To tantalise the taste buds this week, the Home Supper Club rustled up a selection of spicy dishes from Ethiopia, the home of the coffee plant. The menu was one of the largest I’ve yet enjoyed, served alongside a unique type of flatbread and some excellent coffee.

Bread, and the breaking of it, is a universal constant in human culture. Even more universal is the flatbread: every culture has its own variety. Some, like the tortilla or pita, are more well-known than others. Ethiopia has injera, a traditional sourdough flatbread, and it is used in much the same way as a tortilla. I am, however, not a capable flatbread mechanic. I have never been able to keep any sort of food wrapped in one without making a mess. So it was with the injera and the various dishes on offer. This did not make any of them any less delicious, I hasten to add. I just had to make do with a knife and fork.

On offer this week was a veritable smorgasbord of Ethiopian cuisine. First up was the doro wat for the meat-eaters: a chicken and egg stew, warmly spiced with the berbere spice blend. This is a mix of ginger, fenugreek, pepper, coriander, cardamom, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, paprika, and chilli flakes, and is put together with diced chicken, tomatoes, and stock to make the stew. It is left to simmer for anywhere between sixty and ninety minutes, which is plenty of time to make all the other dishes. The doro wat also contains a hard-boiled egg, which can be added towards the end of cooking. Time intensive as it is to cook, it’s a dish that can easily be made in bulk for a big party, or for batch cooking. The spice mix can also be used in an Eritrean stew known as zigni. Though the ninety-minute cooking time of doro wat sounds intimidating, zigni is traditionally cooked slowly over five to six hours. For vegans and vegetarians, the main course was similarly-flavoured okra and lentil stew, minus the egg.

Accompanying the doro wat were several side dishes. Hamli, a spiced and sautéed spinach salad, has introduced me to a whole new way to enjoy spinach. It has made me understand why Popeye loves those green leaves so much. Special mention should go to the ali cha, a cabbage dish, for being the only dish I’ve ever had involving boiled cabbage that doesn’t immediately make me think of the miserably soggy vegetables served with awful school dinners. This was as many thanks to the spice mix as to the cabbage having a decent, al dente texture. Involving green chilli, the spice mix for ali cha is hot, but works well with everything else here. I may never get my head entirely around the idea of a side salad being spicy, but the timatim salad included diced green chilli along with diced tomato and onion and was quite tasty despite its heat. My personal favourite, however, was shiro, a spiced gram flour stew that acts as a dipping sauce. Quite thick and pleasantly spiced, it was sublime. I could very happily have eaten a whole bowl of it. 

Eating any of these dishes in the traditional way – by using the injera as a plate – proved too messy for me. So, alas, I had to eat it all with a knife and fork, cutting up and dipping the injera into the dishes. The flatbread itself had an odd texture. It resembled a large, thick crepe, and had the tang unique to sourdough. It’s made using ‘teff,’ a type of grain indigenous to Ethiopia. Sadly, it proved too porous, wicking the sauce through its air bubbles quite quickly (in the same way that melted butter will soak through a crumpet and onto the plate), and so tended to fall apart before I could properly wrap any food in it. Given that this was my first time eating it, however, I have no doubt that this mess was more my misfortune and inexperience showing me up.

Written By Nick Dunn