Our Chef Profile takes a bit of a detour this issue. Sarah Wengert, one of the newest talents to join our team of professional writers, is something of a foodie herself, so Omaha Magazine challenged her take a walk on the wild side to stretch her cooking chops. — Editor
I adore ethnic grocery stores. It’s a bit of an obsession for me, a gal who enjoys cooking and who yearns to travel the world, but often must settle for some good ol’ Omaha adventuring. When I cruise the aisles of my favorite ethnic groceries I’m transported to faraway lands, and my resulting homecooking is elevated to awesome. I’m an encyclopedia for Omaha’s best salsa and healthiest jalapenos (Jacobo’s), best naan (Indian Grocery), and best sauces and uncommon produce (Asian Market), but while I love Ethiopian food—and Toto’s “Africa” is one of my favorite songs—I haven’t spent as much time in Omaha’s African groceries as I have its Asian, Indian, and Mexican ones.
That all changed when I visited Omaha’s East Africa Grocery Store, where friendly owner Ahmed Mohammed challenged me to make a popular Ethiopian chicken stew called Doro Wat. He and wife Fatuma Tessema run the grocery and adjoining restaurant. Tessema stews and simmers the cuisine to perfection daily. When it’s gone, the restaurant simply closes for the day.
Mohammed explains the recipe as he walks me through the store, which smells of spice and incense, and is packed with seasonings, lentils, flours, and other provisions. His instructions, based upon his wife’s cooking, are loose and approximate. Holding out cupped hands, he instructs me to fry “about this much” shallots while then adding one cupped hand of berebere.
“You’ll think it looks like it’s going to be too hot; it’s so much,” says Mohammed of berebere, perhaps the most iconic of Ethiopian spices. “But when you fry it with the shallots and chicken it almost disappears. It is just right.”
Their berebere, which Mohammed says is a combination of 12 spices, including chili, fenugreek, fennel, and paprika, is imported from Ethiopia. His mother brings spices and other Ethiopian victuals when visiting from Africa. Tessema makes the other essential ingredient, clarified butter or niter kibbeh, adding “lots of spices.” It’s similar to ghee, where the butter is boiled and the residue skimmed.
Tomatoes, chicken, ginger, and garlic join the shallots, butter, and berbere to round out the recipe. Most Doro Wat also includes hard-boiled egg, but Mohammed doesn’t mention this in his instructions.
Injera, spongy, sour bread made with teff flour, doubles as a utensil in the forkless world of Ethiopian cuisine. Mohammed tells me home-making of injera will be tricky as it takes a special, seasoned grill. His store sells pre-made injera, which I opted to purchase.
With Mohammed’s assurances, I was out the door and soon donning my apron at home. The recipe comes together effortlessly and makes my whole house smell amazing. My taste-tester, Pete, gives it very high marks, and I have to agree. It was a deliciously savory meal and an exotic, eye-opening culinary adventure.
East Africa Grocery Doro Wat
Makes 4 small-ish servings
- 1½ Tbsps vegetable, corn or canola oil
- 1¾ cups minced shallots (about 7 large shallots)
- ¼ cup berebere (can be adjusted to your spice preference)
- 5 plum tomatoes, peeled and pureed (shortcut: puree about 8 ounces diced tomatoes with 4 ounces tomato paste)
- 4 chicken thighs or drumsticks (I used boneless thighs)
- 1 Tbsp fresh minced ginger
- 1 Tbsp fresh minced garlic
- About 2 Tbsps niter kibbeh (spiced butter)
- Salt to taste
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled, whole (optional)
- Water, add a Tbsp or two if needed (optional)
- Injera for serving (Remember, no forks allowed!)
- Heat oil over medium-low heat in a large saucepan or skillet.
- Add diced shallots and fry until they turn golden brown, about 5 minutes.
- Add berebere, stir and cook for about 2 minutes more before adding the tomato puree.
- Cook about 5 minutes, adding a little water if desired.
- Add chicken to sauce and simmer covered until cooked through, stirring occasionally and turning chicken along the way. Make sure the chicken touches the bottom of the pan while cooking. Feel free to add a little more water at this stage if needed.
- When chicken is cooked, add garlic and ginger, stir and cook for 2 minutes, then add niter kibbeh, re-stir and cook for another few minutes.
- If you want to add hard-boiled eggs, put them in (whole and peeled) at this point and coat with sauce. Serve over injera with extra injera on the side.