Posts tagged ‘Berbere’

January 28, 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: Sweet Potato and Chickpea Soup ‘Berbere’

What a cold winter’s night really needs, of course, is a warming bowl of nutritious soup. This one was made after a rummage through the fridge and kitchen cupboards. We had some sweet potato that wasn’t long for this world, a tin of chickpeas, an onion, spices… and that’s all you need.

Now, we’ve often made a sweet potato and chickpea soup, or a butternut squash and chickpea soup and, usually, we spice it up with a little chilli and some cumin. But I’m bored of it: the cumin so often overpowers if it’s the dominant spice… and this was the thought in my mind as my eyes set upon a tin of ready-mixed ‘Berbere’ spice (widely available, just like this here that we picked up in the supermarket).

Berbere refers to the Berber peoples of North Africa. I’ve always associated Berbere spices with Morocco, having visited that country, but a little research reveals that the mix of spices including chilli, cumin, coriander seed, fenugreek, cloves, allspice, ginger, cardamom, plus varying others, as well as the term Berbere, is recognisable in Ethiopian, Eritrean and Somali cuisines. The exact origin, and infinite variations, could no doubt be argued over for longer than it would take the IMF to do the right thing and cancel African debt, so let’s just say that it’s fiery, with some sweeter notes than you might get in Indian spice mixes.

To the soup: it’s one-pot stuff. In a large saucepan or stockpot, saute a finely chopped onion in a little olive oil for 5 minutes. Add a clove of finely chopped garlic and cook for 3 minutes more. While it’s cooking, peel two large-ish sweet potatoes, cut into 2cm chunks and add to the pot. Stir and cook for 5 minutes. Next add one tin of chickpeas. Then add the Berbere spice mix. We added a heavily loaded dessert-spoonful. You might want to add less – it’ll be fine. Chilli addicts could also add one fresh red chilli. Stir in and then add around 500ml of vegetable stock – maybe a little more depending on the size of your potatoes. Bring to the boil then simmer for 20 minutes. Take off the heat, leave to cool until lukewarm then blitz it with a hand blender. Don’t overdo it though, it’s best if the soup is a little coarse. Reheat, season with salt and pepper and serve, perhaps with some crusty bread.

It warms the cockles, this one.

July 2, 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Moroccan vegetable stew

Tuesday 12 June

I think you could change the vegetables for this – some of them at least – as long as you stick with the potatoes and chickpeas, which do a good job of soaking up some of the flavours and making it more stew-like and slightly less soup-like. However, at the risk of contradicting that last statement, the stew should be ‘loose’, watery, broth-like and not thickened, just reduced slightly to intensify the flavours in the broth.

This is a recreated version of a dish we first ate not in Morocco but in a local Moroccan restaurant in Marseille. Maybe there’s an Algerian influence, then, but I’m not sure. There was a sweetness to the broth that told us there was more going on in the spices than just cumin or coriander. It took us a while playing around with different mixes before we got this right – oh, and a trip to Morocco where we had the chance to talk to domestic cooks about the spices they used.

And so, our Moroccan spice blend is a mix of chilli powder, cumin, slightly less coriander, a touch of paprika… and then a dash of cinnamon, allspice, a clove or two and possibly even a couple of cardamom pods, seeded and crushed. You could even add some ground, dried rose petals. Bart, the spice company, does a tin of Berbere spice mixture that covers this off pretty well if you don’t want to mix your own. Have a look, here.

For this recipe, I’d suggest around 2 level dessert spoons of spices in total, but you might want to alter that depending on how spicy you like it and how spicy your chilli is in the mix.

And so to the cooking. For two people:

Peel and finely slice a large onion and soften it in a little olive oil for 5 minutes in a large frying pan until translucent. Deseed and roughly chop one bell pepper (any colour you like) and add to the pan. Next, take a handful of smallish new potatoes per person, wash ’em, peel ’em if you like, and chop ’em in half. Add to the pan and stir. Next, tip in a tin of chickpeas and stir again. Add a couple of chopped fresh chillis (go on, be a devil), then your spice mixture, then three medium fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped. Finally, add 500ml or so of water, season with a little salt and pepper, and simmer for around 20 minutes until the potatoes are soft (you should be able to break one with the back of a spoon).

So, to recount, what you’re aiming for is a loose stew of mixed vegetables and legumes in a fiery but fragrant, tomatoey broth. Hopefully you’ll get a bit of a sweat on while you eating it, but still want to lap up more of the sensitively spiced flavours. A couple of slices of Turkish-style bread would be good to mop up the broth. Phwoar.