If you’ve ever been to an Ethiopian restaurant – certainly if you’ve ever set foot in Ethiopia – you will have heard of injera. It’s a sourdough flatbread unlike any other sourdough. It starts out looking like a crepe but then develops a unique porous and slightly spongy texture. The thin batter is poured onto the cooking surface, traditionally a clay plate over a fire though now more commonly a specialized electric injera stove, and the bottom remains smooth while the top develops lots of pores which makes it ideal for scooping up stews and sauces.
And that’s exactly how injera is used, as an eating utensil. And as a plate. And often in place of the tablecloth. A variety of stews, vegetables and/or salads are placed on a large piece of injera and guests use their right hands to tear portions of the injera which are used for gripping the food. The porous texture of the injera makes it ideal for soaking up the juices.
Injera is traditionally made out of teff flour, the world’s tiniest grain and also one of the earliest domesticated plants having originated in Ethiopia and Eritrea (where injera is also widely consumed) between 4000 and 1000 BC. Its production is limited to only areas with adequate rainfall though so it’s relatively expensive for most African households. As such, many will replace some of the teff content with other flours like barley or wheat. For those who can afford it, injera made entirely of teff flour has the higher demand.
Injera is the traditional accompaniment to Doro Wat, Ethiopia’s famous spicy chicken stew, and together these constitute the national dish of Ethiopia.
Injera is likewise served with Sega Wat, the delicious beef version of Doro Wat.
There are different varieties of teff ranging from white/ivory to red to dark brown. In Ethiopia white is generally preferred and will also produce a 100% teff injera that is a lighter in color than what is shown in the first photo and preparation photos. I’m using 100% dark teff flour which produces a very dark injera with a deeper flavor.
The challenge is that if you’re looking for a specific type of teff and like to grind your own grains, most manufacturers don’t differentiate the teff type on their package labeling. It’s mostly an aesthetic preference though and for most baking I do with teff it really doesn’t matter either way. With the injera it will make a difference in the color though if that’s an important factor to you.
Traditionally a clay plate, a mitad, placed over a fire is used for making injera.
A special woven basket, called a mesab, in which the freshly made injera are placed.
More commonly now specialized electric injera stoves are used. The most popular one in the U.S. is called the Heritage Grill. But unless you’re making injera constantly, a simple non-stick pan on the stovetop will do the job.
Read to make some injera?
And I don’t mean short-cut, one-day, cutting corners injera. I mean the real deal, authentic injera.
***IMPORTANT NOTE before we begin: Both the texture and color of the injera will vary greatly depending on what kind of teff you use (dark or ivory) and whether or not you’re combining it with other flours. Gluten-based flours (e.g. wheat and barley) will yield a much different texture than 100% teff. In the pictures and recipe below I’m using 100% dark teff, something you will not find in restaurants and will look different than what most are accustomed to, but is traditional to Ethiopian home cooking.
Okay, let’s get started!
You can buy pre-ground teff flour or grind your own. I like to grind my own grains because 1) the flour has far more nutrition because it’s fresher and the oils haven’t oxidized and 2) I have more control over the texture of the flour.
I use and LOVE the German-made KoMo Classic Grain Mill. It comes with a 15-year warranty. It’s a stone-grinding mill and you can grind grains as finely or as coarsely as you like. It’s an awesome piece of machinery and it’s just downright gorgeous!
You’ll need 2 cups of flour. I’m using all teff flour, and mine happens to be dark teff flour which will produce a very dark injera with a deeper flavor.
As mentioned above, using 100% teff flour is traditionally considered the most desirable (it also happens to be naturally gluten-free), but you can substitute part of it with other flours such as wheat or barley.
However, if you’re new to making injera I recommend substituting a portion of teff with barley or wheat flour as 100% is more challenging to work with.
Stir in 3 cups of water (and the yeast if you’re using it).
I made two versions to show you the difference – both are identical but in one of them I added some commercial yeast (left) and the other one I didn’t (right). What that does is prevent the formation of wild yeast because the commercial, store-bought yeast dominates.
Loosely cover the bowls with plastic wrap so that air can still get in (but no critters can) – cheesecloth is also a great option. Let it sit undisturbed at room temperature for 5 days. You don’t have to let it ferment that long but at least 4 days is ideal and longer it ferments the deeper the flavor will be.
Note: Depending on what kind of flour you’re using, you may need to add a little more water if the mixture is becoming dry.
After 4-5 days both versions will be fizzy when you jiggle the bowl.
Notice the difference between the mixture prepared with commercial yeast (left) and the wild yeast mixture (right). The version made the traditional way allowing wild yeast to form is not only much darker in color, it has a film of aerobic yeast on top that you may initially think is mold but it isn’t. If your batter forms actual mold on it it will need to be discarded.
It looks disgusting, I know – like why would I eat this? But rest assured it’s perfectly normal. That isn’t mold, it’s aerobic yeast caused by the fermentation process. Going the traditional route of relying on wild yeast – a naturally fermented product – over commercial yeast results in an injera with a richer and more complex flavor. It’s the way injera has been made and enjoyed for centuries. Again though, if your batter forms actual mold on it, it will need to be discarded.
We’re simply going to discard this top layer and use what’s underneath.
Pour off the top layer and as much of the liquid as you can.
You’ll be left with a clay-like batter. Give it a good stir.
Bring 1 cup of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Scoop 1/2 cup of the fermented teff batter and stir it into the boiling water until the mixture is thickened. This will happen pretty quickly.
Stir the cooked/thickened batter back into the original mixture.
Add some water to the batter to create roughly the consistency of crepe batter. I added about 2/3 cup of water though this will vary from batch to batch. The batter will have a sweet-soured nutty smell.
Heat a non-stick pan on medium. Depending on how good your non-stick surface is, you may need to very lightly spray it with some oil.
Coat the surface of the pan with a thin layer of injera batter. It should be thicker than making a crepe but not as thick as a pancake.
Continue to cook – bubbles will form, allow them to pop. Then cover the pan with a lid and turn off the heat to let it steam cook for a couple more minutes or so until cooked through. Be careful though, if you the injera cooks too long it will become gummy and soggy.
Remove the injera and repeat.
Traditionally served with Ethiopian Doro Wat.
Authentic Injera (Ethiopian Flatbread)
- 2 cups teff flour, brown or ivory , or substitute a portion of it with some barley or wheat flour
- Note: If you're new to making injera I recommend using a combination of teff and barley or wheat as 100% teff is more challenging to work with.
- 3 cups water
- Note: This method involves wild yeast fermentation. See blog post for details about using commercial yeast as a starter (you'll use about 1/4 teaspoon dry active yeast)
- *See blog post for detailed instructions*NOTE: Using mostly or all teff (which is the traditional Ethiopian way) will NOT produce the spongy, fluffy injera served in most restaurants which are adapted to the western palate and use mostly wheat, sometimes a little barley, and occasionally a little teff added in.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and water (and yeast if you're using it). Loosely place some plastic wrap on the bowl (it needs some air circulation, you just want to keep any critters out) and let the mixture sit undisturbed at room temperature for 4-5 days (the longer it ferments, the deeper the flavor). (Depending on what kind of flour you're using, you may need to add a little more water if the mixture is becoming dry.) The mixture will be fizzy, the color will be very dark and, depending on the humidity, a layer of aerobic yeast will have formed on the top. (Aerobic yeast is a normal result of fermentation. If however your batter forms mold on it, it will need to be discarded.) Pour off the aerobic yeast and as much of the liquid as possible. A clay-like batter will remain. Give it a good stir.
- In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup of water to a boil. Stir in 1/2 cup of the injera batter, whisking constantly until it is thickened. This will happen pretty quickly. Then stir the cooked/thickened batter back into the original fermented batter. Add some water to the batter to thin it out to the consistency of crepe batter. I added about 2/3 cup water but this will vary from batch to batch. The batter will have a sweet-soured nutty smell.
- Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Depending on how good your non-stick pan is, you may need to very lightly spray it with some oil. Spread the bottom of the skillet with the injera batter - not as thin as crepes but not as thick as traditional pancakes. Allow the injera to bubble and let the bubbles pop. Once the bubbles have popped, place a lid on top of the pan and turn off the heat. Let the injera steam cook for a couple or so more minutes until cooked through. Be careful not to overcook the injera or they will become gummy and soggy. Remove the injera with a spatula and repeat.
- IMPORTANT NOTE: Both the texture and color of the injera will vary greatly depending on what kind of teff you use (dark or ivory) and whether or not you're combining it with other flours. Gluten-based flours (e.g. wheat and barley) will yield a much different texture than 100% teff. In the pictures and recipe below I'm using 100% dark teff, something you will not find in restaurants and will look different than what most are accustomed to, but is traditional to Ethiopian home cooking. Make your injera according to what you prefer.