A full version with recipes can be found at the Slow Travel Berlin website. more...
Full version with recipes can be found at Slow Travel Berlin. more...
I've been a big fan of Felicity Cloake's Perfect column for the Guardian ever since it started. more...
Having frequently sampled delicious Ethiopian food at a Stuttgart restaurant, I finally decided that I should try and make some myself.
The hardest part of the meal was recreating Injera, which is a type of leavened sourdough flatbread and a staple of Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine.
Injera is made from the grain teff, which Wikipedia lists as "a species of lovegrass". Unfortunately, it seems to be almost impossible to find outside North Africa. I read several online articles starting with a moan about how they couldn't got hold of any teff, and then giving their fail-proof recipe with the main ingredient being... teff. Helpful.
Going to my trusted online dictionary, I found out the German word for teff is Zwerghirse, and Hirse means millet. Wikipedia also claims that for cooking purposes, teff is "similar to millet". Millet is not a single grain type (or even a taxonomic group), but this information was enough for me, and I hastened down to my local healthfood shop to buy some millet flour. The only one I could find was Braunhirse.
Hooray! I have a grain. The next process is to ferment it. This fermenting process is what gives Injera its distinctive sour taste.
You mix the flour with water to about a 1:1 ratio; you are after the consistency of pancake batter. Then add a bit of sourdough starter (more on this in a later blog post). In an ideal world, the starter would also be made with teff flour, although as you only need to add a teaspoon or so, it doesn't make much difference. The yeast and the lactobacilli are what are important.
In Ethiopia, the starter would be a bit of fermented batter left over from the last batch. If you're interested in giving this a go, but don't have any sourdough starter, several online sources claim a teaspoon of commercial yeast is an acceptable substitute for starter.
The whole mixture is left to ferment at room temperature. Some people claim overnight is enough. Others say you need more like three to five days. I left mine for three days, because I wasn't in a hurry. Perhaps one day I will do a more controlled test to see if it makes a big difference.
Whatever, after the fermentation period, you are ready to cook your injera. This presents the second problem: injera are supposed to be cooked either on a mogogo, or a specialised electric stove. Back to Google, where I found repeated claims that a large non-stick frying pan with a tightly fitting lid would be an adequate substitute.
So: the method. Pour a ladleful or so of the fermented batter onto the hot pan, like a pancake, but a little thicker. Cover with the lid, so it steams on the upperside. Do not turn. Slide out of the pan when cooked, after around two minutes.
My first couple of attempts were not good. The problem was that the pancakes did not hold together. They were fine in the pan, but collapsed when I was trying to remove them. After a few disasters, I added an egg into the mix to give some extra stability to the batter. This is totally non-authentic and would probably horrify traditional cooks. (I shall explain the egg technique to my Eritrean friend when I next see her, watch her reaction and report back.)
However, the egg did the trick. My pancakes held together nicely and slid out of the pan like a dream. They were not quite as holey and dimpled as the ones I have seen previously, but had a pleasant sponginess to them and the distinctive sourness of Injera.
We used them when cold to scoop up various Ethiopian-inspired stews and they were good. My biggest criticism is that they had a marked "wholewheat" flavour to them - probably the consequence of using Braunhirse (brown millet). This was not necessarily unpleasant, but I have to admit that the white ones I have eaten in restaurants were a better match for the food.
Tasty, but they weren't good enough to serve to paying guests. However, I was pleased with the result for a first attempt. Next time, I shall try using a different - white - flour and see how I get on. I have since read that despite being botanically unrelated, buckwheat (Buchweizen) flour is the best substitute for teff so I will try that. If anyone has any tips or suggestions - or knows where to buy teff flour in Berlin - please do leave a comment below.