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

Monday, September 20, 2010

Yesiga T'ibs (Meat Cooked in Spice and Red Pepper)

"Yesiga t'ibs is prepared on all occasions.  It is very delicious with injera or bread." ~ D. J. Mesfin, Exotic Ethiopian Cooking, p. 114

that's homemade injera there, baby

I put the t'ibs together this morning to throw into the crockpot, as I was also to be tackling injera today, which I figured could end up consuming a good amount of time (it did).  

I am going to right come out and say that I don't think that the proportions in this recipe are correct.  Either that, or an ingredient is missing.  Or I simply haven't a clue.  But I'll get there in a moment.  

I started as I usually start with an Ethiopian dish: I dry-sautéed a very large amount of red onions (after being quite thankful for my food processor):

To that, I added 1/2 cup of nit'ir qibe (I know I don't usually throw in too many measurements, as I wish to respect the author's copyright, but I'm giving some today because I really need help figuring out whether this recipe was correct or not).  

So far, so good.  Next, came 1 cup of berbere.  

Still within the realm of possibility, though it seemed like an awful lot of berbere for that amount of nit'ir qibe (in my doro we't, for instance, I use 2 cups of nit'ir qibe to one cup of berbere).  I even had a bit of trouble incorporating the berbere into the nit'ir qibe and the onions.  I thought "this can't be right" and looked at the recipe again.  Oh, I had forgotten to add 1/2 cup of red wine.  It still seemed like way too little liquid for the amount of berbere that I had in there, but I added the wine.  It did help a bit:

But it was still quite thick.  By now, I decided it really needed some more liquid, so I threw in another 1/2 cup of nit'ir qibe and added some water until it stopped looking so pasty. I didn't add a lot of water, just enough.  

Then I added the meat and cooked it for 15 minutes:

Next came (clockwise from top) black pepper, salt, cardamom, and garlic powder:

I usually grind the cardamom whole, pods and all, in my coffee grinder, but, for some reason, this morning I was inspired to see how easy they were to open up.  It turns out it was quite easy to get the seeds out and, in no time, I had the little cardamom carcasses to prove it:

I still, however, threw the cardamom seeds into the coffee grinder.  After adding the spices, I then put the t'ibs into the crockpot until we were ready for dinner:

It looked good and smelled divine, but, sadly (at least it was sad for myself and the Ethiopians), it was way too spicy.  And that was with the addition of the extra butter and some water (it was probably about 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of water, not a huge amount).  I cannot even imagine trying to eat this stuff full-test.  It was very good, but I couldn't eat more than a few bites due to the heat.  We weren't talking the lovely endorphin-rush heat of the yesiga fitfit, where it was hot, but you couldn't just resist taking another bite.  This was painful all the way down and it remained painful for quite a while.  My husband pronounced it the spiciest/hottest stuff he's ever eaten, and he'll use a half bottle of (very) hot sauce as a condiment for his lunch.  He had to go outside to get some air and was pretty blissed out for the rest of the evening.  

Does anyone know if the yesiga t'ibs is supposed to be basically berbere-coated beef with no sauce?  Almost like an awaze paste?  My husband even mentioned that it felt grainy.  I never order yesiga t'ibs, I can't remember if my husband has ever ordered it before, and I'm having trouble finding pictures of it on the Internet.  It seems that some of the other t'ibs recipes in the book include cups (like 6) of water, but not all t'ibs use the berbere and it's just very difficult to figure out if that's how it was supposed to be.  After all, with water added, isn't it just t'ibs w'et?  Though that beef is fried, not stewed.  Arghh!!  One of the hazards of learning a very foreign cuisine.  I tried pulling out my Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery (circa 1966), but they don't cover Ethiopian cookery.  Go figure.

For now, I added some more water and am letting it stay in the crockpot overnight so that my husband can bring it to work for his lunch.  I probably won't be able to get it to my tolerance level, but I'd like to next time.  I can handle the doro w'et with 1 cup of berbere, so I know that that alone is not the issue.  This is the first time a recipe from this book has been too hot/spicy for me to eat.  

Despite the thrill of feeling like I could eventually get a handle on the injera, I have to say that tonight's dinner was a bit disappointing as a whole.  I haven't eaten so little of a dish since the iskunfur, though I can't say that was because it was too spicy!  :)


  1. Hmm, I remember going to an Ethiopian restaurant way back before adoption was even a gleam in my eye and ordering a spicy beef dish that was almost too hot for me - and I have a pretty high tolerance for spiciness too, I very rarely eat anything that's too spicy for me to handle! I don't remember the name of the dish, but maybe that's the way this stuff is supposed to be?

  2. I too have eaten tibs before that was waaaay to spicy and in a thick sauce. I am very impressed with your injera accomplishments!

  3. I am a total wimp about spicy food but my husband loves it. This could be right up his alley! I have to say your injera looks great!

  4. I got tibs once and it was waaaaay spicier than the doro wot. But not grainy... '

    Also- you said you usually dry cook your onions? I've never done that- I always cook them in the spiced butter? Perhaps that is why I have to back off the berbere a bit? I'll try it that way next time.

  5. Shannon, the recipes almost always say to cook the onions without any grease. I doubt that would have any effect on the strength of the berbere (you may just have to dial it back until you find a comfortable amount). I think the only thing it would do is to kind of fry the onions, in which case they might not break down as they do when they're dry-sautéed. In most of these stews, by the time they're finished, it's almost impossible to tell that there have been onions put in because they kind of dissolve. It's tough to explain, but it adds a really nice texture to it. You just have to be careful not to let the onions burn, or else it imparts a slightly bitter taste to the stew. You can also sauté them in a little bit of water. It's almost more like steaming them, since they release water as they cook anyway.

  6. Has been real pleasure reading your blog. I have recently started experimenting myself.. There are not that many people in Finland who know about Ethiopian food so its nice to hear some tips from you! Thanks a lot! And btw.. i have had the tibs at a restaurant and it didnt have any sauce with it.. just the meat cooked in spices.. kinda dry.. I made this dish today, didnt use nitir qibe at all and just half a cup of berbere and it was still too hot.. it was even a lil too hot for my boyfriend and he's from Ethiopia! :D