Putting Berbere to Use: Ethiopian Trout Spaghetti

by Karen on Tuesday, August 23, 2011

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Last week you all voted from three dishes featuring the popular Ethiopian spice mixture berbere and… trout spaghetti it is!

Upon first glance, there is nothing that looks “Ethiopian” about this dish, which is basically a pasta.  But this trout spaghetti has a place in Ethiopian history from when Italy occupied the country during the Scramble for Africa.  At the beginning of the 20th century, European powers raced to colonized African territories and Italy seized the eastern territories also known as the Horn of Africa.  The Italian Facist government was met with great resistance from Ethiopians and their rule lasted for only a brief period.  However, during that time cultural exchange resulted in pasta becoming popular in the country and today it is still served in major cities like Addis Ababa.

This recipe is uniquely Ethiopian due to its use of berbere which is cooked with other aromatics and olive oil to create a light but spicy and complex sauce.  The dish incorporates barely “ceviched” slices of trout and adds a bright note in this dish.  The pasta can be finished off with a few spoonfuls of ayib, an Ethiopian homemade cheese that is similar in texture and flavor to cottage cheese, that mellows out the strong heat of the berbere.  Here, I've substituted with a ricotta and the results were perfect!

– 3 pounds of skinless boneless rainbow trout, sliced on a bias into 1/4 inch thick slices
– 1 tablespoon of chopped mint
– juice of 2 limes
– 2 tablespoons of berbere, divided
– 1/2 cup of olive oil, divided
– 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
– 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
– 1 pound of spaghetti
– 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
– 2 basil leaves, chopped
– 1 15 ounce tub of ricotta
– a large bundle of chives, minced (about 1/3 cup)
– sea or kosher salt

Start by prepping the fish and place the slices in a large bowl or dish.  In a bowl mix together 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of berbere, juice of 2 limes and mint.  Mix well and pour over the fish and cover with plastic wrap.  Let it marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours turning the fish halfway through.

In a separate bowl, fold the chives into the ricotta with a pinch of salt and set aside.

Start boiling water in a large pot for the pasta.

In a large pan (large enough to hold the pasta) melt the butter and rest of the 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the remaining tablespoon of berbere and stir in the sliced onions.

Cook stirring occasionally until the onions start to caramelize then turn off the heat.

Cook off the spaghetti and transfer drained pasta into the onion mixture.  Drain the fish of the marinade and set aside.  Add a hefty pinch of salt and toss the pasta and onion sauce together.  Gently fold in the fish the residual heat will lightly cook the fish.

Serve with the ricotta mixture and enjoy the beautiful flavors of Ethiopia!

(Recipe adapted from The Soul of a New Cuisine)



Lan August 23, 2011 at 7:04 am

yes! this is wonderful.
i had a classmate from eritrea who used to bring in ethiopian spaghetti for lunch often. rather than fish, her mom would use just ground meat. it was WONDERFUL. i could never explain to my mom how to make it.
*THIS* takes me back to 8th grade, in addis, sampling beylul’s lunch and wishing i could recreate it.

Karen August 24, 2011 at 10:25 pm

Awesome! So glad that this specific dish has a special place for you– I love that! Was it also made with berbere?

la domestique August 23, 2011 at 8:13 am

Guided by Marcus Samuelsson’s books, I’ve really been getting into Ethiopian cooking. Thanks for sharing this recipe, and the story behind it.

Karen August 24, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Great book huh? I use it a lot for inspiration!

Nelly Rodriguez August 23, 2011 at 10:36 am

Yei, just what I voted for! Looks delicious!

mycookinghut August 23, 2011 at 11:57 am

Oh wow! I am all up for this dish, so delicious looking!

Rosa August 23, 2011 at 12:52 pm

That dish looks fantastic and so tasty! Berbere is a wonderflly complex spice.



Annapet August 23, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Thanks for helping me brush up on history. Just yesterday, while in San Francisco I drove by Assab Eritrean Restaurant. My 9-year old is particularly interested in trying it next visit across the bridge.

Karen August 24, 2011 at 10:27 pm

No prob! wow great that a 9 yr old is up for Eritrean food!

deana@lostpastremebered August 23, 2011 at 1:05 pm

I already have berbere on my list for Kalustyans… that fish looks surreal and so lovely… makes my mouth water for sure. Thanks for the inspiration for the great spice blend that I had forgotten about!

Karen August 24, 2011 at 10:30 pm

I think the fish was the most interesting part. Rarely see a “ceviched” fish in a pasta dish… that’s from Ethiopia.. haha!

Belinda @zomppa August 24, 2011 at 4:05 am

Oh yeah!! A gorgeous dish! I know what my big jar of berbere is going to do this weekend!

Karen August 24, 2011 at 10:29 pm

Ah nice, even better u already have one ready!

Valerie August 24, 2011 at 12:14 pm

This was one of my favorite dishes you’ve made that I’ve had the privilege of eating and that’s saying something. So unusual but so delightful, it was like a party in my mouth. And I voted for this one so I was especially happy… TROUT SPAGHETTI FTW!!

Mely@Mexicoinmykitchen August 26, 2011 at 5:07 am

With fish! Wow! I saw the picture and didn’t think it was fish.
I can imagine the aroma in the kitchen. Now you got me thinking in cooking something like this soon.

Thanks for sharing this recipe.


Sasha (Global Table Adventure) August 27, 2011 at 6:58 am

Beautiful use of berbere – I’m thinkin’ I could eat those spiced, oily, caramelized onions all by themselves. Or on top of a hot dog (omg).

Nadia August 29, 2011 at 11:07 am

I haven’t had much exposure to Ethiopian cuisine, sadly. There must be Indian, Arabic, and African influences in it. Ethiopia was also under Italian occupation for a while as you said hence the pasta – the history is so fascinating. This looks fantastic. The berbere spice mix must be so fragrant and flavorful.

kankana August 30, 2011 at 6:26 pm

This is looking so yumm and love the color! I have to make this sometime soon.

Christine November 2, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Hi Karen and Valerie, Your Ethiopian Trout Spaghetti recipe has been selected to be featured in a Recipe Guessing Game. Please share the following link with your friends and fans. To play, go here: http://knapkins.com/guess_games/268?source=blog Congrats again!! 🙂

Karen November 6, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Thanks Christine– will do!

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