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

Friday, February 19, 2010

Yegebs Siljo (Barley Paste)

"Yegebs Siljo is a popular dish during fasting.  May be eaten with injera or bread.  It is a vegetarian dish." ~ D. J. Mesfin, Exotic Ethiopian Cooking

There are 250 Ethiopian fasting days in the year, according to this site, although fasting only means not eating until after 3 p.m., not fasting all day.  Fasting also means "no meat, fat, eggs or milk".  Many recipes in Exotic Ethiopian Cooking are mentioned as being "fasting" recipes, and this is one of them.  

I have probably had yebaqela siljo, a broad bean paste, when dining at an Ethiopian restaurant, as it is often served as an accompaniment on the injera, along with Ethiopian cottage cheese, some green salad, tikil gomen (cabbage and potatoes), yekik alich'a (a mild yellow pea stew), and various other items, all arranged daintily and prettily along the outside edge of the injera platter (the main dish goes inside the ring of side dishes).  However, I'm not entirely sure, as I don't have any memory of that dish.  I wish I did, if only so I knew what texture actually constituted a "paste" in this context.  I have a sneaking suspicion I came closer to a thick barley soup or a slightly thin barley hummus.  

This dish needed to sit (in the refrigerator) for three days prior to eating it, so I started earlier in the week.  As mentioned here, the first step involved making barley flour, but I was unable to find a reasonably priced (read as "under $200") flour mill, though I now have an eBay search on for the KitchenAid grain mill attachment (and, believe it or not, though it's in stock now, it wasn't on Monday).  I do wonder if this would have come out much better if I had been able to make my own flour, instead of buying packaged barley flour.  

The second step was to make the suff, or sunflower juice.  This is some seriously good stuff, but we have a liberal concept of "milk" in this house (I believe that, right now, we have cow milk, rice milk, and soy milk in the refrigerator, and we sometimes also have almond milk or hemp milk or coconut milk, as well).  The suff may as well have been called sunflower milk!  Between myself and the 2-year-olds (who decided they liked it after they tasted it again), there was no leftover sunflower juice, even though I didn't need it all for the recipe.  I'm not sure I'd say it was a refreshing drink, as advertised in the cook book, but it's good.  

On Tuesday afternoon, I was ready to bring it all together.  I started by roasting some fenugreek in a frying pan:

I find my fenugreek at my local Indian grocery store.  I love the smell of it as it roasts, as it smells faintly of maple syrup (random bit of trivia: fenugreek is often used to improve a nursing mother's milk supply, and the recommended dosage is "until your perspiration starts smelling like maple syrup").  

After roasting it, it was time to grind it up in The Poor Coffee Grinder:

Next came time to boil the barley flour and the water, and I didn't realize there was a discrepancy as to how much water should be used until I was done.  In the ingredient list, it calls for two to three cups of water, yet in the instructions, it says to boil the flour and the fenugreek in four cups of water (and another cup of water is called for at another point in the process).  This also may explain my results!

I was to boil the mixture "until it thickens", a nebulous concept, indeed.  


I boiled it until it started forming a thin layer of what I can only call a pancake on the bottom of the saucepan, then decided that would be enough:  

      the bottom of the pan after I had decided the mixture was finished

From there, I put it into a bowl and poured some cold water over it; the instructions direct one to "not mix" it; the water just sits on top of the mixture until it's cooled:

After draining the water off, it came time to add the spices.  When I make a shopping list, I'm pretty particular about making sure I have enough of whatever I need, to the point of measuring it sometimes...except when it comes to spices, because, usually, spices only need a tiny amount: a teaspoon, at most, maybe a tablespoon on the rarest of occasions.  When spices are involved, I simply look into the spice cabinet and look to see if I have whatever is called for; I don't worry about how much I might need.  So when I came to add the spices and looked at how much was called for, I was a little shaken.  Instead of being by spoons or parts of spoons, the measurements were by parts of cups.  To be specific, I needed 1/2 cup, each, of garlic powder, ginger powder, and dried mustard.  One-half of a cup.  Fortunately, I had a nearly new tin of mustard from the but'ech'a and I had just recently purchased a new jar of garlic powder because we go through garlic powder with astonishing rapidity.  I also had more or less enough ginger from the Christmas-cookie baking.  I called it close enough, as the babies were napping and I couldn't run out to get more right then and there.  

Now I am out of pretty much all of these spices, save for a tiny amount of garlic powder that is left:

The spices were mixed into the flour mixture, by hand, as instructed.  

Then I was instructed to add the suff "until mixture thickens".  I have no idea how adding a couple of cups of liquid to what is, at best, a slightly viscous mixture is supposed to thicken it, but I thought maybe sunflower juice reacts with flour and jarsful of spices in some way that is binding.  It doesn't.  After the suff came more liquid in the form of several tablespoons of lemon juice, after which my dish bore rather little resemblance to even a very liberal definition of paste:

At this point, I sealed it in airtight container and placed it in the refrigerator for three days, as instructed.  Perhaps during this time, it would somehow turn into a paste?  

Not quite:

But it did seem a bit firmer than when I left it on Tuesday.

This is definitely more of a condiment/side dish, meant to be eaten in small amounts.  It's just too overpowering as a main dish and I think it actually upset my stomach a little!  And while the two-year-olds can eat a level of spicy that I can't, they don't like sinus-emptying harshness like that of dried mustard, so I prepared a second option for them (to their credit, they did give the yegebs siljo a try):

It's called "Dinty Moore Wet".  Seriously.  My husband suggests I add berbere to it next time.  However, the two-year-olds revolted against the injera that I had purchased from EthiopianSpices.com.  Even when it was fresh, they weren't enamored with it...it left a funky residue on the fingers and wasn't all that supple; freezing it just made it worse, despite thawing it gently.  Though I still have 20 more pieces in the freezer, I think I'm going to save it for some fitfit (stew mixed with pieces of injera....my favorite is doro fitfit) and go back to getting the injera from our local Ethiopian restaurant.  I can't have the Ethiopians unhappy with their injera.  

What's next?  The next recipe is a bit daunting, mainly because of the quantities involved.  Fifteen pounds of this, five pounds each of x and y, and a pound of something else, just for starters.  I also have to source a couple of things, so it might not be coming next week, but it will be coming!  It's considered a basic ingredient, so it will be good to have on hand as for future recipes. 


  1. I just found out about your blog! And I must say it combines two of my favorite things: Ethiopia and cooking =) We are a WHFC family waiting for sibs and if I am correct, when we began the process last spring you very thorougly answered my questions on a Yahoo board re: WHFC. Very helpful indeed!

    I'm looking forward to some yummy Ethiopian dishes being prepared in our home, better get started!
    Meg B-Chicago

  2. The best part of this post for me was learning that I'm not the only one who will put just about anything on a piece of injera and call it "wet"! And Elfe will go along with me too!

  3. is there costco or other wholesaler near you? we tend to go through spices and baking stuff so i buy in insane bulk amounts from there...and funugreek can be found in bulk at whole foods near me (but that could be because that whole foods is also near babies r us, so they might be capitalizing on the milk producing qualities of it!)
    amazon has great prices of cooking supplies and a bunch of kitchenaid attachments for cheaper than the kitchenaid store...

  4. We're a member of BJs, Regina. That's a good idea to keep in mind when I need larger-than-usual amounts of spices. I'm sure my Whole Foods has fenugreek, too, but I like an excuse to visit my Asian grocery. :) And thanks for the information on Amazon. I have many feelers out, looking to see where I can get the best deal on the grain mill....

  5. This is a fantastic idea / blog. Kudos, I'll be following.


  6. Was just directed to your blog via Katy at Straight Magic. I am so happy to see your adventures in Ethiopian cooking and hope to give this a try! I have always been daunted by injera.

    Thanks for sharing your steps!