Eritrean burger recipe

Spicy burger with Berbere ketchup on sourdough toast
So now we return to the Horn of Africa.  Our next stop is Eritrea.  I’ll admit again that I wasn’t familiar with Eritrea before starting this adventure, and frankly, the name sounds like a made up name from a Marx brothers’ movie (I know, that was Fredonia, but same basic concept).  I think it’s a lovely name for a country – makes me think of princesses and dragons…”Once upon a time, in the enchanted land of Eritrea…” But that’s just my silliness.  It’s not clear to me who named Eritrea – Wikipedia claims the name comes from the Greek for “red land” and was given to the land by the Italians (who ruled from the late 1800’s to the early 1940’s).  But the history of Eritrea is much older, one of the oldest on Earth, with humans showing up around the 8th century B.C., and pre-human evidence from before that.

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

But all that is somewhat beside the point.  Eritrea is, as mentioned already, in the Horn of Africa.  It’s bordered by Djibouti, Sudan and Ethiopia.  It’s a little bigger than Pennsylvania and is home to over 6 million people.  There’s a long history of conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea.  They were once part of the same federation, but that didn’t work out too well – in fact there was a 30-year war involved before finally in 1993 Eritrea achieved independence.

Today the country is run by a single political party and suffers from an extremely poor human rights record…lack of freedom of speech and press and poor prison conditions, you get the idea.  Approximately 80% of the population is engaged in subsistence agriculture.  Which still doesn’t create enough food for everyone to live comfortably.

So that leads us to the food.  Eritrean food is either extremely similar or identical to Ethiopian food.  Which created a serious problem for me.  Ethiopian cuisine is the only food I’ve ever had that I really didn’t like.  I tried it when I was in college in DC.  We went to the Red Sea restaurant in Adam’s Morgan – at the time we were told it was the best Ethiopian restaurant in D.C.  I’ll save the details for my write up on Ethiopia, but suffice it to say, I hated the food and have never ventured to try the cuisine since.

Which means I wrestled with this one, wrestled a lot.  I started with trying to make injera, the traditional bread of Eritrea.  It’s a spongy pancake with a sour flavor, made from teff flour.  I got me some teff and looked up a bunch of recipes for injera and decided to try the most traditional sounding one that I could find.  This involved making a starter dough by fermenting the flour for 3-5 days.  I ended up with a moldy mess.  Which led me to reevaluate my options.  Rather than take a traditional approach to the recipe, I decided to interpret the flavors and create something that I would enjoy eating.

The sour flavors of injera became sourdough bread instead.  The spicy stews of Eritrean cooking became a spicy ketchup instead, and it all tied together with a wonderful seasoned butter that is typical of regional cooking in the part of the world.  The result was a really tasty burger that probably isn’t all that true to Eritrean food.  The ketchup ended up with not as much spice as I had expected and a little too much fenugreek, making it taste more like a medium spice curry than I intended.  But I like curries, and so does my family, so we were all happy.  Even my father ate the burger and pronounced it “not terrible.”  High praise from a man who hates anything curry flavored.  This is one of the heavier flavored burgers, so definitely come hungry for this one.  It’s spicy and richly flavored with unbelievably complex flavors.  Enjoy!

Eritrean Burger
1 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon Berbere Seasoning (recipe below)
1 small onion sliced
8 slices of bakery fresh sour dough bread
Seasoned Butter (recipe below)
Berbere Ketchup (recipe below)
Green onions chopped (for garnish)

Combine the ground beef, salt, pepper and Berbere Seasoning.  Form into four patties.  Press raw onion into one side of each patty.  Brush one side of each piece of bread with the seasoned butter.  Heat a large non-stick skillet and lightly grill each piece of bread (buttered side down).  Remove bread and set aside.  In the same skillet, heat about 1 Tablespoon of Seasoned Butter until melted, then grill the fry the burger patties (starting with the onion side) until done.

To serve, place each patty on a grilled piece of bread, add a generous dollop of Berbere Ketchup and sprinkle some green onions and top with a second piece of the grilled bread.

Berbere Seasoning
There are a million different recipes for Berbere, so I wanted to create another recipe myself – this is a little heavy on the fenugreek, but I love the flavor.  It’s a little less spicy than it should be for this part of the world, but you can adjust to your tastes.  Have fun, create your own Berbere!

1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon ground dried ginger
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon turmeric
3 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Mix spices together and toast in a dry pan for 1-2 minutes until fragrant.  Set aside and cool until ready to use.

Seasoned Butter
4 Tablespoons salted butter
2 slices of fresh ginger (about ¼ inch each)
6 green cardamom pods
2 whole cloves

Place all ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over low heat until butter melts and foams.  Remove from heat and skim off foam.  Pour the clear part of the butter into a glass bowl straining off any of the spices.  Set aside until ready to use.

Berbere Ketchup
¼ cup diced onion
1 Tablespoon peanut oil
6 ounces tomato paste
½ to 1 cup water
2 Tablespoons Berbere Seasoning

In a small saucepan, heat the oil and add the onions.  Cook over medium heat until soft.  Add the tomato paste and water, stir until evenly mixed.  Add the Berbere and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.  Add more water if the mixture gets too thick.  Serve warm or room temperature.


©Copyright 2012 Linda Monach

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8 Responses to Eritrean burger recipe

  1. Danie says:

    What don’t you like about injera? I absolutely love Ethiopian food…

    • linda says:

      Hi Danie – it’s a combination of the flavor – oddly sour and bland at the same time, and the texture – spongy and a little off-putting to me. I know a few people who love Ethiopian food, I”m just not one of them. I’m still doing my best to represent – I’m working on writing up the Ethiopian burger now – I think it’s a good representation of the flavors, and I didn’t hate it 🙂 so maybe my tastes have changed and I should give Ethiopian food another chance… I can’t wait to hear what you think of the recipe, stay tuned…

  2. Carl says:

    One of my Eritrean friends treated me to her mom’s Eritrean cooking – Big chunk of injera, stews and the lot. Not extremely spicy – just right. And it was delicious, especially the injera was great – good thing to scoop the other stuff with. You need to re-consider this type of cuisine, I’ll bet you can have it extremely good if you just find the right place.

    • linda says:

      I admit that I haven’t had true Eritrean food, and I’ll try to keep an open mind if I ever hear of a good Eritrean restaurant, or meet someone who wants to cook for me. Given the close comparison to Ethiopian food though, I remain dubious. 🙂

      • Carl says:

        Well Eritrean and Ethiopoian food are similar (with minor differences, like the prevalence of raw meat in Ethiopian cuisine and Italian influences in Eritrean) and can both be really good. I don’t think you should judge a whole cuisine on a bad restaurant experience. What if you judged Greek or French cuisine in the same way? There’s always bad places.

        • linda says:

          I agree that a cuisine shouldn’t be judged on one experience. I can only defend myself by saying that the research I did and the flavors I experimented with to come up with my recipe reinforced my one restaurant experience. And, it was a highly regarded restaurant in a city that prides itself on authentic ethnic food. I promise, if I have a chance to try again, I will. But I also think that too many foodies want us to like everything, I think it’s ok to say “I’ve tried it and I don’t like it” – at the same time our tastes change, so we should always be open to trying again from time to time. I think I pretty much just talked myself in a circle there, so perhaps I’ll quit while I’m totally confused 🙂

  3. Carl says:

    Well Eritrean and Ethiopoian food are similar (with minor differences, like the prevalence of raw meat in Ethiopian cuisine and Italian influences in Eritrean) and can both be really good. I don’t think you should judge a whole cuisine on a bad restaurant experience. What if you judged Greek or French cuisine in the same way? There’s always bad places.

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