Ayib be Gomen, or Collard Greens with Cheese

As a great fan of creamed spinach in all forms, I was anxious to try making my own version of Ayib be Gomen, the collard greens dish I have enjoyed on a couple occasions at Abay. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of consistency among the recipes I consulted, and the spices included in these recipes seemed a bit too simplified for my liking. This was an issue that Sabrina has also reported when attempting Ethiopian dishes; many of the recipes she’s found for homestyle Ethiopian vegetable dishes are not at all spice-rich.

Since I recently put together a satisfactory berbere recipe, I decided to rely on that as the main spice. Before posting this recipe I tried at least three different permutations of this recipe, and I will offer my commentary on each below:


3 tbsp butter
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1-2 tablespoons berbere
black pepper
1 lb fresh or frozen greens
salt and/or pepper
goat cheese, feta cheese or ricotta cheese
extra water

Saute the onion and garlic in the melted butter until onions are softened. Add the ginger and spices and a little extra water, when necessary. Fry the spices for about 10 minutes and then add the greens. Cook covered until greens are softened. Season with salt & pepper, to taste. Before serving, top with crumbled goat or feta cheese, or stir in some ricotta.

First I tried this recipe using spinach, ricotta and my simple berbere. I was a little disappointed, especially in the cheese. I had also wanted to try it with collard greens, which a lot of recipes I found called for, but didn’t have any on hand. Next up, I was determined to try it will real collards. I also recalled, on my last visit to Abay, that the waiter had likened their homemade cheese, used in this dish at the restaurant, to goat cheese, so I figured that some goat or feta would serve it better.

I found some frozen collards at the grocery store, but unfortunately, the goat cheese was way over-priced and so I got feta instead. The dish was okay, but I was still not pleased with it. I froze my leftovers, determined to try again with goat cheese. When I finally got my hands on some, I reheated my frozen leftovers, adding more berbere, and served it with my goat cheese.

The goat cheese was an improvement, but again, it did not rise much above “okay.” Ultimately, I think I just didn’t like the flavor of the collards (not sure what they do to them at Abay that I liked them so well there). If I try this recipe again, I will go back to spinach, and make sure to have goat cheese on hand.

Spicy African Chicken Curry, or Doro Wat

Now that I finally have a reliable berbere recipe, I can sink my teeth into some further Wat recipes. A Wat is essentially an Ethiopian stew or curry that centers around the berbere spice mix. The ingredients across Wat recipes seem to be pretty standard, though I was intrigued by the addition of lemon in this recipe, which I hadn’t seen in other wats. It should be noted that my berbere recipe is fairly mild; I like to be in control of the relative spice levels of any recipe I’m making, and depending on who I’m making it for, I don’t want the addition of more berbere necessarily to mean an increase in spice levels. For that reason I remind us cooks with the ingredient of “additional hot pepper” to add some to taste if your berbere isn’t fundamentally spicy. But if you’re using a berbere with a lot of hot pepper already in it, be careful! My 3 tablespoons may be too much depending on the spiciness of your mix.


2 lbs boneless chicken breasts, cut into pieces
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter or oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon ground ginger
3 tablespoons berbere
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 (14 1/2 ounce) can chicken broth
1 can diced tomatoes
3 oz (1/2 a 6oz can) of tomato paste
2 tablespoons cilantro chutney
salt and pepper
additional hot pepper, to taste
extra water

Marinate the chicken pieces in the lemon juice and salt. Meanwhile, saute the onions, garlic and ginger in the butter or oil until onions are softened. Add the berbere and a little extra water, as needed, and fry the spices for an additional 10 to 20 minutes. Add the red wine, broth, tomatoes, tomato paste, and the chicken pieces with lemon juice marinade included. Stew on low fire until chicken reaches desired doneness. When nearly ready to serve, add the cilantro chutney and season with additional salt and pepper. Serve with rice or flatbread.


I have recently gone into some depth about my travails in finding a good berbere to use in making Ethiopian cuisine at home. When Amazon jacked up the price of a good and convenient berbere, that was the last straw! I refused to try a different, commercially available berbere spice mix for fear it would once again become commercially unavailable.

The first time I attempted to make a complex berbere (as opposed the the simple berbere I use when cooking for my parents), my efforts were pretty half-assed. My pantry was missing several of the called-for spices, including the all important fenugreek, and so I made some not-too-successful substitutions.

Redoubling my efforts this time around, I consulted at least ten different recipes online to make sure that I could create the most comprehensive and spice-rich recipe possible. I compared recipes to get a rough idea of the proportions of the most common spices in relation to one another. Of course, some recipes were different, and some were larger, and some were smaller, but in those cases I let my own instincts and preferences win out.

Luckily, my renewed efforts toward making my own berbere coincided with the need for a stop at Patel Brothers in Monroeville. Their cilantro chutney is a staple of my pantry, and I find that Indian groceries offer MUCH better prices for ordinary and exotic spices than, say McCormick. It’s also conveniently located across the street from my work, so I brought my list of spices to complete the berbere. I got some ground fenugreek (so I’d have no excuse not to use it), nutmeg, and most exciting, a brand new addition to my spice cabinet, ajwain seeds! Unfortunately, the one spice I didn’t find there was allspice. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but I guess allspice doesn’t come into play in Indian recipes. I turned once again to Amazon and found their best deal… one pound of whole, dried allspice berries for about $10. I believe I now officially have enough allspice to last the rest of my life.

Armed with a new arsenal of spices, I set out to assemble my theoretical berbere. I have been using this berbere with some success, though I am treating it as a working recipe, and so I may change and edit this entry as time goes on:


5 tablespoons paprika
3 tablespoons fenugreek
2 tablespoons coriander seed
2 tablespoons ground ginger
2 tablespoons hot chili powder (optional)
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoons cumin
2 teaspoons cardamom
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 teaspoons ajwain seeds
2 teaspoons allspice
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon nutmeg

If using any whole spices, grind them in a spice mill or electric coffee grinder. Assemble all ground spices in a plastic container and combine thoroughly. Hot ground pepper can be increased or decreased to taste.

Mesir Wat, or Ethiopian Red Lentils

For all of my zeal over curry cookery, it is perhaps strange that I had never attempted a lentil dish. Indian cuisine has no shortage of dals (i.e. curry-like amalgams of pulses cooked with spices), but I have never found myself especially excited when I’ve tried them on the buffet. It is surprising, when I consider how much I love black beans and hummus and other such legume-centric foods. Sabrina mentioned recently that whenever she eats a dal on the India Buffet, she thinks that she ought to try making lentils, and I recently had some lentils at Abay that I enjoyed… though, to be fair, I enjoy pretty much everything I eat at Abay.

Two Sundays ago, I was making a rehash of the African Peanut Curry I posted recently, and with all this talk of lentils fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help thinking that a lentil dish would make a good compliment, being easy and cheap, and it would give me an opportunity to attempt making a more complex berbere (see previous link for more discussion of berbere and its complications).

I had to do a bit of grocery shopping to get started, and so a brief excursion to the Giant Eagle ensued. I seemed to recall a sector of one aisle in the Giant Eagle with bags upon bags of different dried beans and lentils; I had never really shopped there myself, as I prefer to get my garbanzos and other beans canned, yet surely, I thought, many varieties of lentil would await me there. Well, it turned out they had only two varieties of lentil, regular brown and split green. But all the recipes I’d found for Mesir Wat called for red lentils? Surely such a thing must be had at the Giant Eagle? Looking further in the imported foods aisle, I was also surprised not to find red lentils among the Goya products, but lo and behold, there was a bag of red lentils further down the aisle among the Middle Eastern imports. $3.75. That price might not seem terrible on its own, but considering that the same amount of brown lentils (a 1 pound bag) was only a dollar and change, paying upwards of four bucks for red lentils seemed like overkill. Surely, using brown lentils wouldn’t make that much difference, right?

I went home, looked up some berbere recipes and got to work. I will readily admit that my efforts toward a more complex berbere were not as conscientious as they could have been that day. Nearly every recipe I found for berbere that included more than four or five ingredients (I believe a simpler berbere also has its utility in my spice cabinet) listed fenugreek among the seasonings. I am not a huge fan of fenugreek seed; I do have it in my vast spice collection, but I find it a little too pungent and it does not seem to me to add much in terms of pleasant flavor to dishes where I’ve used it. Methi leaves (the product of a sprouted fenugreek seed) on the other hand, I am more than willing to use and keep a stock of it specifically for my oft-made saag recipe, but I fail to see redeeming qualities in fenugreek seed. Still, I was willing to use it in my berbere for the sake of authenticity, but I couldn’t find it easily (my spice collection is vast and usually in an advanced state of disorganization), and so in a “screw it” moment decided to move forward through the recipe without it. Further down the list of berbere spices, I ran into another roadblock when I also couldn’t find my nutmeg and realized that I don’t have allspice and never did. I substituted mace and a big of pumpkin pie spice. Shrug? There was always a chance it might turn out to be the best berbere ever, right?

Well, it wasn’t the best ever. It wasn’t the worst either. My first attempt at Mesir Wat, using the brown lentils and the cobbled-together berbere was okay. I didn’t mind eating it, but it wasn’t a flavor combination I found myself anxious to make again. And yet, I did not want to give up on lentils; I knew that I had done a half-assed job of the recipe to begin with, so I took to the internet in search of greater authenticity.

One of the better resources I’ve found, oddly enough, for obtaining harder-to-find culinary items at lower prices is Amazon. My first aim was to find red lentils. There were quite a number of good choices, including one that works out to $1.73 a pound (i.e. the size of a standard grocery package), but I opted for a deal that had eight 1 lb. packages for about $18 (i.e. $2.25 a pound), as I didn’t want to commit to an enormous supply of red lentils until I saw if I would actually use them.

Secondly, I did a search for berbere. If Sabrina couldn’t come up with a good berbere on her own, and I couldn’t come up with a good berbere on my own, maybe it was time to use a pre-packaged mix. I have come to favor making my own spice mixes for a variety of reasons. It ensures consistency within my kitchen. I know exactly what’s in my recipes and I know it will come out the same every time. I don’t have to worry that the spice mix I’m using becomes discontinued or is dropped by available vendors, then I’m forced to find a different mix, and inevitably my recipes come out differently. This is why I make my own garam masala; every time I try to use a different version of this spice mix, it seems like there’s always something in it I don’t like or expect. One I tried had way too much hing, another was much too heavy on cloves and anise.

Berbere seemed a promising exception, however, as we were suffering from the opposite problem. The berbere mixes we managed to come up with seemed to be lacking important flavors that we could not uncover. For all its mystery, a pre-packaged mix might be just what we needed. In looking for a berbere online, I wanted something relatively inexpensive, but also something in a smaller package; just in case the berbere had a large proportion of some spice I found particularly offensive, I didn’t want to have to commit to buying it in bulk. I was lucky enough to find a 2 oz shaker of Ajika Berbere for $2.72 (unfortunately, it has since jumped in price, only a week later, which is the great downside of Amazon, and one of the reasons I was hesitant to use a pre-packaged spice mix in the first place).

Armed with two remedies to my last attempt at Mesir Wat, I was ready to try again. Here is the recipe I used:


Mesir Wat1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 teaspoons garlic, minced
3 tablespoons vegetable oil or bacon fat
3 tablespoons bebere seasoning
2 cups red lentils
2 cups beef stock, or veggie stock
1 (6oz) can tomato paste
extra water, as needed

Saute the onions and garlic in the fat until onions are softened. If you don’t save bacon fat to keep on hand, simply cut up some bacon into small pieces and fry it up and leave the bacon in pan. The presence of bacon only makes things taste better, right? Add berbere and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes, adding about 1/4 cup water as needed to keep contents of skillet or pan from getting too dried out and burning. Add lentils, stock and tomato paste. Simmer covered on low until the lentils are cooked and liquid is absorbed. Additional water can be added if lentils need to cook longer to desired doneness. Serve with rice and/or flat bread.

Twenty minutes for simmering the spices did seem a little long to me; usually I abbreviate such instructions, but since my first attempt at this dish turned out underwhelming, I decided to follow the base recipe I was using more to the letter than I had before. Frying spices does change their flavor, usually by increasing intensity, so I was game to try it, and the recipe turned out very well, so I’m sticking with the 20 minute instruction.

The unfortunate thing is that I cannot stick with the berbere I found and bought on Amazon. I thought I had finally found a good, cheap, convenient spice mix for Ethiopian… but when I went online to find the link so I could include it in this blog, I found that the price of the 2 oz. bottle of berbere had jumped to $9.62. Really? Almost ten dollars for a spice they offered at three dollars only a week before? I understand that markets change and food prices increase or decrease depending on a number of factors, but the mystery of Amazon’s fast and dramatic price fluctuations eludes me. The spice mix might have been tasty, but it isn’t worth the absurdity of paying ten dollars for a tiny amount.

I am now back to my initial conundrum: Where to find a good berbere? Do I hazard to purchase another pre-packaged mix and risk either hating it… or liking it only to have the price or availability change? Do I go back to my own spice cabinet and try to assemble a worthy berbere on my own? Either way, it’s back to the drawing board with berbere!

Ethiopian Peanut Curry

After a recent visit to Abay, where I had the good luck to arrive on a day (for the second time) when chicken with peanut butter sauce was on their specials list, I found myself bit by the bug to attempt cooking some Ethiopian cuisine. My previous attempts to educate myself in Ethiopian cookery failed by virtue of the poor Ethiopian cookbook selection within the wider Carnegie Library borrowing system, and so I took to the internet in search of recipes. Chicken with peanut butter sauce was at the top of my list.

Ethiopian cuisine was fresh on my mind when Sabrina and I went to Tamarind’s Greentree buffet (keep your eyes peeled for a future blog on that experience) for lunch. Sabrina has already attempted delving into Ethiopian, but the persistent difficulty she reported was in creating a good berbere. For those who may not know, berbere is an Ethiopian spice mix, occupying a place in its cookery not unlike garam masala does in Indian cookery. That is to say, it is persistently mysterious, as seemingly everyone and every region does it differently, and yet it is ubiquitous as practically every recipe calls for it. Sabrina reported special difficulty making her own berbere because most of the recipes she found called for an inordinate proportion of paprika over other spices. Now, I’m a firm believer in the ethic that everything tastes better with paprika, but I believed Sabrina when she said that these recipes called for so much, that even such a mild, sweet spice overpowered most other flavors in the berbere. All in all, she found that her attempt to cook Ethiopian turned out edible, but no where near the flavors she had come to expect from Abay.

In the past, I have often made and enjoyed African peanut soup, which calls for no spices at all, let alone berbere, so I had confidence that I could find and make a peanut curry that would be tasty, whether or not it stood a chance against Abay’s chicken in peanut butter sauce. In my search, I found, as expected, many different variations on berbere, from spice mixes that were simple and straightforward, to mixes comprised of a laundry list of ingredients. After combing through a number of recipes for peanut chicken and berbere, I finally found one that looked intriguing and came with a relatively simple berbere recipe. Simple was definitely a selling point here, as I was looking more for a recipe that wouldn’t scare my parents (I mentioned in some recent recipe postings that I have been attempting to introduce my parents to recipes containing ginger, as it is purportedly of specific health benefit to my mother) than I was for a recipe that could stand up to Abay (two goals that might be mutually exclusive). Heeding Sabrina’s warning, I adjusted the proportions of the spice mix to be lighter on the paprika and heavier on the other spices than I originally found it.


2 tablespoons paprika (or hot red pepper)
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Toss all spices together in a plastic bag or sealed container. Store with your spices, enjoy in your recipes.

I mixed this simple berbere at home and took it over to my parents’ house to tackle the rest of the recipe.


3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 onions, chopped
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon berbere
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 lb chicken pieces, tofu, vegetables, etc.
1/2 cup chicken stock
3 oz. tomato paste
1/3-1/2 cup peanut butter
3-4 hard boiled eggs
extra water

Hard-boil the eggs and set aside.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan or large skillet. Saute the onions, garlic and ginger for a few minutes until onions are softened. Add berbere and pepper and cook at least five minutes longer, adding a splash of water if the ingredients in the pan get too dry. If using chicken or other meat, then add the chicken pieces, the stock and enough water (or additional stock) so that the meat is submerged. Extra liquid may be necessary for stewing, and because this recipe contains ground nuts, it will thicken up easily later on. Still don’t go crazy; we just need enough to stew the meat. Tomato paste can also be added at this stage. Cover and simmer long enough for the meat to reach desired doneness. Follow the same procedure if using fresh vegetables, but go easy on the extra liquid.

Add the peanut butter, and stir in until combined. Heat through; sometimes it takes a little heat for the peanut butter to get thoroughly stirred in. Add extra water if the sauce gets too thick. Cut the eggs into halves or quarters. Pour the curry into your serving dish and arrange the eggs on top. Serve with rice or flatbread or all on its own.

This recipe does not taste like Abay’s chicken with peanut butter sauce, but it was quite tasty in its own right, and was enjoyed by all three of us. I especially liked the use of hard-boiled eggs as a curry ingredient, as I’m frequently looking for low-cost, low-carb items on which to enjoy curry sauce (and meat unfortunately doesn’t fall into low-cost). I enjoyed this recipe so much that I made it again for myself the next day, this time using chopped cabbage instead of chicken, a combination that also turned out swimmingly. I also attempted a recipe for Mesir Wat, Ethopian lentils in a more complex berbere sauce, but the consequences of that recipe will have to be a topic for another day.