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Doro Wat (Ethiopian Spicy Chicken Stew)

Thanks to all of you and your voting prowess, we made it past round #1 of Project Food Blog! Yay! This is my entry for challenge #2: attempt a classic dish from an unfamiliar culture.

We had a tutor when we were growing up in Hong Kong. She used to come to our house on weeknights, maybe 3 times or so in a week, to help us with our homework. My sister and I referred to her as 姐姐, calling her “big sister” in Cantonese because in many ways, that’s who she was. She was in her 20s, studying at the university, and sure, she helped us with our homework, but she also played games with us and took us out on fun outings.

姐姐 was a gentle soul with a seemingly unending source of patience for dealing with two unruly girls who, while they may be good at math, were not so good at actually sitting down to do their math. Little hooligans that we were, we sometimes frustrated her so much that she broke down in tears, causing my grandmother to rush into the room to play referee. In my mind, though, what I remember most about 姐姐 is the time she taught me about the world.

You see, when I was little, Hong Kong seemed like an enormous place. Going from one end of the city to the other took hours and surely, no other place could be nearly that huge. I remember once asking 姐姐 to point out Hong Kong on a world map and she complied. When she touched her finger to the paper, I thought she was pointing at all of Asia and I felt vindicated, “See? I knew Hong Kong is huge!” Patiently, she explained that my city, this ginormous city in which I lived, is merely a teeny tiny dot on the map. And that China is a blob, albeit a rather large blob, within this even bigger blob called Asia. And this Asia? It’s merely one continent out of a grand total of seven. The world, in that single moment, became a much much bigger place than I could have possibly imagined.

Even after moving halfway across the world, I’m still astounded by the enormity of our world. But these days, my fascination has less to do with physical distances and blob sizes on maps and more to do with the more abstract notion of cultural distances. I will be the first to admit that I know next to nothing about a huge swath of the globe. If you, for example, asked me about Africa, all I would be able to tell you is what I’ve seen in movies and television documentaries and let’s face it, I will most likely offend every single person from Africa who comes upon this site.

So let’s not do that. Instead, let’s talk about food, that which easily bridges even the greatest of cultural divides. In the kitchen, the only trip I’ve made to the African continent is to Morocco via a fragrant vegetable tagine. But having recently tasted some incredible Ethiopian food in DC (the best in the country, I’m told), I’ve been itching to venture further into an unknown land. What better place to begin, then, than with doro wat, said to be the most popular traditional food in Ethiopia?

Doro wat is a spicy chicken stew made using a spice paste called berbere and a spiced clarified butter called niter kibbeh, which I like to think of as “ghee amplified.” It begins with a unique step of dry-frying onions in the absence of any fat to draw out moisture, which works to thicken the stew later on during cooking. Some recipes I found even call for the onions to be cooked without fat for hours, but that’s an experiment I’m saving for another day.

Who knows? Maybe one day, I will get myself to Ethiopia. But until then, at least I know I can inch just a little bit closer with this Doro Wat.

This recipe is the result of combining three I found online, at Pretty Peas, African Kitchen, and Congo Cookbook. All three are similar in their ingredients lists and differ mostly in the amounts, so I improvised. Because there’s nothing I hate more than overcooking eggs, I opted to soft-boil the eggs and omit adding them to the stew until serving. The more traditional way calls for hard-boiling the eggs first, then simmering them in the stew for the last 15 min of cooking. Do what you like.

Make the niter kibbeh the night before while you settle in for a movie or a television show – I guarantee you won’t regret it. But if you’re really doing this last minute, substituting an equivalent amount of butter should work.

For the spices, the measurements are generally for the ground versions, so if you are using whole spices, keep in mind that you’ll end up with less volume after grinding. I usually increase the amounts by 1.5- to 2-fold to adjust, depending on how chunky the whole spices are.

For the niter kibbeh (spiced clarified butter):
½ lb unsalted butter
⅛ cup onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp ginger, peeled and minced
¼ tsp turmeric
2 cardamom pods, smashed
½ cinnamon stick
1 whole clove
pinch of nutmeg
⅛ tsp ground fenugreek
¼ tsp dried basil

For the berbere:
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground fenugreek
1 tsp ground cardamom (from the seeds, not the whole pods)
½ tsp ground coriander seeds
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
⅛ tsp ground clove
⅛ tsp ground cinnamon
⅛ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 Tbsp cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp paprika
4 dried red chilies, stems removed (I used 2 New Mexico chiles because they’re big)
2 Tbsp salt
4 cloves garlic
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled
1 small onion, chopped coarsely
½ cup water
4 Tbsp vegetable oil

And finally, for the doro wat:
2½-3 lb chicken pieces (I used a combination of thighs and drumsticks)
1 lemon
1½ tsp salt
2 onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp ginger, peeled and minced
¼ cup niter kibbeh
⅓ cup berbere (use a little less if you are sensitive to spice)
¼ tsp ground fenugreek
¼ tsp ground cardamom
2 Tbsp paprika
¼ cup red wine
¾ cup water
4 eggs, boiled (see headnote)

Make the niter kibbeh (the night before): In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Bring it to a gentle boil, until the top is foamy. Add in all the other ingredients and reduce heat to the lowest possible setting – the butter should just barely bubble. Simmer gently on low heat, uncovered, for about an hour. Check that all the milk solids have clumped to the bottom and started to turn brown. Remove from heat and strain through cheesecloth or a fine-mesh sieve into a heat-resistant jar. Discard spices and milk solids. Cover tightly and store in the fridge. The spiced butter will keep for about 2 months in the fridge.

Marinate the chicken: Mix the chicken pieces with the juice of one lemon and the salt. Cover with plastic and put in the fridge for 30 min to an hour.

Make the berbere (while the chicken is marinating): In a dry pan over medium-low heat, toast all the spices (everything above and including paprika in the list) until fragrant. Set aside. (If you’re using whole spices, you can toast them before grinding.) In the same pan, toast the chiles. Put the onions, garlic, ginger, and toasted chiles in the bowl of a food processor with the 1/2 cup of water. Puree. Add in spices, salt, and oil and puree again until well-mixed. Pour the whole mixture into a saucepan and simmer over medium heat for 10 min until thick. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge, with a thin film of oil on top.

Make the stew: Heat a heavy-bottom pot or Dutch oven large enough to hold all the ingredients over medium heat. Saute the onions (dry! no oil!) for about 5-10 min, stirring constantly to prevent browning. You want the onions only to soften and not caramelize, so be prepared to watch the pot like a hawk during this step. Once the onions are softened, stir in niter kibbeh until the onions are coated. Add garlic and ginger and stir until well-mixed.

Add in berbere, fenugreek, cardamom, and paprika. Saute for another 5 min.

Add in red wine and water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer, uncovered, for 5 min.

Add chicken and stir to coat. Bring back to a boil, cover, and simmer for another 30-45 min, until the chicken is cooked all the way through and very tender. Because I like a thicker stew, I prefer to simmer without a cover for the last 20-30 min. If you like a soupier stew, keep the cover on.

Taste the stew and add salt if needed. Serve over rice, couscous, or to be extraordinarily traditional, injera (a crepe-like bread made with teff flour that I have yet to master).


Yield: about 6 servings
Time: ~30 min prep + 2-3 hrs for simmering/marinating

75 Comments

  1. 28 September 2010 at 4:09 pm

    SOOOOO when are we going to Ethiopia together? because i obviously forsee this as a viable future. Dorowatting all over Ethiopia!

    • angi said:
      28 September 2010 at 5:27 pm

      Whitney, you’re so funny! I’m totally using “dorowat” as a verb now too. And yes, Ethiopia needs to go on our respective travel list, no? If only to dorowat it up all over the place.

  2. Sandy said:
    28 September 2010 at 7:40 pm

    Fabulous foodie minds think alike ! You went even further making your own butter and spice-incredible ! I’m casting my vote for you my fellow Doro Wat chef !

    • angi said:
      29 September 2010 at 6:56 am

      Thanks Sandy! Here’s what I think: Doro-wat-ters are COOL! :)

  3. Monet said:
    28 September 2010 at 9:06 pm

    What a wonderful post! One of my best friends came from Ethiopia, and she always raved about her home cuisine. You did her words justice! I will be casting a vote in your favor. Thank you so much for sharing with me (and for your kind words on my blog!)

    • angi said:
      29 September 2010 at 6:58 am

      Hi Monet! If only your friend can taste this and tell me how to make it even more authentic (or better yet, teach me to make injera), I’d be forever grateful. Thanks for reading!

  4. 28 September 2010 at 9:47 pm

    It definitely is a big world out there. Like your perspective in this post. My vote’s in : ) Good luck!

    • angi said:
      29 September 2010 at 6:58 am

      HI Heena! I love thinking about how huge our world is…just because that means I have that many more places to visit. Thanks for reading!

  5. Peter said:
    28 September 2010 at 10:41 pm

    Wow, that looks really good! (I’m a big fan of New Mexico chiles, too)

    You got our vote!

    • angi said:
      29 September 2010 at 6:59 am

      Thanks Peter! Who knew New Mexico has such good chiles?? ;)

  6. 29 September 2010 at 4:06 am

    Looks great! Thanks for the vote, I’m definitely returning the favor!

    • angi said:
      29 September 2010 at 7:00 am

      Thank you!

  7. Bonnie said:
    29 September 2010 at 5:27 am

    Holy moly, that looks sooooo good! I love Ethiopian food and I’ll have to try and make this now that the weather is getting colder. Sending a vote your way!

    • angi said:
      29 September 2010 at 7:01 am

      Hi Bonnie! Yes, try making this when it gets cooler – I always want to hear if my recipes work for other people, so please pardon my using you as a tester. Thanks for reading!

  8. 29 September 2010 at 1:30 pm

    This looks so fantastic. I can almost smell it by just looking at the pictures. Thanks for sharing. And thanks for stopping by my site with the nice comment!

    • angi said:
      29 September 2010 at 9:47 pm

      Thanks for reading, Kate! Good luck in PFB!

  9. 29 September 2010 at 1:50 pm

    Loved the intro to this post – so evocative. And the food looks incredible.

    Already voted and looking forward to your next post for the third round!

    Cheers,
    Fiona

    • angi said:
      29 September 2010 at 9:48 pm

      Same to you, Fiona … I can’t see what’s going to follow homemade soup dumplings! Thanks for reading and voting!

  10. 29 September 2010 at 3:46 pm

    i want to take my virtual injera and start sopping that stuff up. nom. i would have totally bought the spice premade though–haha i’m lazy ;)

    • angi said:
      29 September 2010 at 9:49 pm

      Maybe one day Foodbuzz will figure out some way for bloggers to actually share their food and not just the photos, huh? Thanks for stopping by, bakingbarrister!

  11. 29 September 2010 at 6:00 pm

    Great story and I adore Ethiopean food. You have my vote and thank you for yours!

    • angi said:
      29 September 2010 at 9:50 pm

      Thanks Eve!

  12. Joanne Choi said:
    30 September 2010 at 4:48 am

    fabulous dish with a wonderful story! you have my vote!

    • angi said:
      30 September 2010 at 6:42 pm

      Thanks Joanne!

  13. Ed Feng said:
    30 September 2010 at 9:49 pm

    Angi,

    Didn’t think anyone could make me hungry after my large, awesome pork burrito for lunch, but you did it!!

    Ed

    • angi said:
      30 September 2010 at 10:01 pm

      Thanks Ed! Now I’m hungry for an awesome pork burrito…

  14. zinny said:
    17 December 2010 at 12:03 am

    Angi, I am so proud of you: the website, the meals and for venturing to make doro wat. I’ve loved doro wat and injera from a distance for years- you’ve inspired me to give the stew a try.
    If I knew you were a foodie back in our Palo Alto days – I’d definitely had asked to be a taster for you.
    BTW – you didn’t offend me :-D

    • angi said:
      17 December 2010 at 11:55 pm

      Ezinne!! It’s been a long time! And don’t worry – you didn’t miss out on anything during our Stanford days. I only started getting into cooking the last few years or I would have definitely had you over to be a taster. I hope you’ve been well and thank goodness I didn’t offend you! :D

  15. Malcolm said:
    1 August 2011 at 1:40 pm

    So many times I’ve been to restaurants and thought to myself as I’m eating “I wish I could cook like this!”

    I just finished a platefull of the doro wat with rice.. to the point I gave in, made sure nobody could see me and licked the plate! while I was eating it, I thought “I wish I could… oh wait.. I just did!!!”

    Fantastic recipe, well worth the time spent!

    • angi said:
      1 August 2011 at 4:10 pm

      Malcolm, you just made my day! There’s nothing I love to hear more than someone trying a recipe I put on here and enjoying it. For that, I say you deserve to go get yourself a second plateful! :) Thanks for reading and cooking!

  16. I. Garden said:
    29 October 2011 at 11:52 am

    Thanks for this recipe. I haven’t yet memorized my own doro wat recipe so I treat it like church, and try a little of every kind I come across. I’ll be putting this one to work in my kitchen tonight. Most recipes I’ve seen don’t spell out the way to make the niter kibbeh, so I was pleased to see this. Now, if it will just work in my kitchen as well as it’s apparently worked in yours….

    • angi said:
      8 November 2011 at 11:39 am

      I would love to hear how the recipe works for you and whether you have suggestions/comments on it. Thanks for reading, Gardener!

  17. haggisgirl said:
    17 November 2011 at 5:18 pm

    I made a short-cut version of this last nite from an old Life mag series, for the first time. i also love ethiopian food! doro wat surpasses even most indian food with its complex mix of spices at each point in the recipe!.
    i added tomatoes and red peppers and only mixed the butter with garlic ginger and onion; i used a berbere dry mix from a specialty foods shop. it was still v. good and next time i am not so tired i will do it the right way and also attempt a western version of injera. you know, if someone decided to market injera, i believe people would buy. it wasn’t so long ago you couldn’t get nan bread and poppadums easily and now they’re in the local grocery…

    • angi said:
      18 November 2011 at 4:51 pm

      I agree about injera! I would love to see it at the grocery store (Trader Joe’s, are you listening???). The last time I made doro wat, my sister actually picked up a batch of injera from an Ethiopian restaurant and brought it. Yum!

  18. Malcolm said:
    28 July 2012 at 4:13 am

    I’ve made a few variants since I’ve been cooking this. the first is subsitute 1/2 tsp of the paprika for smoked paprika (no more than that, it can be quite overpowering). It gives it a lovely smokey taste..

    secondly I add in 1 red pepper cut into bite size chunks and 250g of chestnut mushrooms.. bulks it out and means there’s more servings of deliciousness :-)

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