Djiboutian burger recipe

Berbere Seasoned Lamb Burgers with Berbere Ketchup and Spiced Butter Leeks
And now, we are halfway through the Ds and on our way to Djibouti.  The spelling is challenging for me, but the pronunciation is pretty simple – basically ji – boo – tee, some give it more of a ja – boo – ti, but either way, it ends with booty, which makes me smile.  Djibouti is the smallest country in the Horn of Africa.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard the expression “Horn of Africa” many times over the years and I’ve never known exactly to what it refers.  I’m filling in all sorts of gaps in my American education working on this cookbook.  The Horn of Africa is comprised of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia; it’s the pointy area on the Eastern side of the continent.  Djibouti is smack dab in the center.  It’s located right at the mouth of the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden.  Because of this location, it’s a hub for international shipping; which is a good thing because it is a country with few natural resources.  Most of the goods that travel in or out of Ethiopia travel through Djibouti (Ethiopia is the only one of the four countries to be landlocked).

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

Despite the shipping business, Djibouti is not a prosperous country and the fact that Eastern Africa is currently experiencing the worst drought in 60 years, and Djibouti has become increasingly dependent upon food aide to feed its people.  This is especially true in rural areas.  About twenty five percent of the population lives in rural areas and current estimates say that 88% of this population is dependent on food aide.  Unemployment is estimated at nearly 60%.  These are difficult times for Djiboutians.

So, let’s turn to the food.  Given the country’s location, their cuisine is influenced by African, Middle Eastern and Indian flavors.  Djiboutians enjoy spice, not necessarily heat, but lots of flavor.  The use a seasoning called Berbere, which is similar to the Indian seasoning Garam Masala.  Like so many of these spice blends, there are a lot of different recipes and no singular exact recipe.  Most of the citations I found had cumin, cardamom, clove and coriander, and then they layer a bunch of other spices so that the end product is incredibly fragrant, just a little hot, but jammed with flavor.  I couldn’t find black cardamom (which is typical for Djiboutian cooking), so I substituted green cardamom.  If you plan ahead (which I clearly didn’t), you can get the black cardamom online (Penzeys, my favorite spice purveyor, carries white, green and black varieties).  This spice blend is the basis for the recipe, the flavor it gives the dish is reminiscent of Indian flavors, but the final dish does not taste Indian, it’s really hard to describe – a little perfumed, a little sweet, some heat and an undertone of herbs.

In researching Djibouti, I’ve discovered a new technique that is so simple and yet so tasty, I’m amazed I’ve never come across this idea before.  Djiboutians make ghee (clarified butter), but rather than just plain ghee, they season it.  It’s simple, but some spices in a pan with a stick of butter, melt the butter over low heat, skim the foam off the top then let the solids settle and pour off the clear butter on top.  The butter ends up infused with the flavors of whatever you cooked with it.  It’s a subtle flavor, but I ended up wanting to slather this butter on everything.

We tried the burger with both beef and lamb and lamb is definitely the way to go.  The flavor of the meat compliments the spices much better and it works with the leeks without overpowering the dish.

All told, this dish is fragrant, spicy and sweet and incredibly rich.  Another great dish for a cool autumn evening.

Djibouti Burger
1 pound ground lamb
1 teaspoon Berbere Seasoning (recipe below)
1 Tablespoon Spiced Butter (recipe below)
4 slices Naan or other flatbread
Berbere Ketchup (recipe below)
Sautéed Leeks (recipe below)

Mix ground lamb and Berbere seasoning until evenly combined.  Divide into four patties.  In a large non-stick skillet, melt 1 Tablespoon of Spiced Butter.  Fry lamb patties in butter until done to desired temperature.  Remove from pan.

Grill naan slices lightly in the same pan.  Build your burger with naan then fried patties, a scoop of Berbere ketchup then top it off with sautéed leeks.

Berbere Seasoning
1 Tablespoon whole cumin seeds
16 whole cardamom pods
1 teaspoon whole pepper corns
½ teaspoon allspice berries
½ teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1 Tablespoon ground paprika
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon ground fenugreek
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger

Put the first five ingredients into a small dry skillet.  Lightly toast the seeds over low heat until they are fragrant.  Let them cool then put them in a spice blender and blend until as fine as possible.  Add the other ingredients and pulse until well mixed.   Like most spice blends, this makes more than you’ll need for this recipe, but it will store in the freezer for months.

Berbere Ketchup
6 ounces tomato paste
2 Tablespoons Berbere Seasoning
3 Tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
3 Tablespoons water
Salt to taste

In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients and simmer over low heat for at least 20 minutes stirring regularly.  Add more water if the sauce gets too thick.  Allow the sauce to cool to room temperature before using.

Spiced Butter (this makes extra butter, do half the recipe if you don’t want extra)
2 sticks unsalted butter
½ cup onion diced
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon garlic powder
10 whole cardamom pods
4 whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon
6 whole allspice berries
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
6 saffron threads crushed
½ teaspoon kosher salt

Put all ingredients in a medium saucepan and turn heat to medium low.  Stir regularly until butter is completely melted.  Skim off any foam from the top then let the butter sit until the solids have settled to the bottom.

skimmed off foam

Pour the clear butter into a glass bowl (pour through a strainer so that no seeds get into the final clarified butter) – be careful not to get any of the solids into the bowl.

clarified butter on top, solids on bottom

Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until ready to use.  This will keep in the refrigerator for longer than regular butter – and, the process of clarifying the butter also removes most of the lactose, so most lactose intolerant people can use it without problems (at least according to the world wide web, so it must be true, right?).

Sautéed Leeks
1 leek
2 Tablespoons Spiced Butter
Salt to taste

Clean the leek and slice in half lengthwise, then slice the white and light green parts crosswise into thin strips.  In a medium skillet, melt the spiced butter.  Add the leeks and cook over medium heat until leeks are softened.  Salt to taste.  Use while warm.

If you like this burger, try the Eritrean Burger, it’s another great burger that uses Berbere seasoning to bring it some zing!

Djiboutian burger recipe

©Copyright 2011 Linda Monach


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2 Responses to Djiboutian burger recipe

  1. Carl H says:

    Wow, another country you didn’t really imagined having a cuisine, is actually having some dishes.

    I don’t know one thing about Djiboutian cooking but to me this recipe seems pretty Ethiopian or Ethiopian influenced. Both Berberé and Niter Kibbeh (clarified butter with spices) are essential to Ethiopian cuisine. I guess seasoning doesn’t follow borders. I do think you’re bound to repeat one or the other on the Ethiopia burger!

    My father brought me some fresh Berberé directly from Ethiopia a week ago (along with some amazing coffee) besides the ground chilli, it was quite heavy on fenugreek and cardamom,. A nice and balanced spice blend. Quite hot.

    • linda says:

      I’ve only eaten Ethiopian food once and the only thing I remember about it was that it was very spicy and everything was pureed so that there wasn’t much variety in texture. I wasn’t a fan, but if the Djibouti recipe seems Ethiopian to you, perhaps I just had a bad experience. I’ll be getting there soon, so stay tuned.

      It is amazing that even really small countries that are surrounded with bigger, stronger countries, still claim flavors and dishes of their own – the trick I have is trying to find unique combinations for each country within a region. Central Africa has been the hardest so far, but that’s at least as much to do with limited use of spices. When there’s lots of herbs and spices, the options open up.

      Sorry it took so long to post this and respond – I’ve been knee deep in a failing refrigerator and Thanksgiving prep – a tough combo, but it all came together.

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