Ethiopian Berbere: The Spice that Makes African Food So Addictive

Some spice blends are versatile and flavorful enough to define a type of cuisine. China has its signature five-spice. France is known for herbes de Provence. In the U.S., we have our own regional spice mixes, like Cajun seasoning and the many varieties of BBQ rubs. East Africa -- specifically Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia -- is best known for its unique blend, berbere.

Berbere, like most spice blends, can include a wide variety of ingredients, but it typically contains chili peppers, garlic, ginger, black pepper, fenugreek, allspice, and cloves. Before including it in a recipe, the blend is often mixed with water to make a paste, but it can also be used as a spice rub or seasoning. Basically, it can find its way into any dish from seafood and poultry to soup and lentils. Chances are that if you've eaten Eastern African food and, like many, found it addictive and satisfying, this little spice blend is responsible. Any of the popular stews called "wat" or "wot" most likely contain berbere.

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Dominique Chatterjee