Friday, March 20, 2009

Berbere, The Spice Mix I Love

Berbere (homemade)

I haven't blogged for a while. This one was started back in March and I haven't released till now. I have been busy with work(TJIJ - Thank God I still have a Job) and family that this blog is delayed.

I love spices and love meals with a lot of spices such as Indian, Indonesian, and Thai. I think that's because I grew up with spices in a spice island: Java. Recently, I found that Ethiopians also use a spice mix that I really like. After visiting Ethiopian restaurants several times, I grew to love Ethiopian food. I did try to make injera (Ethiopian bread) but I didn't like the result. However, I succeeded in making their spice called Berbere. The one I made look exactly like the picture in this wiki info. I found the recipe in the Internet and modified it to be less spicy. Whenever I use this spice in cooking, our house smells so wonderful. Our neighbors made comments that they can smell my cooking and that it smells so good they say, thanks to Berbere. DH often comes back home from work and can smell the aromatic smell before he enters the house.

I love this Ethiopian Berbere spice mix combined with garlic and onions. Ethiopians use clarified butter or ghee mixed with spices too and it is called Niter Kibbeh. I tried make it with Earth Balance once by melting it and add some spices to it. It was good but I still like using Virgin Olive Oil and/of Grapeseed oil in my cooking so I don't use Nitteh Kebeh in my Ethiopian cooking.

Toasting spices on dry mini cast-iron pan

Adopted from

2 teaspoons cumin seeds
4 whole cloves
3/4 teaspoon cardamom seed
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorn
1/4 teaspoon whole allspice
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed
4 small dried red chilies
1 teaspoon dried gingerroot powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika or smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

  1. In a small frying pan, on medium-low heat, toast the cumin, whole cloves, cardamom, peppercorns, allspice, fenugreek, and coriander for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat and cool for 5 minutes.
  3. Discard the stems from the chiles.
  4. In a spice grinder (a coffee grinder for spices only) or with a mortar and pestle, finely grind together the toasted spices and the chiles.
  5. Mix in the remaining ingredients.
  6. Store Berebere refrigerated in a well-sealed jar or a tightly closed plastic bag.

The original recipe uses 8 dried red chilies which make it fiery hot. Therefore, I reduced it to half. If you don't like spicy hot food, you can reduce it even more. This is a dry spice mix and not a paste. There are berbere spice paste for sale in the Internet. I haven't really bought any so I can't recommend one.

The reason that I like the dry spice mix instead of the paste is that I can use the dry spice on popcorn. It's quite delicious to drizzle this dry spice mix on freshly made popped corn.

Below is a simple recipe of a vegetable stew spiced with Berbere. In the picture above, it's the one on the right hand side. I served this stew with Indian style lemon rice and chana masala. The stew is good with brown rice, too. Or, if you can buy or made fresh injera, that will be the way to enjoy this stew.

Spicy Vegetable Stew with Berbere
Serves 4

1.5 cups peeled and chopped carrots
1.5 cups peeled and chopped sweet potato
1.5 cups yellow squash
1.5 cups chopped fingerling potato
1.5 cups chopped zuchinni
1 peeled large onions, chopped finely
6 cloves peeled fresh garlic, minced.
1 cup tomato sauce
vegetable broth (1.5 to 2 cups)
1 Tbsp. Berbere
1 tsp salt

1 Tbsp Olive or Grapeseed oil

  1. Cut all the vegetables about 1-inch cube (as pictured).
  2. Sautee onions and garlic in oil on a medium heat in a 2-quarts sauce pan.
  3. After onions is translucent, add berbere spice mix and stir for a minute until aromatic.
  4. Add all the vegetables in to the pan and mix. Stir for 2 minutes.
  5. Add the tomato sauce and vegetable broth enough to cover the vegetables and no more.
  6. Add salt and simmer for 20 minutes or untill all the vegetables are soft.

Pictured above are roasted vegetables with Berbere, boiled fingerling potatoes, and new Trader Joe's Vegan Stuffed Chick'n with blackbean and corn. Roasted vegetables with Berbere is so good and easy. I usually use about 1 Tbsp dry Berbere mixed with 2 - 3 Tbsp olive oil and salt. I coat onions, zucchini, yellow squash, and garlic with this mix and roast them in 425-450 F oven. Any other vegetable that is good for roasting will be good with Berbere.

Friday, March 13, 2009

El Misti Peruvian Restaurant with Vegan Options

I was browsing the Internet one day and found this Peruvian restaurant in Anaheim (Southern California) that serves vegetarian/vegan dishes: El Misti. Although they serve meat and seafood, they have an on-line menu which contains a vegetarian section with vegan options. I was surprised that they understand what vegan means. Wow! Since I haven't had a good vegan Peruvian dishes lately (I usually make my own, see my blog about veganized Yuca ala Huancaina, here), I decided to have a try.

The outside of the restaurant looks like a plain small restaurant in a plain shopping mall.

Apparently, it is a mom and pop restaurant owned by a couple Peruvian. In my opinion, usually this kind of restaurant serve better home cooked meals than fancy ones. The husband, Juan, helps by talking to customers and waiting tables. He is very friendly and welcoming. His wife, Hilda, is the Chef and she is a very talented one, really. Juan told us that he is a vegetarian and his son was a vegan. His son was the one who told his wife how to cook vegetarian and vegan. Therefore, they have a large vegetarian section in their menu.

The food here is absolutely delicious. I came with my husband and a friend who is moving back to Germany and it was our goodbye dinner for her. It was our friend's first experience of Peruvian food so it was a real adventure for her. Especially, when we ordered a picther of Chicha Morada (traditional Peruvian beverage made of purple corn, pineapple, and hint of citrus) and she tried it for the first time. She never had anything like it and she liked it. The articles in the Internet mentioned that Chicha Morada has a lot of antioxidant and can lower blood pressure. Who would have known when we drank this juice that was so yummy. You can read a blog about Chicha Morada, here.

The starter is always a basket of soft warm bread with Aji (green hot sauce made with garlic, oil, spices, and huacatay , pronounced wah-kah-tye (peruvian mint) instead of cilantro).

The secret of this restaurant really is in the sauce. This green spicy sauce is so good that it's good on everything, I bet. Our friend really loves this green aji sauce. Juan told us that it's huacatay that we like and he brought us to the back of his restaurant where he has huacatay bushes growing. Huacatay is a black mint that is used a lot in Peruvian cooking. Hhhhmmm, I wonder if I can find that in an ethnic market somewhere. If I can, I will be able to make it at home.

Our next course was veggie tamale wrapped in a banana leave.

I thought the tamal was a bit dry and not much filling in it. The pickled onions and radishes on the side was great with it though. We shared this dish since we ordered 3 main courses. Forewarn, this restaurant serves HUGE portions. Since the price is not low, we really could have shared a main course for 2. However, since we wanted to try everything, each of us ordered a main course dinner.

My husband's dinner was Veggie Cau Cau (pronounced cow cow). The fuzziness of this picture came from the steam because it was still really hot when it came. It smelled and tasted absolutely like the picture, real yum. I wish there is a technology to taste and smell blogged pictures.

It's a stew made with soy protein, potato, peas, and carrots in a mild yellow pepper sauce with a hint of huacatay (again, that Peruvian black mint). It came with that refreshing pickled onions and radishes.

I opted out the soy and quinoa stir fry.
This dish had lots of veggies in it. There was really a pile of quinoa underneath it. This was very very good. Here, in this picture, you can see the healthy quinoa underneath the pile of goodness:

Our friend chose Soy Chicken and Rice (Arroz con Pollo): soy chicken drumsticks cooked in vegetables and rice with cilantro spinach and premium dark larger. I thought that there were more rice than the soy chicken. Our friend said that the soy chicken tasted very good.I tasted a bit of the dark green rice and it was really good. The vegan option will probably come with lentils instead of salad and without the cheese sauce.

If you live in SoCal, I highly recommend this restaurant. The other dish that we ordered in the past and didn't mention here was the Lomo Saltado with soy beef or Soy Beef Stir Fry. I thought that it was absolutely delicious. Hilda really did a great job in serving vegetarians and/or vegans with her specialties. I thank her and Juan for providing an ethnic Peruvian vegetarian/vegan in her non-vegetarian restaurants. Sometimes, I am really tired of eating boring American vegan dishes like vegan chili or vegan shepherd pie, you know.

El Misti Picanteria Arequipeña
3070 W Lincoln Ave, Suite D
Anaheim, CA 92801

Telephone: (714) 995-5944
FAX: (714) 995-3254