I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Ethiopia boasts one of my favorite cuisines in the world. A big plate of lentils, spicy beef stew, and greens, all scooped by slightly soured, spongy pieces of injera flatbread…heaven.
Eugene has no Ethiopian restaurant, and neither do many cities in which we’ve lived, so I’ve tried to make my own. The stews aren’t too hard, once you have the ingredients. If it all seems too much, visiting a Portland Ethiopian restaurant might be the ticket. I’m particularly eager to try top-rated Bete-Lukas Ethiopian Restaurant, and not just because the kind owner, Peter, commented on my recipe for Ethiopian bruschetta the other day! :) But a quick visit to the Bay Area or an online shopping jaunt at Brundo Market for some Ethiopian berebere and shiro powders can take you the distance.
When I make Ethiopian food, I turn to the only authentic, comprehensive Ethiopian cookbook, Daniel Mesfin’s Exotic Ethiopian Cooking, which appears to be in print again. This little cookbook has many alternates to the handful of stews that you’ll see in most Ethiopian restaurants, and it really gives a sense of how many ways one can cook Ethiopian food. I’ll echo my some of the reviews, warning that the instructions can be a bit mystifying for the home cook. But the recipes are clearly the product of a very experienced, very creative cook(s) who knows her Ethiopian food. (It’s also worth noting that there are several recipes for injera using different grains that would be worth trying, but I found the teff injera recipe too vague, and hence this post.)
I’ve struggled for years with making injera, failing miserably. Some (my husband) might even say spectacularly. I was beginning to suspect that teff flour just wouldn’t ferment in Eugene, with its very unlike Ethiopian weather conditions and radically different airborne flora. Retrogrouch called my results “poop pancakes” and even refused to enter the kitchen when I made them. I tried adding beer, yogurt, yeast, soda water, fermenting more, fermenting less…it was ugly. I had to save my marriage, so I put my injera-making dreams aside.
Now, several years later, and craving Ethiopian food in this Ethiopian food desert, I’m thankful to have two new injera recipes to try. There is a recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. Another appears in this post. It is from Ceri, a local cook who was kind enough earlier this winter to send me method and pictures, making what seems at first like a complicated procedure look simple. We’ve worked together to write up a recipe that we think everyone will be able to follow. I haven’t been able to test either Katz’s or Ceri’s recipes, so I’d especially love to hear your experiences if you them it a whirl!
What excites me most about Ceri’s recipe is that she’s a local cook, and therefore I know that it is possible to ferment injera batter in Eugene. Secondly, she uses 100% teff flour, so the recipe will achieve that delicious, uniquely sour taste only teff can provide. Many Ethiopian restaurants only use wheat flour, or a combination of wheat and teff. Using only teff creates a recipe good for those of us who want to cut down or eliminate gluten from our diets.
So, without further ado, please join me in a warm welcome to Ceri! (applause) All the great, instructive images in this post are hers, and I’m so thankful she provided them so we can all learn from her successes and mistakes. Please give her a shout out in the comments to acknowledge her hard work.
Guest Post by Ceri, Injera Superwoman
I was 3 months pregnant, so nauseated that I was eating cold scrambled eggs and rice cakes when I developed an unquenchable craving for injera. I know, not at all a usual craving for a Southern California transplant to Oregon. But there I was, too sick to cook or drive up to Portland, craving injera. While I couldn’t cook, I looked for an authentic injera recipe on the internet.
After much trial and error, a large dose of stubbornness, and some luck, I came up with the following method. We ate a lot of injera and Ethiopian food while I was pregnant and injera was my baby’s first solid food after rice cereal.
My injera aren’t quite authentic, but they are closer to the restaurant version than many of the recipes on the internet, especially the ones using Bisquick and soda water When I cook them, the bottom forms a light crust and gets a little brown. I just stack them as I cook them and they soften right up.
The secret of the batter seems to be to make the yeast happy. If I ever get an incubator from a biology lab that can hold the temperature at 30C at home, I might get closer to that ideal.
I buy Maskal Ivory teff flour from the Teff Co., and I order 25lb bags from Azure Standard. I have also used Bob’s Red Mill teff flour with good results. (Eugenia notes: You could also grind your own teff grain, available in bulk at places like Sundance. Brown teff, more widely available, will result in much darker (some might say poop-colored) pancakes. The white pancakes you see in Ethiopian restaurants either have no teff or a portion of ivory teff.)
Makes about fourteen 8-inch-diameter pancakes. (Enough for 3-4 hungry people)
Total time: 3 days. Active time: 1 hour.
- 3 cups warm water
- 2 cups teff flour
- 1 teaspoon baker’s yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
Making the Batter
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl, cover with a lid or foil, and let sit in warm place to ferment for three days, stirring daily. Stir twice a day, if you can manage. My house is kept at a relatively cool temperature (65F), so I will sometimes turn on the oven on the lowest temperature setting, then turn it off when it starts heating up, and place the injera in the oven overnight to get the fermentation started.
Day 1. The first day, the batter forms what I think of as a sponge, a floating bubble filled mass on top of the liquid. Use a whisk to stir the batter at least once, but preferably twice, during the first 24-hour period; you will see holes when you stir it by the end of this period. The batter should start to smell very sour, like sourdough.
Day 2. As the batter ferments, it should separate. You will see a light tan liquid rising to the top. Mix the liquid in thoroughly.
Day 3. The batter becomes cohesive (i.e., there will be less liquid separating out of the mix and the consistency changes) as it ferments. You will see bubbles after you have stirred. The batter should be ready to use now.
“Ready to use” is a bit flexible: several results may occur. If the batter smells like sourdough and you have many bubbles in the morning, and you want to use it in the evening, put it in a relatively cool spot to slow down the fermentation. At my house, I just put it in the cold oven and don’t warm it up again.
If there are no bubbles after you have stirred and yet it smells sour, add a little bit of flour and put in a warmer place for an hour or two. I don’t always catch it at the perfect time. It is still usable; the injera won’t be as pretty but will taste good.
If the batter starts smelling like old gym socks, or like it is putrifying, it has gone bad and should be discarded.
If it has been too cold or you need to cook the injera early, you may add a 1/2 tsp of xanthan gum as a binder. Save a bit of the batter to use as a starter for your next batch of injera. Keep the starter in the refrigerator, then incorporate it into the next batch of batter, and it will ferment more quickly. I have found that if it kept properly warm, the batter only needs to sit a day or two before cooking when using a starter.
Cooking the Injera Pancakes
You’ll be making 8-inch wide pancakes, much smaller than the ones in Ethiopian restaurants, but much more manageable. The cooking method is a combination of no-oil frying and steaming. The whole process can take several minutes for each pancake, so allow plenty of time.
After the fermenting process has finished, preheat a 10-inch frying pan on medium low heat. You can use a non-stick or well-seasoned cast iron pan, or try to manage with a regular stainless steel skillet (which will stick more than the first two options). Without adding oil, pour in enough injera batter to create an 8-inch wide thin pancake. Cover pan with a lid, so the injera cooks from the bottom and steams on top.
The whole bread changes color as it cooks. Remove the lid when the color has finished changing, then let the pancake dry a little before removing it from the pan.
It is not always easy to get the injera off the pan, especially if you are using stainless steel. I start on the outside and loosen around the edges and then work through to the middle. The first injera I cook always turns out horrible.
What Can Go Wrong
There are many ways injera can go wrong.
In the image to the left, you’ll see an example where the injera didn’t get the nice bubbles throughout and got soggy on the bottom since the steam didn’t escape through the bubbles. I think the problem with this batch was that it didn’t ferment properly — either the temperature was too cold or I didn’t incubate it long enough. Over-incubation seems to have a similar effect.
The batch to the right has no bubbles at all.
You might be able to improve an off batch by adding either some more yeast or some sugar several hours before cooking. I haven’t tried this, however.
But you’ll see during cooking if the fermentation process wasn’t successful. You may decide to throw the batch away and serve rice that night.
(Eugenia adds: I’ve also had the experience of the pancakes refusing to cook, period. It was almost like an alien creature that doesn’t respond to the laws of science. It remained a gluey goop. After trying to make several pancakes and then resorting to injera scrambled eggs, I gave up.)