Category Archives: Ethiopia

Genfo – Ethiopian barley porridge

During my recent trip to Ethiopia (well, not so recent, back in April…), my friend Amy set up a few cooking lessons for me – she knows me well!

Here is one of the recipes that I learned to make. I have to admit that I will probably not make this one at home, because it was very rich and heavy to my stomach. However, it is an interesting cultural tradition and process, so I wanted to share it with you.


Genfo is a dish served when you go to visit families who have just had a baby born in the household. From my understanding it is served for the first month or 40 days after the baby is born. Here in the U.S., we usually bring food for the family, so this was a different practice of hospitality for me. In fact, in watching the video you will see that the new mother actually helped make the food for us! These are hearty habesha (Ethiopian) women!

Watch this short video to see the basic process.  The porridge is made from 3/4 barley (lightly toasted) flour and 1/4 wheat flour, and water.  It is cooked over high heat coals, and stirred until smooth. Then genfo is spooned into a bowl coated with spiced butter and tossed to make a round sphere.

I asked if I could help toss the last one, and it was definitely an amateur effort. You can see that they were laughing at my attempt, but at least the genfo did not end up on the floor :)


A well is created and filled with spiced butter (kibbeh) and then topped with some type of spicy pepper powder or paste. The options that I saw were mitmita (spicy mixed seasoning), berbere (red pepper), and karya (jalapeno).

As you eat, your hostess will refill the butter as needed – no REALLY, it’s NOT needed, please STOP!  Between the richness of the butter, the spicyness, and the very thick and heavy paste of the genfo, it was very, very filling.  It was tasty, but I recommend small doses. However, that’s tricky when there are only two of you as guests and they made a big pot just for you….!  Here’s a good closeup of grandmother, hard at work stirring the thick paste.


Oh, and here’s Amy with the baby, I think this is the main reason she wanted to visit :)



Ethiopian meal

My good friend Amy just returned from 4 months in Ethiopia, so we got together with another friend Lois, who had also lived there and together we made a great Ethiopian meal for some friends!  Ethiopian cuisine is very unique and makes for entertaining dinner parties, plus if you’re cooking Ethiopian you end up with a LOT of food that needs to be shared. And it also gave us the chance to see some of Amy’s wonderful photos from her trip.

We purchased the bread, injera, at Jerusalem Bakery and Grocery here in Raleigh. This bread is the foundation of an Ethiopian meal, literally.

Injera is a flat and spongy bread traditionally made from teff flour (teff being a grain native to that region of Africa). Teff has apparently become very expensive in the past few years, so our injera was made from a mixture of teff, barley and wheat. The various stew-y dishes are served on top of the bread on a large flat dish, like this;

Additional injera is given to each dinner guest, who tears off pieces to use as utensils to grab the food – eating with your fingers. During the meal the piece of injera on the bottom of the plate soaks up all the yummy sauces and gets kind of soggy. Which sounds unappetizing, but that is actually one of the best parts. You do have to be very careful not to over-eat though, because as that spongy bread sits in your stomach it seems to expand and make you even more full. I seem to forget that every time…

Let me describe the various dishes on the plate above. In the center is doro wat, a spicy chicken stew with hardboiled eggs added at the end. At the top is gomen, greens (I mixed collards and kale) cooked simply with onion, garlic and ginger. To the left is my favorite dish, misir wat, a spicy lentil dish. On the right is a dish called shiro wat made from powder that Amy brought back from Ethiopia. The dried powder is made from beans and peas mixed with hot pepper and other spices – she just added water, spices, tomatoes and onion, and ended up with a delicious and complex sauce, which one guest described as having a BBQ flavor. And at the bottom, an Ethiopian vegetable stew called alicha. (spellings vary on all of these)  Oh, and the white stuff is cottage cheese that we added to help cool our tongues since some of these dishes were very spicy.

Ethiopians don’t typically have dessert, except for fresh fruit and coffee, so we served a fresh fruit salad with a dollop of yogurt on top. The crew seemed to really enjoy the food, and there’s nothing like eating with your hands (plus some home brew by Hans) to build community spirit!

Here’s a recipe for alicha, adapted from the Mennonite Central Committee cookbook titled Extending the Table – a cookbook highly recommended for anyone who wants to cook and eat simply, but globally.

1 clove garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
3 potatoes, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
salt, to taste
5 c. chopped cabbage
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and quartered

Over medium heat, saute the onion and garlic in oil or clarified butter. When softened but not browned, add the spices (turmeric, pepper and ginger) and stir to cook for another minute. Add 1/2 c. water, 1/2 tsp. salt, and the potatoes and carrots. Cook and stir uncovered until the potatoes and carrots begin to soften (adding water as needed).

Add cabbage, another 1/2 c. water, 1/4 tsp. additional salt, and the jalapeno pieces. Stir well and let simmer over medium-low heat until all vegetables are tender. Remove jalapeno pieces before serving, and taste to adjust salt. Even if you don’t have injera, it can be served with rice or just eaten by itself as a stew.

Note: this is a very common dish in Ethiopia, Lois said that when she was there one day they would have ‘potatoes, cabbage and carrots’ and the next they would have ‘cabbage, carrots and potatoes’, followed by ‘carrots, potatoes and cabbage’…..