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Doro wat - lucky dip part 2

"patiently tending pots over the fire, coaxing flavour out of stone soup." Niki Kopcke - The Guardian

This is the dish that I turned to for my lucky dip - well the one on the page before. I'm featuring it because it looked so, so tempting and also because it illustrates so well the possibly too authentic authenticity that I was talking about in my post about the Feast magazine.

At first sight it looks like a sort of curry with a sort of flatbread, but when you start to read the recipe you realise, that no, you probably won't be making this because it's just too hard to find the right ingredients, and if you start substituting - which obviously you can, then it becomes something else altogether.

So what is it and what are the difficulties?

Well 'wat' - sometimes transliterated a little differently - basically means stew. This version is the chicken version and has sort of become the national dish of Ethiopia. If you go to an Ethiopian restaurant and there are several in Melbourne - it will be on the menu. It seems that most of those restaurants are in the north and west of the city - or in the city itself - Collingwood, Northcote, Footscray, etc. Well these are the areas where recent immigrants tend to go.

It's a slow cooked dish -

"The magic is in the slow-cooked onions. And it takes time for the magic to happen." The Daring Gourmet

If you go to the SBS website, not only will you find the recipe but you will find a video too. It begins with the onions having been cooked down over a long time - without any fat. The cook in the video said that when the onions were raw they filled the pot (3kg) but when cooked they were down to a centimetre or two at the bottom of the pot. So, long and slow.

"Perhaps the most obvious is an unusual cooking technique: the preparation of a wat begins with chopped onions slow cooked, without any fat or oil, in a dry skillet or pot until much of their moisture has been driven away." Wikipedia

This is not at all how we are used to beginning stews is it? We might start with onions but there is generally some fat added and they are sautéed, often with garlic for a relatively brief time.

The next problem, having established that you need a spare few hours to cook this, is that

"Fat (usually niter kibbeh) is then added, and the onions and other aromatics are sautéed before the addition of other ingredients. This method causes the onions to break down and thicken the stew." Wikipedia

Niter kibbeh is a kind of clarified butter, and you could substitute ghee, but it's not the same because the butter is spiced. I did find a recipe on the website I am no food critic ... but, so if you're into these things give it a go - the ingredients were all available in your local supermarket, but if you fancy a trip to Footscray, or maybe Northcote, you may be able to find some ready made. I wonder how long it will be before it makes it on to standard supermarket shelves. I am vaguely aware of a growing interest in African food - particularly Ethiopian and Somalian - after all these are the majority of the refugees from Africa I think, although Nigeria too has given us quite a few. So maybe it won't be long before African food is the next big thing.

In fact one of this year's best selling cookbooks is Africola, although that is recipes from a trendy Adelaide restaurant that cooks South African food. Quite different I would think.

So back to Doro wat. Ok - having stewed down your onions - lots of time, and I would think you would need to be careful not to burn them, then the niter kibbeh, you proceed to berberé - a somewhat hot spice mix. Again there are recipes out there for this and none of the ingredients are hard to come by - indeed I am considering making some as one of my Christmas spice mixes - for the chilli loving member of our family - my grandsons' mother. But you can't get it ready made in an ordinary supermarket - maybe in a gourmet delicatessen or supermarket, or else it's another trip to Footscray or Northcote or some other Ethiopian enclave.

That's still not the end of it though because there is yet another spice mix to add and this one includes nigella seeds, ajowan seeds and African basil. At a pinch you might find the nigella seeds and the ajowan seeds in an Asian shop and there are plenty of them around, but not the African basil I fear. The recipe in my little book says of this:

"If you can't find African basil (it is not readily available in Australia), simply leave it out."

All very well but the man in the video added a really large handful of this, so you would expect it to make a difference.

So Ok - you've managed to find some nigella and ajowan, you've carefully made your niter kibbeh and berberé spice mix, the chicken and hard-boiled eggs have been added and now you just have to stew it - it's even better the next day apparently.

But there is one last problem. It has to be served with injera:

"a bread made from tef that has the colour of slightly oxidised iron (and it is high in iron), the open honeycomb structure of tripe, the texture of thin carpet underlay and a most individual and slightly sour flavour. This may not seem very enticing, but injera becomes curiously addictive quite rapidly" Matthew Fort - The Guardian

Even if you could find teff I doubt you will find a recipe and indeed even if you did:

"I can assure you that any attempt to make this bread at home could result in major flaws and disappointment as it will never be the same as that from an authentic Injera bakery." I am no food critic ... but

I gather there are bakeries in Footscray at least that make it but I suspect this is the real killer as far as making an authentic doro wat is concerned. You use it like other flatbreads to scoop up the stew.

What to do, because it does look so delicious? Well you could substitute this and that, and decrease the heat. The man in the SBS video put in 6 tablespoons of the berberé spice which caused Maeve O'Meara to exclaim - she always exclaims - that she had never seen so much spice put into a dish before. So if you cut the heat down - as I would certainly have to - indeed I would have to eliminate it altogether, then it wouldn't be the same thing at all. It still might be tasty - just different and not Doro wat.

The Daring Gourmet recipe and post filled in a bit more than the SBS one on the background to it all as did the I am no food critic ... but site. They are both worth a look. And they and SBS do make it sound as if Ethiopian cuisine is worth investigating.

"Ethiopian cuisine, more than any other I know, is a homage to the process of cooking. Nuanced and richly flavoured, it relies on a small number of very ordinary ingredients, most of them year-round staples in the UK: onions, carrots, potatoes, beetroot and cabbage. The magic is in the cooking: long, slow heat makes the vegetables sweet and yielding, and gives pulses new complexity ...

"It’s cooking that has necessity at its heart – you stewed because you had so little to put in the pot – and one that many immigrants, arriving here from impoverished parts of the world, bring with them." Niki Kopcke - The Guardian

Peasant food rules yet again and may one day be the next big thing. But then again maybe this an example of why Feast the magazine folded. Just too 'authentic' to be practical. A tiny step too far? One tricky thing you can probably manage, but three on the ingredient side - no four, and then slightly different techniques on top of that - plus time. No I don't think so. Though I despise myself a little bit for saying so.


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