Injera is strange the first time you see it, touch it and smell it. This pancake-like bread is squishy, sour-smelling and looks a bit like the surface of the moon. But it’s also delicious and accompanies everything in Ethiopian cuisine perfectly. Injera is about to be your new favorite utensil.
Injera is made from teff – one of the smallest grains in the world and the staple cereal of Ethiopia. One cup of cooked teff has more calcium than the equivalent amount of milk and twice as much iron as wheat and barley. Teff also has more protein than almost any other grain and is high in phosphorus, magnesium, aluminum, copper, zinc, boron, barium and thiamin. To top it all off, this super grain is celiac-approved! (Check out this article about teff in The Guardian).
To make injera, teff is ground into a powder, mixed with water and leaven, and then left at room temperature for two to five days to ferment and rise. It is usually cooked on the fourth day — the fermentation process gives the injera its tangy taste. The mixture is poured over a hot, flat iron pan called a mitad, which creates a bubbly surface.
In Addis, almost all injera is made from teff, while in rural areas you’ll find injera made from barley or sorghum. While interesting to try, in our (and most Ethiopians’) opinion the good stuff is made from teff! Teff comes in white and dark varieties.
At first, eating injera can be daunting – having to somehow, with one hand, rip a small piece of injera from a larger one, carefully wrap it around the food you want to eat and gracefully deliver it to your mouth without dropping it all over your lap. To make matters worse, Ethiopians all around you make it look so easy: their faces aren’t covered in bits of food and their pants are clean. But don’t get discouraged — they’ve been practicing for years! Here’s a quick tutorial to give you a head start in the injera eating game:
- Use your right hand. Ethiopians reserve the other hand for drinking.
- Try to keep your fingers away from your lips. Ethiopians casually pluck food from the table and very precisely place the food inside their mouths. And as a rule Ethiopians never lick their fingers no matter how messy they get.
- Stick to your side of the plate. Ethiopian food is served on a communal plate which means you generally only eat from the spot in front of you. But don’t worry if you’re still hungry your Ethiopian hosts will quickly replenish your section!