A white (faranje) adoptive mother to two Ethiopian (habesha) girls wends her way through
Exotic Ethiopian Cooking by D. J. Mesfin

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dabbo Qolo (Wheat Nuts/Snacks)

dabbo qolo

Friday's recipe is actually still in progress and I'll post more about that soon.  But on Sunday, we're going to a Timkat party in Providence with other adoptive families.  Normally, I'd make my doro wot for something like this, mainly because there is no way humanly possible to ever get enough doro wot; but this is a very large gathering -- I believe 150 people went last year -- and the logistics would be too much.  So, I decided to make an appetizer and settled on dabbo qolo (wheat nuts/snacks).  No exotic ingredients; it seemed pretty straightforward.  

I didn't, however, trust the recipe.  It called for 2 cups of water and a cup of oil to 2 lbs. of flour.  My 2 lbs. of flour wasn't even going to take all of the water suggested; I couldn't see it accepting any of the oil, so I skipped it.  At first, I thought I found other recipes that corroborated my belief that it should be a much smaller amount of oil or fat, if any, but I was doing some math wrong and now believe that my recipe was actually correct.  Next time, I will try it exactly as is.  I was too worried that it was wrong and I needed to get these done!

The dough was straightforward and I let my KitchenAid stand mixer do the heavy work of mixing and kneading.  

Things then became difficult on a couple of different levels.  The first trial was the shaping of the dabbo qolo pieces.  The recipe explains that you roll it into roughly the diameter of a pencil (1/4" thick), then cut it into tiny pieces.  I have no idea what tiny entails, but I do know that they're supposed to be crunchy, not doughy.  

So I started out as instructed:

(excuse the remnants of the babies' afternoon snack)

After a very short time, I thought I was going to be spending the rest of my life making these things.  They're small:

The going was tedious.  It was difficult to roll the dough out without it kind of bunching back up, and it was difficult to get it fairly uniform in diameter (maybe the oil in the dough would have helped?).  When cutting it with the scissors, the dough often stuck to the scissors.  Dipping the scissors into flour helped a good deal, but they needed to be dipped after every couple of snips.  I tried spraying them with cooking spray, but that didn't really help.  I also tried dipping the dough into flour before cutting it, which helped the most, but I still felt there had to be a better way.  

That plastic container up there at the top?  It's an 8-cup container.  The first two cups of that container?  They took me about 3 hours to make using the roll-and-scissor method.  At about 9 o'clock at night, I was starting to believe that I was going to never, ever be done, that I'd be snipping pieces of dough for all eternity.  I wondered how my girls' mother would have done it, because the way I was doing it certainly wouldn't leave much time for the myriad other tasks she'd need to perform in a day.  

Then, a flash of inspiration came:

Perhaps not the way it would be done in Ethiopia, but my productivity soared through the roof.  The last 6 cups of that container took about an hour and a half.  I was putting out dabbo qolo faster than I could deep fry it!  I was also obtaining much better results in the frying.  

What I did was just rolled it out, cut it with the pizza cutter to about 1/4" widths, dipped the strips in flour, and then used the pizza cutter to cut the strips into tiny pieces:


It was beautiful!  After my experimentation with the scissors and finding that the cutting went much more quickly if I kept the dough finely coated in flour, I decided to keep that step when I moved to the pizza cutter.  Having the coating of flour was also handy in keeping the little pieces from sticking together, like this:

And ending up staying stuck together in the oil, resulting in Ethiopian fried dough:

The second trial was the deep-frying.  I used more oil tonight than I think I've used in the past year.  I don't deep-fry, and am actually a little afraid of deep frying.  The recipe instructed that I get the oil boiling, but I wasn't keen on the idea of a pan of boiling oil on the stove and Target didn't have any Fry Babies in stock.  So the oil was heated -- enough to break my candy thermometer, as a matter of fact -- just not to boiling.

As I've said, I'm not a deep-frying kind of cook, and I don't have any of those little mesh baskets or spoons that are often used for deep frying.  So getting the pieces of dough into the hot oil required a bit of trial and error, and a few burns.  I tried a slotted metal spoon, which worked well enough, but it was awkward to get the dough pieces into it without them somehow sticking together, and it was the same spoon I was using to take the cooked dough out and I wasn't managing to remember to not put the raw dough on until I had already taken the cooked dough out.

At one point, I tried cutting the pieces directly into the oil (when I was still using the scissors).  I wouldn't recommend that.  I also tried gently dropping the pieces in by hand, one by one.  Also not the best approach.

This is what ended up working great for me:

I would bring the cutting board over to the pan, situate it so that it was nearly covering the pan (preventing the oil from splattering me), then take a plastic spatula and gently ease the little pieces off of the cutting board and into the little space left for them.  No problem with pieces sticking or adhering to each other, no need to worry about whether I still needed the slotted spoon to take out the cooked dough, and no more splatter burns for me!


There they are in the oil and draining on some paper towels.

I added some salt because it seemed like they could use them.  The recipe suggests adding some berbere, which I thought might be good, but my husband thought that they didn't really lend themselves to berbere.  Next time I make these again, I might try adding some berbere to half of it.  I'll also be sure to follow the recipe exactly and include the oil!

If this process seems tedious even after my discovered productivity enhancements, there is an easier way.  You can order some from here, though they only have a sweet version:

Enter "kolo" in the search box.  


  1. It was really good, and now I appreciate it so much more. As I was eating it, I was thinking "I am definitely going to make this at home." Now, I'm not so sure. Thanks for doing it!

  2. In hindsight, the berbere would have been an improvement. I sprinkled some garlic salt on some tonight, but berbere would have been better.

  3. I'm definitely going with berbere next time. I heard plenty about not using the berbere! And Katy, now that I have a good rhythm worked out, I'd totally make this again. Except I might get a little deep fryer to make it quicker and easier. It took me forever because I had no technique. Even so, I do admit it's not something I'd be making every week. My husband can eat me out of it in a small fraction of the time that it would take me to make it! (And thanks for being my first ever comment!!)

  4. wondering what kind of oil you fried in?

  5. Kimmie, I fried the dabbo qolo in vegetable oil. Peanut oil would also be a good oil to use, as long as there aren't peanut allergies in the house. You want something with a very high smoke point.