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

Sunday, March 21, 2010

T'ibs We't (Fried Beef Stew)

"T'ibs We't is prepared on occasions as a main dish.  It is very delicious with injera or bread and a little homemade yoghurt or cottage cheese." ~ D. J. Mesfin, Exotic Ethiopian Cooking, p. 107

Dinner was about two-and-a-half hours ago and my husband and I are still talking about how good the t'ibs we't was.  My husband proclaimed it the best thing I've made yet and even added that it was better than the t'ibs we get at our local restaurant, the Abyssinian.  This was also, by far, the spiciest thing I've made, and it was teetering dangerously on the precipice between "spicy" and "intolerably hot".  I added the cottage cheese because I was worried that it was going to be way too spicy hot for the Ethiopians, but they plunged right in and kept going back.  They'd take a bite, gasp, say it was spicy, and you'd think they were about to cry in sheer misery, yet as they were complaining about it being spicy, their hands were already in there for another bite.  When it temporarily overpowered them, they asked to sit in our laps while they had some milk and plain injera, but within minutes, they'd be back into the we't.  I ended up eating most of the cottage cheese, yet was doing the same thing they were...as spicy as it was, my hand kept going back in for more and I felt my brain being washed in the endorphins that were triggered by the spiciness.  My husband, meanwhile, was calling for a seconds to be ladled onto the injera while wiping sweat from his forehead.  Man, this was good; I am totally blissed out.  

It is also a pretty simple dish to make.  It's not the first time I've made it (it was one of the first dishes I made, as I mentioned in my blog post from yesterday).  This was, however, the best batch I've ever made.  

You start with the red onions:


After chopping, throw them into a dry frying pan and cook them until they turn a brownish-red color.  While I was cooking these, I was also chopping up the beef and wasn't keeping as close an eye on these as I should have and they started sticking a little to the pan. If this happens, just throw a little water in there and stir until the water evaporates.  


Then you add the nit'ir qibe (I had made a fresh batch just last night).  

I mentioned in the blog post about nit'ir qibe that the last several cups from the bottom of the pan were a bit sludgy.  The puck of butter on the left is pure nit'ir qibe without the sludge, and the puck on the right is one of the sludgy ones (the most sludgy one, in fact).  You can see the sludge on the top of the puck, but I can assure you it didn't affect the end result one bit, aside from cutting the butter content a tad.  

all melted

One of the things I find amusing when I find some recipes for Ethiopian food on the web (usually posted by a westerner, not an Ethiopian) is the amount of berbere called for.  The upper limit usually seems to be one tablespoon; occasionally, there is an asterisk mentioning that if you like things really spicy, throw in an extra tablespoon of berbere.  

Mr. Mesfin does not mess around.  Here is his idea of a berbere measurement:

That would be a cup.  A cup.  Most of the we'ts in this book call for a cup of berbere for a dish that serves from six to eight people.  I love my berbere:

It's the same exact stuff we brought home from Ethiopia, but not the exact bag, as the bags are only 1 kg. and three or four we'ts will wipe that out.  Thanks to the generosity of many, I keep finding myself with more bags of berbere from Selam Baltena.  If you're reading this and will be traveling to Ethiopia in the near future, I am always looking for more berbere.  If you'd be willing to bring a bag back, please e-mail me!  

with the berbere added

After the berbere, you throw in some red wine (or t'ej, if you have it). 

Meanwhile, I had taken a bunch of stew meat (it was a "family pack" of mixed beef chunks) and cut it into small cubes, both so it would be more tender and easier to eat.  

I browned the meat in a dry pan.  A lot of liquid and fat was expelled from the meat as it was cooked; I never know whether I should drain it or use it in the stew.  Tonight, I just kept cooking the meat until all the extra liquid had evaporated.  Then came time to add the meat to the onion-berbere mixture.

I added some water to the stew and then the spices:

Moving clockwise from the salt, we have:

~ cardamom (I didn't have any ground cardamom, so I ground some cardamom pods in my coffee grinder)

~  ginger (I forgot I used up all my ground ginger for the yegebs siljo), so I ground some fresh ginger and used that

~  black cumin, which can be found in Asian markets as kalonji.  

I discovered that the Asian market I go to (Patel Bros.) is actually a chain!  So if you're wondering if there's one near you, head on over to here.  Mine is a great little market and I enjoy going there.  

~  cloves

~  garlic (I chopped my own tonight because I was out of my Dorot cubes)

~  black pepper

I should not have put in the salt because I forgot that the nit'ir qibe I made last night had been made with salted butter, and the t'ibs we't tasted a bit salty to me (though only to me, I guess, as my husband thought it was fine).  What I really should have done was used unsalted butter for the nit'ir qibe, but I forgot to specify this when I sent my husband out for butter.  

I wanted to add a note about the water here.  The we't recipes in this book often call for a couple of cups or more of water, and while I used the specified amount tonight, there are times when I feel like I don't want to water it down, and I either leave out the water entirely or use less.  It may take a fair bit of trial and error before you find the consistency and/or intensity you prefer. 

After adding the water and the spices, I let it simmer while we waited for my husband to get home with the injera (the recipe recommends simmering for 15 to 20 minutes; at this point, it can also go into a crock pot for as long as you want).  

Then, it was just a matter of digging in!

It's even later now, and I'm still all blissed out on berbere.  


  1. Oh, I have GOT to make this one - I am a huge fan of spicy food!

  2. oooh, i went to that Patel market website, there is one just a few miles away!

    thanks for sharing. I LOVE spicy food too.

  3. Just wanted to say how much i LOVE your blog!! I'm NOT much of a cook, but i ADORE Ethiopian food. And i have to say, your blog is such an inspiration, I'm actually thinking of trying out one of these recipes. :-) Thanks for kick I needed!!

  4. I just found your blog. I make Ethiopian food a couple times a month, but I can't ever get my wat sauce to look the proper red. (you can see pics at http://hawu.wordpress.com/2010/01/09/whats-the-wat/ but excuse the snark, it's not a how-to-cooking blog)

    What do you think the trick is? Is it the red wine or red onions or the brownish meat juices? Because I definitely put as much berbere (and a little more) that my Ethiopian husband can handle.


  5. Hi, D. I'm not sure what the trick is. I don't think the onions would make that much of a difference at all in terms of the color, and the red wine likewise (it was such a negligible amount and I get the same result with t'ej, which isn't red). I don't think the meat has anything to do with it, either, as I get that color before I add chicken or beef or lentils, etc.

    Do you know what your proportion of berbere to onion is? For 15 lbs. of onions, I would use 21 cups of berbere. And 42 cups of butter. I've never been happy with the way we'ts come out with oil; maybe try using some nit'ir qibe? My berbere is orange, like yours is, but as soon as I add it to the butter and onions, it turns that gorgeous deep red.

    I loved your "snark"! I could so totally identify. And hey, if the red food coloring works.... :)