Ethiopian Berbere Spice (mild)

Berbere is an essential spice blend used all across  Ethiopia.  Frequently it’s the main spice for a meal, and sometimes the only spice. It’s rich and kinda earthy so it brings a lot of undertones to the party.

For various reasons, Kat’s become extremely sensitive to heat in dishes, so I’m constantly trying to find ways to tone that down while retaining the flavors. Berbere is one of the trickier to make milder since the standard is de arbol chilies, which has its own unique flavor. But with  even cutting back how much I use to nearly not there, it’s still often too hot for Kat.  The downside is the end product is a little sweeter (but within my range of acceptable).

Makes something over 1 cup.

Clear bowl full of red-flecked granulated stuff

So first things first, a spice grinder is necessary. It doesn’t have to be anything special; I use a decent whirly blades of death style coffee grinder. It’s good to have one around anyway, because (for example) I use a ton of cumin, and it’s far cheaper to buy by the pound and grind batches as necessary.

And for simplicity’s sake, I’ll list all the ingredients and then go into each at a little more depth as necessary. All of the whole spices are available at any Middle Eastern/international market. Sadaf is the main brand around here, and not expensive ~ generally cheaper than ground spices from the grocer.

Shopping list:

  • 5+ (3-4 oz by weight) dried ancho chiles*
  • 3 tbsp paprika
  • 1/2 cup dried onion flakes
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp whole black cardamom pods or ground **
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 1/2″ cinnamon stick or 1/2 tsp powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic flakes
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns (roughly 8-10)
  • 1 tsp cumin seed
  • pinch of salt
  • Spice grinder or coffee grinder***
  • what chiles used are what makes the berbere. Traditionally de arbol chiles will give the best flavor, but we’ve had to dial it back for dietary reasons and anchos are the closest I can find.
    ** the powdered carnamom you find in the store is black, not green, and there’s a huge flavor difference. It’s a bit pricier but you can get decorticated (hulls removed) if yo don’t want to do that yourself.
    *** for a coffee grinder, you’re okay with a whirly arm type. I have a Capresso that I think put me out around $30.

First things first, cut the top off the chiles, de-seed, and slice into strips. Run them through the grinder until they’re smallish flakes.  Ultimately you’ll need roughly 1/2 cup, possibly a tad more.

Tip the chiles into a bowl and start adding the other ingredients. Stir well, and grind it all in batches into an empty bowl. Stir again and repeat grinding batches into the first bowl. Check the texture regularly but I prefer my spices to be a bit chunkier than a powder. Let rest for at least an hour before storing in an airtight container.