Making Ethiopia’s national dish – injera – in Gelan Idero

injera baking

Injera, also known as Ethiopian flatbread, is part of Ethiopia’s traditional cuisine. It’s the perfect way to scoop up delicious spicy sauces, meats and vegetables that are the mainstay of Ethiopian cuisine.  Injera is typically made with the grain teff, whose name means “lost” because each grain is so small. Teff is an important crop for the people of Gelan Idero, who plant, harvest and sell it as a key part of their livelihood.

Teff – the tiny, iron-rich grain seed from which traditional injera is made – accounts for a quarter of Ethiopia’s total cereal production.  Because it is an excellent source of many important nutrients including calcium and protein, teff has great potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, and foster the development of rural livelihoods. However, teff farming is limited to Ethiopia’s Northern Highland regions where there is adequate elevation and rainfall, so making injera with teff is relatively expensive for the average household to afford.

The art of baking injera is partially the grain used, and also the process of fermentation that is required.

In Gelan Idero, village women harvest teff and manually separate its tiny grains from the chaff using a sieve.  Once the grain is ground into flour, they add water, place the mixture in a big bin, and let it ferment for two to three days.  The longer the fermentation period, the more sour the dough.

The sourdough mix is then cooked like pancakes on a hot clay plate or specialized electric stove.  There is an involved process of pouring the batter just so to create the large, perfectly-formed and perfectly-textured bread.  The final product is spongy and firm enough to scoop up the delicious, spiced hot entrées, always with the right hand for cultural and religious reasons.

Meal times are highly social activities in Ethiopia.  A large pan of cold injera will be offered, along with main dishes of chicken or sometimes lamb or goat stews (called wat), flavoured with a spice mixture similar to curry called berbere.  And, since Ethiopia is Africa’s top coffee producer, no meal is complete without the highly-ritualized coffee ceremony and popcorn as the perfect ending.

Would you consider trying your hand at making injera?  A recipe – adapted for Canadian cooks – is available from CFTC’s World Food Party menu.  If you try injera or any of the other recipes here, let us know how they work out!