Monday, February 3, 2014

Oil-Free Ethiopian – Plant-Strong Niter Kibbeh and Misir Wett

If I’ve ever contributed something positive and original to the healthy, vegan lifestyle, I truly believe this is it! My friend Abby first turned me on to Ethiopian food almost two years ago. Since then I’ve fallen in love with its unique flavor combinations and the fun that comes along with eating with your hands.

While eating vegan at an Ethiopian restaurant isn’t really a challenge, eating healthy, plant based vegan can be, as essentially all of their food is cooked in a spiced-oil known as niter kibbeh.

When another friend of mine offered to lend me an old Vegan Ethiopian Cooking Zine (remember those?) called Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian, I decided I would try and create a healthier alternative to niter kibbeh. (Note, Papa Tofu is currently working on a full-scale cookbook, watch out for it, because it is going to be amazing.)

Learning a great deal from reading through the opening of the zine and Papa Tofu’s recipes, I went to work and am now happy to share with you my results which I believe upholds the integrity of the complex flavors associated with this food - without the harmful side effects associated with a high-oil meal.

If you’ve never had Ethiopian, their traditional cuisine is similar to Indian in the sense that it is best to think of each dish as a side, and as such, a complete meal is comprised of several different components. These components are typically served on one large platter and shared between a group of friends or family. True Ethiopian dishes needs to be accompanied by injera – a soft and supple sour pancake-like bread made of teff grain – that is used in place of utensils (Injera over Knives, anyone?) The food is eaten with your hands by ripping small pieces of injera off and then using that to scoop up the various dishes on your platter. That said, this lentil-based dish is delicious on its own as well.

Because Papa Tofu is working on a cookbook, I’m only going to share my recipe for Plant-Strong niter kibbeh and Misir Wett (a delicious red lentil dish sometimes spelled wot or wat) but feel free to search around the internet to find other delicious recipes like Fassolia, Shiro Wett, and my favorite, Gomen. (Whenever I make Ethiopian I typically make 3-5 of these dishes and I buy injera from a local Ethiopian bakery in Harlem, but you can also buy it from any Ethiopian restaurant or try making it yourself).

Ethiopian cuisine is not difficult to make; however, because there are often several components to a single meal, be prepared to use several different pots and pans! You’ll also want to make sure you have a nice large container of vegetable broth before you start and it will be helpful if you either buy or make your own Berbere (Burr-burr-ee) spice blend ahead of time. Most stores sell a relatively mild pre-mixed berbere blend, so if you prefer some heat, make your own. I also find it helpful to dice a few red onions, and mince several cloves of garlic and ginger before starting anything else.

Now let’s make some plant-strong niter kibbeh

Plant-Strong Niter Kibbeh (keeps up to 3 days in the fridge)
1 ½ cups of vegetable broth
¼ of a ripe avocado (this replaces the fat of the oil)
¼ cup chopped red onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon minced ginger
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon fenugreek
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 whole cloves or ¼ teaspoon ground clove
¼ teaspoon ground flax seed (optional)
Pinch of nutmeg

(This recipe makes just shy of 2 cups – enough for an entire Ethiopian meal comprised of several different recipes – with a little bit left over)

In a high powered blender or food processor, add all of the ingredients and blend until completely smooth. If you are using a Vitamix or similar blender, continue blending the ingredients until steam begins to rise out of the lid. If you are using a lower powered blender, transfer the blended sauce into a small sauce pan and bring to a low simmer and then let cool.

Misir Wett

1 ½ cups dry red lentils
3 cups of vegetable broth or water (to cook lentils in)
1 cup of vegetable broth (for sautéing)
1 medium red onion – finely diced
3-4 cloves of minced garlic
2-3 tablespoons no-salt tomato paste or 1-2 medium tomatoes
3 tablespoons niter kibbeh
1-2 tablespoons of Berbere spice
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1teaspoon cinnamon

Start by soaking, washing and cooking your red lentils as you normally would. Then place them into a large pot with 3 cups of vegetable broth and cook as you normally would until the lentils are very soft – roughly 25-30 minutes. Once done, drain off any extra liquid.

Right before the lentils are done cooking, heat a pan and add two to three tablespoons of niter kibbeh. Saute the onions and garlic until the onions become translucent. At this point, add the tomato, berbere, and other spices. Mix well and sauté for another 2-3 minutes. Now add 1 cup of vegetable broth and bring to low simmer. (Note: If you want a smoother gravy, you can blend all of these ingredients) Now add the lentils and another tablespoon of niter kibbeh and a tiny bit of vegetable broth and sauté for a an additional 10 -15 minutes.

Note, once finished cooking you can add lightly blend or food process all of this for more of a dipping sauce. 
Serve over an injera lined platter and top with fresh cracked black pepper. 

As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.


  1. "Injera over Knives" -- yes! has a nice ring to it haha. but seriously, I can't wait to make this over spring break!! looks delicious! and I'll have to get a copy of that cookbook too, so cool.

  2. Do you happen to have or know of an oil-free recipe for Ethiopian collard greens. I have been looking everywhere and can't find one. Thank you!

    1. Thanks Anonymous,
      Using the Niter above, wash a large bunch of collards. Finely chop one medium onion,a few cloves of garlic some fresh grated ginger and black pepper to taste. Saute everything with 2-3 tablespoons of niter and 1-2 tablespoons of veggie broth (add more if needed). Cook until the collards turn bright green and begin to soften.


  3. Thank you! We LOVE Ethiopian and my husband spent 3 years there as a missionary. I have tried to make my own Miser Wat and it does not even come close to the taste of our local Ethiopian restaurant's. I look forward to trying this and using the plant based Nitter Kibeh for the cabbage and carrots I try to make. Thank you!!