Doro Wat: Ethiopia National Dish


Estonia was a lovely return to Europe for a guy who appreciates European peasant cuisine.  Our next country brings us back to northern Africa and the smells and tastes of the Red Sea region.  Ethiopia is a landlocked nation located in the Horn of Africa, with a population of 82.5 million people, making it the second most populous nation in Africa.

To get there from Estonia we need to retrace the route we took out of Eritrea.  Sailing south from the Baltic Region, we pass the British Isles then Western Europe and Spain/Portugal before reentering the Mediterranean Sea.  Sailing east we reach the Suez Canal and enter the Red Sea.  We anchor at the borderlands of Eritrea and Djibouti and cross overland into the mouth of the Rift Valley and Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is the place where the first Homo Sapien allegedly appeared.  It is a country steeped in history and bloodshed.  It was the place of conquests and battles and the rise and fall of Empires.  In fact the history of Ethiopia is so dense that summarizing it in a few paragraphs is impossible.  Suffice it to say that better historians than I have tackled this task to better results.

My summary would include such interesting facts as the emergence of Rastafarianism in Ethiopia after the reign of Haile Selassie, whom they see as Jah incarnate.  Haile Selassie was a charismatic and powerful leader during his time even making Time Magazines Man of The Year in 1935.

Ethiopia was one of only four African members of the League of Nations and was a founding member of the United Nations.  It is also the location of several Pan-African Organizations including the Organization of African Unity and was a founding member of the Non Aligned Movement.  It was one of the only countries that maintained independence in the European Scramble for Africa.

In the eighties when I was a child, I remember reading of the horrible famines that were happening in Ethiopia.  Over 1 million people died during that period of trouble.  It may have been my first view into the post colonial period in Africa.  It still resonates as I watch other African nations struggle with poverty, famine and genocide.

Ethiopia was the first country to declare Christianity the national religion, in the 4th century.  Today it maintains a Christian majority with another 35% percent Muslim.  This is reasonable considering its history and its location in relation to the roots of all three Abrahamic faiths as well as its relative geography along the Red Sea.

As a result of this geography, it is no surprise that the food culture in Ethiopia reflects both its Arabic and African roots.  Doro Wat or spicy chicken stew is the national dish of Ethiopia.  The use of north African spice blend Berbere has been seen in Eritreas Zigini and is popular throughout northern Africa.  In fact, Doro Wat is very similar in makeup to Zigini except that it uses Chicken instead of beef.  Also the addition of the spiced Ghee (clarified butter, see also Bangladesh) adds an element that is not found in the Zigini recipe, but is used throughout the countries on the spice routes and originated in India.

Traditionally in Ethiopia, Wat(stew) is served with either Injera Bread (see Eritrea) or over rice.

I am giving this recipe a  4 out of 5 for difficulty if you prepare the ghee and the berbere from scratch.  You can substitute butter and a premade berbere to reduce the difficulty significantly.  The actual preparation is not hard.  Ideas for a less spicy version are found below the recipe…



Appearance:  3 out of 5

Aroma: 4 out of 5

Flavor:  4 out of 5

Total: 11 out of 15

Doro Wat (Spicy Chicken Stew)

About 4 servings


2 ½ to 3 pound chicken, cut in pieces

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons peanut oil

2 onions, chopped

¼ cup niter kebbeh (see recipe this page)

2 cloves garlic, chopped

½ teaspoon ground ginger, or 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger

¼ teaspoon fenugreek

¼ teaspoon cardamom

½ cup berberé (see recipe this page)

2 tablespoons paprika

¼ cup dry red wine

1 cup water

4 hard-boiled eggs


1. Mix lemon juice with salt in a small bowl, and rub over chicken pieces. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

2. Heat oil in a large, heavy or non-stick skillet and add onions. Simmer over moderate heat about 5 minutes, until onions are beginning to soften.

3. Stir nitir kebbeh into skillet and heat until melted. Add garlic, ginger, fenugreek, cardamom, berberé and paprika. Stir well after each addition. Cook, stirring, over low heat for about 5 minutes.

4. Pour in wine and water, bring to a boil, and simmer uncovered for five more minutes, until mixture is beginning to thicken.

5. Add chicken to sauce, turning to coat on all sides. Cover tightly, lower heat and simmer 15 minutes.

6. Pierce holes all over the eggs with a fork, then add to the sauce. Cover and simmer another 15 minutes on low heat, until chicken is cooked through.

Serve with injera or rice.

Note: Doro Alecha is a milder version of Doro Wat. To lighten up the spices you would omit the berberé. You could also omit the paprika and use ghee or butter instead of niter kebbeh to make this dish even milder. You can add ½ teaspoon of black pepper to the doro alecha. – Excellent recipe with great detail. Thanks to the creators!

The following condiment recipes are also from the above mentioned link…

Niter Kebbeh (Spiced Ghee)

Makes about 2 cups

2 pounds unsalted butter
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground ginger, or 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1 ½ teaspoons turmeric
½ teaspoon cardamom
1 stick cinnamon
1 whole clove
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1. In a heavy saucepan, heat butter very slowly over low heat until it has melted completely without any browning. Increase heat and bring melted butter to a boil just until top is covered with foam.
2. Stir in onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. Lower heat to lowest possible setting, and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes. A clear layer of liquid will be at the top of the pan, and golden brown solids on the bottom.
3. Pour clear liquid into a jar, straining it through several layers of cheesecloth. Discard seasonings and solids. Cover tightly and store in refrigerator, or at room temperature.

Berberé (Spicy Red Pepper Paste)

This recipe makes about 2 cups of berberé.

1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon cardamom
½ teaspoon coriander
½ teaspoon fenugreek
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons dry red wine
2 cups paprika
2 tablespoons ground red pepper
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 ½ cups water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1. Toast ginger, cardamom, coriander, fenugreek, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and allspice in a heavy skillet for one to two minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and let spices cool.
2. Combine toasted spices, onion, garlic, 1 tablespoon of salt and the wine in a food processor or blender and process until mixture is a smooth paste. You can also pound mixture together in a large mortar and pestle.
3. Combine paprika, red pepper, black pepper and the other tablespoon of salt in the heavy skillet. Toast over low heat one minute, stirring constantly.
4. Stir water into skillet slowly. Add the spice paste. Cook, stirring vigorously, over low heat for about 10 minutes.
5. Store berberé in a jar or crock. After it has cooled to room temperature, cover with a thin layer of oil. This layer should be replenished after each use to help preserve the spice mixture. Store in refrigerator.

Eric Ackerson
Eric Ackerson is a food writer, blogger and seafood marketing professional. His work takes him to many ports of call around the world. Currently Eric is cooking the national dish of every country on Earth at his blog My Hungry Tum. Eric enjoys travel and says his favorite food cities are Singapore and Vancouver. He lives in Charlotte NC with his wife and two daughters who he says are quickly becoming “foodies” themselves…
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