Ingera, Ethiopian Flat Bread

by Sarah on July 1, 2009

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The Jewish community known as Beta Israel has lived in Ethiopia from biblical times completely isolated from other Jews until relatively recently. In the early 1970′s shortly after the Yom Kippur War the Emperor of Ethiopia, Selassie was overthrown by Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam in a coup which killed 2,500 Jews.  Although they tried to escape to peripheral villages away from the city center they could find no respite from the rampant anti-Semitism and discriminatory laws made against them; by the early 1980′s it was illegal for Jews to own land, indeed, it was illegal for them to practice Judaism. They had no freedom or protection under the law and their murder, abduction and forced conscription was a common occurrence. Violence targeted against the Jews in Ethiopia as well as throughout North Africa and the Middle East was the main impetus behind their exodus to Israel.

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My friend Ayala lived in Ethiopia until she was twenty years old in the village of Maraba, in the north west of the country bordering Sudan. In 1984, together with others from her village, she embarked on a perilous journey to escape the hardships of her country, knowing that capture meant certain imprisonment. They walked for two weeks, sleeping two-three hours a night with little food until they reached the Red Sea, where a ferry was arranged to transfer them into Sudan. Once in Sudan they waited in miserable refugee camps for one month, hiding their Jewish background and barely surviving. It was here Ayala’s grandmother died and was buried. Eventually a bus was organized to drive them directly to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan were they were airlifted to France. From there they flew to Israel where she has been ever since. In 1984 three forth of the Jews remained in Ethiopia, mainly those who were unable to survive the harrowing trek such as  small children, women with infants and the elderly; in short, all those who could not defend themselves. A subsequent rescue operation, called Operation Moshe arranged by Israel and the United States was successful in bringing many additional Jews to Israel.

Ayala is an attractive woman who looks much younger than her 45 years even after all the hardships she had to endure. Here in Israel, although free of the constant fear of being imprisoned and even killed, she had to cope with assimilating in Israeli culture and the undertones of racial discrimination.  Some religious authorities, for example, rejected them as Jews stating, among other reasons that a person with tattoos could not possibly be Jewish because according Jewish law this is considered a form of body mutilation and forbidden.  Indeed, if you look at many Ethiopian women you will see small crosses decorating their necks and forearms. According my cousin Adam, who lived in Ethiopia for two years volunteering in one of the last remaining Jewish communities, these tattoos were made in order to escape persecution by blending in the predominately Christian population.

Even now Ayala says that her neighbors complain about the smell of her food and I know that there is still much more that should be done for the integration of the Ethiopian population into Israeli society. I believe that it is not only about assimilating the Ethiopians, or any immigrant into Israeli society but also creating an atmosphere which is more accepting, in which differences in color, culture and tradition is not looked upon as something to be changed but as a point of exploration and understanding. The Ethiopians should not, nor any other ethnic group try to erase their cultural past as Yovnot was pushed to do.

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Ingera

Ethiopian flat bread

Teff (Eragrostis tef (Zucc.) is indigenous to Ethiopia where it was domesticated between three to six thousand years ago.  Its seeds, which look similar to quinoa or millet but much smaller, are ground into flour to make the traditional flat bread called injera. Although the flour is rich in nutrients, it is used almost exclusively by Ethiopians and has not been more widely adopted. The flour is high in iron, protein and calcium as well as gluten free, making it a healthy alternative to wheat flour for those suffering from celiac disease. The traditional Ethiopian diet consists mainly of ingera eaten with various vegetable and legume stews, called wot. Their diet is very low in sugar and the rate of diabetes in their community is much lower than the greater population. Unfortunately a change in dietary habits of the new generation is correlated to increased diabetes, weight gain and other health problems.

Ayala does not measure any of the ingredients but everytimes she makes ingera it comes out so beautifully that you can see the light through the bread. From experience trying to make Yemenite flat bread called Lachoch, which is like ingera except made wheat flour, it is very tricky to get the right consistency to create a bubbly surface.

2 cups teff flour

2 cups water

1 teaspoon yeast

Pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Mix the teff, water, yeast and water until a pancake batter is formed. Cover and leave at room temperature for two days. On the third day, mix the batter and add the baking powder, mix well.

Rub a tiny bit of oil on the surface of a large nonstick pan such a Teflon pan or well seasoned caste iron skillet. Pour the batter, using a soup ladle or narrow spouted container, in a spiral formation onto the pan until the surface is covered. Cover the pan and cook on one side for a few minutes. When the batter is fully cooked and holes form all over the top side of the bread it is done. Remove to a plate. Cool the pan by running tap water on the bottom of the pan and dry. Repeat until the batter is finished.

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The baking powder is not necessary if a bit of teff flour is added to the fermented batter. When the batter begins to bubble, it can be used to make the bread.

Eat with Ethiopian hot sauce and yogurt. The hot sauce is made with dried peppers, dried garlic, cardamom and fenugreek. The fact is I am not accustomed to the taste of ingera at all, it was a completely new taste for me and I still have to get used to it.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Miriam/The winter guest July 1, 2009 at 1:26 am

Very interesting post!

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lisaiscooking July 1, 2009 at 12:16 pm

So interesting.
Your ingera looks great. This is something I’ve been wanting to try to make for a while.

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Ross July 7, 2009 at 7:23 am

Hi – Thanks for recommending using a Teflon pan while making your Ethiopian flat bread. I represent DuPont and it’s always a pleasure to see people recommending our products in their recipes. If you are interested in some other recipes or great cookbooks to look at, drop me an email and I would be glad to help you out! Thanks. Cheers, Ross

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JDS December 17, 2012 at 1:49 pm

It might be even better to use a ceramic-coated nonstick pan. These are more inert and stable than Teflon, and if you don’t abuse them the surface remains uniform and does not flake off. A good example (but by no means the only ceramic coated pans) is the Green Gourmet line from Cuisinart. The heavier versions, using anodized aluminum with ceramic coating, are far better than the thinner cheaper versions.

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Zahavah July 9, 2009 at 4:04 pm

Thanks for this post — I would never even attempt making ingera, but it’s so amazing that you are in the melting pot of Israel and have exposure to so many different cultures. Thank you for sharing your friend Ayala’s story and the difficulties that were faced not just in Ethiopia but in Israel. It’s also interesting to see the bread baked on more modern equipment.

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Jean Gustavsen September 9, 2009 at 2:53 pm

Where can I get teff flour, can it be made w/ whole wheat? thank you.

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alpine November 9, 2009 at 1:06 pm

Could you recommend an Ethiopian restaurant in Israel?
I have in mind something simple, cheap, not fancy or touristy…
Thanks for the posting.

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Sarah November 9, 2009 at 2:10 pm

There is Habesh restaurant in Tel Aviv on 2 Allennby. Telephone 077-2100181. http://www.rol.co.il/sites/habash/ I have never been to this restaurant so I can’t personally recommend it but it looks promising

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Charles Alexander November 10, 2009 at 3:14 am

I have been eating ingera with an Ethiopian/Eritrean couple when I visit my mother. They live in her house and help take care of her. I love the ingera and wot. I wonder if you can answer a question, about the relationship of teff intake and type 2 diabetes. Most of what I read says teff is a very good grain to eat if one is a type 2 diabetic. Yet I have also read that teff is very high in iron, and that high iron intake can be problematic for the type 2 diabetic. Can you help resolve this seeming contradiction?

Charles

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Hannah @CookingManager.Com November 10, 2009 at 5:30 am

Sarah,
I loved the post. That’s the second Dupont comment I’ve seen since yesterday. I am also wondering where to get teff flour.

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Sarah November 10, 2009 at 6:44 am

Thanks Hannah! Ask any older Ethiopian in your neighborhood and they will probably be able to tell you. I know the markets in Rehovot and Ness Ziona.

Charles, I did a quick search in the scientific article database (pubmed) and didn’t find any research related to Teff flour and diabetes specifically. However Ethiopians on a traditional diet, high in teff and grains and low in meat, have very low levels of diabetes. The direct effects of teff seem to be extrapolated from the nutritional information as well as case studies available. I am not sure of the direct relationship between high iron, teff and type 2 diabetes. here is an interesting site on Teff

http://dev.ethnomed.org/ethnomed/cultures/ethiop/teff.html

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Diana January 29, 2010 at 11:00 am

This is one of the most promising (aka it seems authentic and the directions seem easy to follow) injera recipes I’ve seen yet!

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meseret February 19, 2010 at 1:34 pm

could you help me to find teff flour in hungary? thankyou

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Faye May 23, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Fabulous photos! Can you easily find teff flour in Israel?

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DARLENE DURHAM May 24, 2010 at 6:49 am

I need more information on the Ingera. I con’t know what temperature to set the stove to; how long it takes to bake; why mine is brown; yours is pure white, and any other information I may have overlooked. You obviously have practiced and know all the particulars. I’m novice and need all the help I can get!? THANKS SO MUCH! DD

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Sarah May 24, 2010 at 7:51 am

Teff can be found in ethiopian spice and grain stores, wherever there is a sizable Ethiopian population. I have made ingera only once with the supervision of my friend so I am no expert. The ingera was a light tan color, not white at all (although it may look like that in the pictures). Ayala set the heat to medium and cooled her pan between each batch by putting it upside down under a running stream of water. It took about 3 minutes for the bread to set if I remember correctly. Next time I am there I should take a video of it. good luck

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Zsuzsa October 23, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Hi
Although I am originally Hungarian, I live in Israel in an Ethiopian “ghetto” with my Ethiopian boyfriend. I am a very curious and open minded person due to my travelings in my life, and I also love to cook, so naturally I immediately started to get involved with the Ethiopian culture, and cooking.
My answer to Charles and Darlene is that there are 3 kinds of Teff – the white one that grows mostly in the highlands of Ethiopia is the best quality but is the lowest in Iron; the brown Teff is a medium quality, and the red one is the lowest quality of all 3 of them, yet has the highest Iron level. Charles, what you need to find out is which kind is available where you are getting it, and you should aim for the white one. Darlene, I assume that what you have is the brown Teff, which does end up a bit darker than these on the picture, and I would even say that it has a greenish color to it – am I right? Anyhow, Injera should NOT be left outside, as heat or dry temperatures will ruin it’s quality, and the Injera will turn dark with white dry spots on it. The longer the Injera dough and bread stand, the more sour the taste will become.
I totally disagree with the above described cooking process of the Injera, but I agree that some people do use this technique. But to get Injera right you should first make a solid dough. The Teff flour and dry yeast powder must be added together with no salt, but with a pinch of “Avesh” which is another Ethiopian grain. Unfortunately I am don’t know what this is in English, but I do know that it helps creating those bubbles in the Injera. The texture of the dough should be like a simple doughnut dough. When you get this texture, you must leave the dough alone for at least a day so it and raise – you will experience a sharp sour smell in your home if you did it right. The next step is to add some more water to the dough until you get a liquid texture, just like the one you’d use for pancakes, but a bit thicker. You leave this for another day or two before you can actually start making the Injera bread. Ethiopians usually use a large plastic container for the “Buho”, which is the correct word for the Injera dough. When you first open the container you will see that your Buho has a black water on the top, and it looks as if it’s boiling – don’t worry, it is a good sign. Just mix it, and you will see that it quickly gets it original texture back, only that there will be many tiny air bubbles in the Buho. You now can get your frying pan, which must be flat, and the larger is the better. NO OIL should be used what so ever, and NOTHING, not even water can be added to the Buho from this point on, as it will ruin the Buho, and there will be no holes on your Injera. The Frying pan should be on the highest flames, and you should at no point cool it down with water. In stead, you need to use the same Avesh powder on your pan, as you did in the dough. Put a pinch on the pan and with a moist but not wet rug rub the entire surface of the pan to get it all clean and spotless and it’ll also help your Injera to get more holes, or “eyes” as the Ethiopians say. You now can apply the Buho onto the pan starting from the edges, going around the pan and covering it’s surface all with the Buho. Do not touch, don’t try to spread it, just watch how the heat will make those eyes pop. I usually wait till almost all the eyes are out before I cover the pan, because many times covering the Injera too early stops the eye popping, and the Injera ends up with flat spots with no eyes on them. You need to prepare a table with a plastic cover so you can lay each Injera one by one to cool down, cause when you get it out the pan it is still very sticky and soft on the bubbly side. You do not turn the Injera in the pan, and it is done well if it slides out the pan on it’s own, without any force or pulling. You should not put the Injera breads on top of each other until they totally cool down, cause they still release steam while hot, and can ruin the whole process of cooling and drying. You can put a fresh and hot Injera on top of one that is already dry and cold. You will know that the Injera is ready, when you can see that it’s edges are no longer stuck to to pan, and if you lift the pan and move it around the Injera can freely slide out of the pan.
That is it. To store the Injera bread you can put the already dry and cool Injeras on top of each other on a plate, but you must make sure to cover them with a plastic rap and some kind of a lid, so the would not go bad. Do not put Injera in your fridge. When you see that the Injera turned dark, greenish or grayish ( some times purplish), or have tiny white dry spots on it, it is a sign that your Injera is no longer good. Fresh Injera should not be sour at all.
Tho those who live in Israel, the Teff flour in Amharic (that is the language Ethiopians use most commonly, along with Tigerish for example) is also Teff, so if you go to any Ethiopian store, you can just ask for it as “Tf” for Buho. It should cost you some where between 12-15 NIS per kilo, but if you get it in an original sack, which is 30 kilo, you should get it for 300 NIS, and that is a common price for the large sack. I know it is a lot of flour but keep in mind that unlike other grains and cereals, Teff is actually disliked by insects and pasts due to its sour taste, so storage is not a problem even in hot areas. Also, you should know that your first couple of times of making Injera will be for sure unsuccessful, as the Buho must “get to know” both the plastic container it is being stored at, and the pan that will be used for making it. I am not sure of the reason and the explanation on why this is like this, but it is one of the first things I was taught when I learned to cook Ethiopian foods. By today I am being refereed to as the white Ethiopian, cause I cam make most of their foods, and I take part in many Ethiopian rituals, like roasting my coffee beans for the blessings of the elder, or having “Kuve” a get together for friends and family. Should you have any more questions, or be interested in more recipes, I am here to share :-)

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Sarah October 24, 2010 at 1:16 pm

wow! I would love to meet you and learn a few Ethiopian cooking tips. Thank you for this wonderful guide to baking Ingera bread

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yameral November 25, 2010 at 5:31 am

I thank you for what you wrote about injera cooking. It is very interesting. Can you pls tell me what the use of ‘absit’ it is an amharic word for injera cooking step.
I am trying to cook injera by your way.

Thank you

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A S September 16, 2012 at 7:39 am

That was incredibly helpful, finally we had successful injera today after about 10 attempts, you should write a cookbook!

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Sarah September 17, 2012 at 7:45 am

Thanks for letting me know. I just hope you were not using my recipe for the last 10 tries ;-)

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Gertrude February 19, 2013 at 11:32 am

Thank you for this Zsusa! I was quite excited by the site of Sarah’s Injera, but when reading the recipe, I was saddened by it’s use of yeast (Yeast and I don’t mix very well). I have also been learning the art of sourdough, so this will work perfectly for me!

I had a friend many years ago, who was from Ethiopia, and she had made injera for me, along with many other amazing dishes (I was left drooling). But she did something slightly different; she made it in her oven on a cookie sheet. She made sheets and sheets of injera. They must eat it constantly, because I’m sure there were at least 20 piled up for just her and her husband. Anyway, I’ve been looking for something of an on ever since, and that was in the mid-90′s. The issue was I didn’t know what it was called! So, I will try this, and if it works out for me, try her cookie sheet approach.

Now to find some Teff to grind…!

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Sarah February 19, 2013 at 11:49 am

Gertrude, You’re right that ingera wasn’t always made with store bought yeast but was naturally fermented, as with other types of bread. I was told my friend’s bread was mild compared to the traditionally fermented version and is favored by the younger generation. Thanks for commenting!

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Gertrude February 19, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Interesting. yes, the natural fermentation would certainly create a stronger taste, wouldn’t it?

I also wanted to say, thank you. I wasn’t expecting to learn anything beyond bread making, and here I got to learn about a very interesting piece of history as well!

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Sarah February 19, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Gertrude, Happy you enjoyed the post, so many stories behind everyone we meet.

Paulina Heiligenthal October 24, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Since 2 months I’m taking very good care of my beloved “daughter” Rahel from Addis Ababa, who got a difficult eye surgery an both eyes, because of her Diabetes I, here in Germany.
To protect her eyes (mow much better), her kidneys(not that good) and more than this her young life, I have a very urgent question about injira.
Who of you can tell me about the KE or BE of tradiotionelly injera????
We keep her values now in a good balance with the big help in a special Diabetes-clinic , but, before leaving to A.A., I want to be sue about this and advice her how to go on in her Home-country………….
Thanks a lot for helping me in this way to save Rahels life! Best regards

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