Ethiopian cuisine (Amharic: የኢትዮጵያ ምግብ) characteristically consists of vegetable and often very spicy meat dishes. This is usually in the form of wat, a thick stew, served atop injera, a large sourdough flatbread, which is about 50 centimeters in diameter and made out of fermented teff flour. Ethiopians eat most of the time with their right hands, using pieces of injera to pick up bites of entrées and side dishes.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church prescribes a number of fasting (tsom, Ge’ez: ጾም ṣōm, excluding any kind of animal products, including dairy products and eggs) periods, including Wednesdays, Fridays, and the entire Lenten season, so Ethiopian cuisine contains many dishes that are vegan.
A typical dish consists of injera accompanied by a spicy stew, which frequently includes beef, lamb, vegetables and various types of legumes, such as lentils. Gurage cuisine also makes use of the false banana plant (enset, Ge’ez: እንሰት inset), a type of ensete. The plant is pulverized and fermented to make a bread-like food called qocho or kocho (Ge’ez: ቆጮ ḳōč̣ō), which is eaten with kitfo. The root of this plant may be powdered and prepared as a hot drink called bulla (Ge’ez: ቡላ būlā), which is often given to those who are tired or ill. Another typical Gurage preparation is coffee with butter (kebbeh). Kita herb bread is also baked.
Berbere, a combination of powdered chili pepper and other spices (somewhat analogous to Southwestern American chili powder), is an important ingredient used in many dishes. Also essential is niter kibbeh, a clarified butter infused with ginger, garlic, and several spices.
Mitmita (Amharic: ሚጥሚጣ, IPA: [mitʼmitʼa]) is a powdered seasoning mix used in Ethiopian cuisine. It is orange-red in color and contains ground birdseye chili peppers (piri piri), cardamom seed, cloves and salt. It occasionally has other spices including cinnamon, cumin and ginger.
In their adherence to strict fasting, Ethiopian cooks have developed a rich array of cooking oil sources—besides sesame and safflower—for use as a substitute for animal fats which is forbidden during fasting periods. Ethiopian cuisine also uses nug (also spelled noog, also known as “niger seed”).
Wat begins with a large amount of chopped red onion, which is simmered or sauteed in a pot. Once the onions have softened, niter kebbeh (or, in the case of vegan dishes, vegetable oil) is added. Following this, berbere is added to make a spicy keiy wat or keyyih tsebhi. Turmeric is used instead of berbere for a milder alicha wat or both spices are omitted when making vegetable stews, such as atkilt wat. Meat such as beef (ሥጋ,siga), chicken (ዶሮ, doro or derho), fish (ዓሣ, asa), goat or lamb (በግ, beg) is also added. Legumes such as split peas (ክክ, kək or kikki) and lentils (ምስር, məsər or birsin); or vegetables such as potatoes (ድንች, Dənəch), carrots and chard (ቆስጣ) are also used instead in vegan dishes.
Each variation is named by appending the main ingredient to the type of wat (e.g. kek alicha wat). However, the word keiy is usually not necessary, as the spicy variety is assumed when it is omitted (e.g. doro wat). The term atkilt wat is sometimes used to refer to all vegetable dishes, but a more specific name can also be used (as in dinich’na caroht wat, which translates to “potatoes and carrots stew”; but notice the word “atkilt” is usually omitted when using the more specific term).