the proportions of the traditional ingredients in the spice mix.

The following recipe for doro wot comes from a book written in the early Seventies. Some of the instructions were outdated or overly explained, so I've adapted it for clarity.

Doro Wot
(adapted from African Cooking, by Laurens van der Post)
1 3-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
2 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups finely chopped onions
1/4 cup niter kebbeh (recipe follows)
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger

1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds, pulverized with a mortar and pestle or in a small bowl with the back of a spoon

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup berbere
2 tablespoons paprika
1/4 cup dry white or red wine
3/4 cup water
4 hard-cooked eggs
freshly ground black pepper

Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and rub the pieces with lemon juice and salt. In an ungreased Dutch oven or large skillet with a lid, cook the onions over moderate heat for 5 minutes or until they are soft and dry. Shake the pan and stir the onions constantly to keep them from burning. Stir in the niter kebbeh; when it begins to sputter, add the garlic, ginger, fenugreek, cardamom and nutmeg, stirring well after each addition. Add the berbere and paprika and stir over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in the wine and water and bring to a boil. Cook uncovered for 5 minutes or until liquid has reached the consistency of heavy cream.

Drop the chicken pieces into the simmering sauce, turning them with a spoon until they're coated on all sides. Reduce heat to lowest point, cover tightly and simmer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, pierce the eggs all over with fork tines and drop them into the sauce. Cover and cook 15 minutes more. Sprinkle with pepper. Serves 4.

Niter Kebbeh
1 pound unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 small onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger root
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
pinch of cardamom
1 piece of cinnamon stick or pinch of ground cinnamon
1 whole clove
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

In large, heavy saucepan, melt butter slowly, then turn heat to high and quickly bring it to a boil. When surface is covered with white foam, add remaining ingredients. Reduce heat to lowest point possible and simmer, uncovered and undisturbed, for 45 minutes or until the milk solids on the bottom of the pan are golden brown and the butter on top is transparent. Strain the niter kebbeh through a damp cheesecloth, being sure to strain out all solids so the oil won't become rancid. Cover tightly and refrigerate. Makes 1 cup.

--Kyle Wagner


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