How Ethiopian Food Became Weeknight-Friendly & My Love Affair with Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian

Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian cook zine by Kittee BernsIt is no secret that I love Ethiopian food.  (Although wouldn’t that be a weird thing to try to keep secret?  Psst…  Don’t tell this to anybody!  I love Ethiopian food!)  The spicy stews with layers of complex flavor, the spongy sour injera bread for scooping, the tactile pleasure of eating hand to mouth, the communal experience of sharing a platter with friends, and the combination of textures makes it my favorite cuisine.

However, in the past Ethiopian fare has been mostly limited to restaurant outings.  That was fine when I lived in a place where I could reach my favorite Ethiopian restaurant via a 40-minute car trip, but now the closest Ethiopian restaurant is 3 ½ to 4 hours away.  That moves a dinner of wots & basket of injera very much to the special occasion category.

Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian cook zine by Kittee BernsI’ve made Ethiopian meals at home many times, but it requires a lot of steps.  The first step requires making niter kibbeh (infused vegan butter or oil) that is the base for the stews (called wots).  Then, while a person can eat the wots on their own or with rice, it’s simply not the same experience without the injera for scooping.  I’ve never tried to go all out with one of the traditional recipes that require letting the batter sit for days until sour.  Instead I’ve used recipes calling for a yeast packet, and then waited for an hour for the batter to be ready (while hoping that the packet of yeast was good and I wouldn’t have to start all over again).  I’d stand over the stove, as if I was making pancakes, making each injera one by one.

Next, I’d have to make a couple of different spice blends, and then after that was all done, it was time to start cooking…  For a real meal, you need at least two stews, and all of that took time.  I’d typically have about one or two days a year when I felt like going to all of that work, and then I was pretty much spent.

Injera freezes well for an Ethiopian feast on a weeknightThen two things happened.  First, I realized that when I was traveling to places with Ethiopian restaurants, it wasn’t difficult to find grocery stores that also had injera for sale.  (I’m sure I could have bought it from those restaurants as well.)  I could take the injera back home with me, separate it into batches of three, and then freeze them.  If I wanted Ethiopian for dinner, I’d just have to pull a grouping of three out of the freezer and put it on the counter for a few hours, or in a pinch, I could take it straight from freezer to warm oven for thawing.

Three injera was enough for dinner that night for two and for one person to finish off leftovers the next day.  The injera wouldn’t be quite as moist as it was freshly made, but when you go the thawing-on-the-counter route, it thaws remarkably well.  And it’s certainly better than standing over the stove making hot injera when you’re hungry and ready to eat.

I’ve picked up injera in Chicago at Kukulu Market, in Minneapolis at Midtown Global Market, and yes, I even had two big packages of injera in my carry-on on my return trip from Los Angeles.  In L.A. I purchased it in one of the little markets in Little Ethiopia across the street from Rahel.

Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian cook zine by Kittee BernsThe second thing that happened was that I finally cracked open my copy of Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian by Kittee Berns that I bought long ago.

Kittee and I became blog buddies during some Vegan MoFo in years past, and then we met in real life at Vida Vegan Con last year.  One of the best and most unforeseen benefits of blogging has been creating friendships with readers and other bloggers.  Kittee is a good example of that.  In addition to loving her colorful and unique blog, Cake Maker to the Stars, that feels like such an extension of her own playful spirit, I’ve gotten to know Kittee over the years.

Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian cook zine by Kittee BernsSometime last fall I asked her where she found her big Ethiopian platters that decorate the walls in her kitchen, and on which she also serves Ethiopian food for large groups or uses for bake sales.  She said that they could be found in Ethiopian markets, and offered to keep an eye out for me since none of those exist in Iowa.

After many texts and pictures, she sent a platter my way along with berbere, one of the spice mixtures essential for Ethiopian cooking.  She told me that it was “the good stuff.”  I’d planned on paying Kittee back, but she surprised me by offering these as gifts.  (I can only imagine how hard it must have been to box up that huge platter!  It’s not exactly a size people just have laying around!)  It was such a wonderful surprise and so generous.

Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian cook zine by Kittee BernsPapa Tofu Loves Ethiopian cook zine by Kittee BernsThen I pulled out my copy of (the now sold-out) Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian cook zine, and I started by making a big batch of niter kibbeh.  Using the recipe in the zine, this infused butter or oil can be made with vegan butter or canola oil.  In Kittee’s upcoming cookbook (more info on that to follow at the end of this post!), the niter kibbeh recipe will be made with a coconut oil blend, which sounds so good.  She advises making a big batch, so that way you always have it on hand for making wots.  This very cold winter, I’ve already worked my way through one batch of niter kibbeh and made a second batch last week!

Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian cook zine by Kittee BernsHaving easy access to this very flavorful base of Ethiopian cooking has been life-changing.  Now instead of Ethiopian being pushed to a rare treat, it’s seriously one of the simplest things to make during the week.  Most of the time it takes 30 minutes or less.  I just sauté onions and garlic in her niter kibbeh, add whatever other ingredients the recipe calls for, and plate it up with some thawed and heated injera.

It also makes for a tremendously inexpensive dinner, because the ingredients are really cost-effective things like red lentils, brown lentils, split peas, potatoes, carrots, collard greens, and the like.  Sometimes I’ll make one or two wots one night and then finish off the leftovers with a new wot the following night.

Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian cook zine by Kittee BernsAll of the Ethiopian platters in this post were made using various recipes from Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian.  Recipes I’ve made include azifa (brown lentil salad), ye’abesha gomen (mild collard greens), ingudai t’ibs (sautéed mushrooms), ye’takelt allecha (gingery mixed vegetables), ye’kik allecha (mild split pea puree), ye’miser allecha (mild red lentil puree), ye’kik w’et (split peas in a spicy gravy), and ye’miser w’et (red lentils in a spicy gravy).

Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian cook zine by Kittee BernsI’ve also started adding the niter kibbeh anywhere I can in my own recipes.  I love having Great Northern beans sautéed with garlic and onions in the infused oil since the flavor of the beans is very mild.  It just lets all of the spices shine through.

Polenta made with Ethiopian infused butter, niter kibbehMy most recent favorite way to use it is by making my easy breakfast polenta, but then sautéing the garlic in niter kibbeh instead of extra virgin olive oil before following the rest of the recipe as is.  Sometimes I’ll have that for breakfast, or I’ll make it a hearty lunch by adding greens and chickpeas.  (The chickpeas are dark here, because I added Indian gooseberries to this batch when I was making them from scratch.)

Seriously, every recipe I’ve tried in Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian has been fantastic.   I don’t know how Kittee is going to improve on them for her Ethiopian cookbook that’s coming out late this year or around New Year 2015, but somehow that’s happening along with a lot more recipes than were in her zine.  (All of the recipes will be gluten-free and vegan just like she is.)

In the meantime, the zine is not available for purchase any longer, but I highly recommend picking up a copy of the cookbook when it comes out.  I know I’ll be preordering when the opportunity presents itself!  I’ll keep you posted when the time comes!


  1. wow, what a glowing recommendation! i’ve never had ethiopian food, but somehow i’m now craving it!

  2. Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian is a great cookbook!

  3. You are making me hungry! :)

    • I know the feeling! Even just looking over these pictures again, I’m wishing that I hadn’t run out of injera early this week! I need to take a trip somewhere, so that I can re-stock my freezer. :)

  4. Everything looks delicious! You mentioned that you would need to drive 3-4 hours…is there a good restaurant in KC?

  5. Well, I can’t agree with you more about Kittee and her recipes. I’m so sad that my copy of the zine is missing — though I do have copies of all the recipes I tested for the cookbook, and they were all really good. One thing you’ll want to make as soon as you get the book is awaze sauce — a Berbere hot sauce that has endless possibilities. We’re lucky to have many Ethiopian restaurants here, and access to Ethiopian groceries selling everything we need to cook at home. With a little planning, I can even get gluten-free injera. Your delicious-looking food has reminded me that it’s been too long since I’ve made one of Kittee’s recipes!

    • That is too bad about your copy of the zine, but I’m glad to hear that you have copies of the recipes you tested at least. Thanks for the heads up on the awaze sauce! I’ll remember to make that one when the book is published.

      I definitely envy your access to Ethiopian restaurants and grocery stores. When I left L.A. I knew there were a lot of things I’d miss, but I didn’t think of some of the random things like access to certain groceries that can be hard to find in small towns.

  6. This was a wonderful, mouthwatering read Cadry! I feel like I just learned so much about a cuisine that I have still not tried (Gasp! I know, it’s true.) Any favourite haunts in NYC? I’m on my way tomorrow and maybe I can finally make my injera dreams come true.

    • How wonderful that you’re in NYC! I’ve actually only been a couple of times, and both of the trips were on the short side. The last one was over ten years ago, before I was vegan and before I’d tried Ethiopian food. So I don’t have any recommendations there, but I’m sure a little bit of digging on Yelp or Happy Cow would yield tons of options on the Ethiopian front. I can’t wait to hear about your adventures there! Have fun, Jess!

  7. Ethiopian is my favorite ethnic cuisine. I’ve been going to one specific restaurant in LA’s Little Ethiopia for about 15 years now (well before Rahel opened, although I’ve eaten there, too). I went looking to purchase Papa Loves Tofu & its Ethiopian counterpart a few weeks ago and was chagrined to see that it’s out of print. I’m thrilled to hear Kittee is releasing a book. Your dishes look lovely and delicious!

    • Thanks so much! I’m really glad that she’s coming out with a cookbook too. It will be exciting to see all of the additional recipes.

      Which restaurant is it that you like to visit in LA’s Little Ethiopia?

  8. longmeal says:

    Fantastic post! I’ve never though to freeze injera. There are lots of great vegan Ethiopian spots in Toronto – but I still love making it at home. I’m looking forward to picking up a jar of berber and a copy of Kittee’s cookbook.

  9. What a beautiful spread of food! I miss having an Ethiopian restaurant nearby (DC had many of them; Oklahoma? Not so much.) so I will definitely be looking for Kittee’s cookbook!

    • I feel you, Annie! I’ve heard so many things about the wealth of Ethiopian options in DC. I can’t wait to go there and experience it for myself someday. (I’ve only been to D.C. once, and that was back in high school.) That said, I know that in the time since I moved to a smaller, more rural area, I’ve become a better cook. Like they say, necessity breeds invention! If I could have kept going to awesome vegan and ethnic restaurants to fill my belly, I probably wouldn’t have learned to make so many things for myself.

  10. Mmmmm, just looking at those pictures makes me hungry for Ethiopian again!

  11. YOU ARE A GENIUS! I am stealing this idea and finally cracking open my own copy of Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian!

    • Yay! I’m glad to hear that, Becky! I don’t know what on earth took me so long to start cooking from Kittee’s zine, but now we’ll never be apart for long again. I’m sure it will hook you too!

  12. the food looks beyond delicious! i cannot wait to get my hand on kittee’s book. ethiopian is our next option after indian food, but i usually end up ordering out coz there are 3 restaurants within 10 blocks:) also probably coz my ethiopian lentils start tasting slightly indian when i make them :)

    • 3 Ethiopian restaurants within 10 blocks??? Okay, now you are just showing off! 😉 I can see why you’d just order out. I envy your restaurant options! I definitely end up cooking sometimes when I’d prefer not to because our options are slimmer and/or often not very exciting here.

  13. I haven’t had Ethiopian in forever! Austin is lacking in the Ethiopian department, but I heard that a new place opened up recently. This post ignited a craving so I’ll have to check it out soon. I need something to hold me over until her book comes out!

    • I’ll look forward to hearing what you think about the new Ethiopian restaurant in Austin! I still haven’t been to Austin, but everything I’ve read about the food scene there makes it sound pretty fantastic. Hopefully this new place will be a delicious addition!

  14. acookinthemaking says:

    Every time you write about Ethiopian food, I get the biggest craving for it! It doesn’t help that your pictures so perfectly capture the textures of the soft spongy injera and silky stews. Some of the best food on earth, imho!

    That said, I have never tried making any Ethiopian dishes at home, but I’d really like to. I believe I will be waiting with bated breath to find out when Kittee’s cookbook is coming out :)

    • Aw, you’re sweet! Thanks for all of the kind words!

      If you can’t wait until Kittee’s book comes out, there are also some very tasty Ethiopian recipes in Vegan Lunch Box & Vegan Eats World that should tide you over until next winter! :)

  15. This is great! I had Ethiopian food for the first time 2 years ago and loved it, especially the injera. I don’t know that much about it though so thanks for sharing your knowledge. I will have to give it a try in my kitchen some time.

  16. I’ve never had Ethiopian food before, I’m not sure why maybe it wasn’t a huge thing in Oregon, but I imagine these are pretty tasty if they are as good as Asian curries 😉 Kittee’s cookbook looks awesome!

  17. I had my first Ethiopian meal last week, and I’m totally sold on the stuff. I can only hope it doesn’t take too long to get Kitty’s book out, because I’m not sure I can wait that long!

    • Oh, that’s great that you had your first Ethiopian meal last week! Are you going to write about it on your blog? I’d love to see what you ordered and your thoughts on it.

      Until Kittee’s book is on the market, there are also some delicious Ethiopian recipes in Vegan Eats World and Vegan Lunch Box that could keep you busy until then! (If you make injera yourself, I recommend the VLB recipe. It’s been very consistent for me in the past, and I had some troubles with the VEW recipe.)

  18. Papa Tofu is the shizzzz. Ethiopian food is my favorite, and Kittee makes it possible to make it yourself as good as you can get out. <3

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