A friend of my daughter’s introduced me to Ehtiopian fare. At first, I was a little doubtful. Then, I was hooked. Whenever this gal came to visit, I had to have her cook. Imagine my surprise to see Ashley’s recipe for traditional Ethiopian injera. Whether you want to eat gluten-free, or just long for that spice of far-away lands, this recipe is sure to please.
While forks and spoons are the favored eating utensil in the west, a naturally fermented crepe-like flat bread serves as table cloth, plate, spoon and fork for the people of Ethiopia. Meals are served on top of gigantic, thin, spongy injera pancakes, and small pieces are ripped off and held between the fingers to serve as tongs to pick up pieces of food and sop up sauces or flavorful juices.
Modern recipes often include whole wheat flour, but traditional recipes use only teff flour, which is ground from a gluten-free grain native to Ethiopia. Health food stores and co-op bulk bins often have teff flour available in their gluten-free section. Bobs Red Mill also has it available in packages.
While traditional injera is inexpensive and simple to make, it does take quite a bit of time to mature, so you’ll have to plan your dinner a few days ahead. Try to plan a traditional Ethiopian meal to accompany your injera to enjoy the full experience. Good choices include Doro Wot, a spicy chicken dish or Yemisir Wot, a heavily spiced red lentil stew.
Keep in mind that this dough is similar to crepes, but it’ll be thicker and spongier, and somewhere between a pancake and a crepe. It’s also only cooked on one side, rather than flipped, so you’ll need to make sure it cooks through on one side, potentially using a lid to ensure that the dough cooks through before removing it from the pan.
How to Make Traditional Ethiopian Injera Flatbread
- 2 cups teff flour
- 4 cups water
- Mix 2 cups of teff flour and 3 cups of water together in a large mixing bowl. Cover loosely with a cloth, and allow to ferment for two to three days until it has a strong sour smell and is beginning to bubble as the fermentation action becomes visible.
- The mixture will have settled, and there will be a good bit of surface water above a sponge of dough. Without disturbing the sponge below, carefully pour off the surface water.
- Bring one cup of water to a boil in a saucepan, and add half-cup of the teff sponge to the boiling water. Cook one to two minutes while stirring vigorously with a whisk. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
- Once the cooked batter has cooled to room temperature, add it back into the raw sourdough batter, stirring to incorporate fully. Add more water to thin the batter to a pourable crepe batter consistency.
- Cover the batter and allow it to ferment for an additional few hours.
- Heat a large flat skillet on the stove until very hot. A crepe pan or other flat pan works well. Pour about one-third of a cup of batter onto the pan, and tilt the pan to allow the batter to run and cover the surface in a thin layer. Cook until firm on the first side, noting that when the bubbles pop on the upper side the holes remain open rather than filling back in. This indicates that it’s cooked on the first side. Place a lid on the pan and allow it to cook for another few minutes to steam cook through, because the bread is not flipped.
- Remove to a plate, and serve your dinner on top of the traditional Ethiopian injera.
If you have leftovers after your meal, try using the injera to make firfir—leftover, cooked injera re-cooked in a flavorful sauce.
Note: If you have trouble culturing your own injera with a wild starter from the air, consider adding a bit of yeast or sourdough starter at the beginning, and opt for a shorter fermentation time.
For more sourdough recipes, see the following posts:
Ashley is an off grid homesteader in central Vermont. She is passionate about fermentation, charcuterie and foraging. Read more about her adventures at PracticalSelfReliance.com.