Country #35 – Eritrea

Challenge Log:

#35        Date selected:    13/6/16 Date completed: 19/6/16

Country selected:  Eritrea

Dining Selection:  Cooked Own

What was on the menu/recipe address:

Tsebhi derho (spicy chicken)  –

 IMGP0119 Eritrea

I had no idea where Eritrea was when I first selected this challenge.  Turns out it’s a country in East Africa bordered by Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti with an extensive coastline along the Red Sea.  It has nine recognised ethnic groups with a population of around 6 million people.

Modern history has seen Eritrea change hands from the Italians to the British to a Federation with Ethiopia, before finally reaching independence in 1993.  Relations with Ethiopia have continued to be strained because of a border conflict.  There has been outbreaks of hostilities between 1998-2000 and tensions between the countries remain high.

Eritrea has the unenviable claim of being among the worst countries in the world for the government’s human rights record.  The country is a one-party state in which national legislative elections have been repeatedly postponed and they have been accused of extrajudicial executions, torture, indefinitely prolonged national serve and forced labour.  Sexual harassment, rape and sexual servitude by state officials are also reportedly widespread.  Freedom of speech, press, assembly and association are limited and those who practice ‘unregistered’ religions, try to flee the nation or escape military duty are arrested and put into prison.

The country has a diverse ecosystem with hot, arid coastal plains and sub-tropical rain forests in the highlands.  It has a rich avifauna of 560 species of birds and is home to an abundant amount of big game species.  Eritrea announced in 2006 that it would become the first country in the world to turn its entire coast into an environmentally protected zone.

The cuisine is usually made up of injera, a sourdough-risen flatbread, accompanied by a spicy stew.  It’s similar in nature to Ethiopian cuisine but tends to feature more seafood due to their coastal proximity.  They are also frequently ‘lighter’ in texture using less seasoned butter and spices and more tomatoes than Ethiopian cooking.  There tends to be an Italian influence from its colonial history which includes pasta, and the use of curry powders and cumin.

For this challenge I was originally going to try making injera but the 3 day fermenting process didn’t quite suit my long work hours at the moment so I decided instead to try one of the rich stews.  Tsebhi derho translates as spicy chicken and incorporates several different recipes.

The chicken is cut into pieces and marinated in lemon juice.  Onions are fried and then mixed with bebere which is a spice mix made up of a dozen spices that have been heated in a frying pan and later ground together with salt.  After this Tegelese Tesmi is added.

Tegelese Tesmi is a herb butter that is made prior  To prepare, onion, garlic and ginger are simmered in butter and water on a low heat for 30 mins until the butter is clear.  It’s important not to stir the mixture while it’s cooking and I was terrified that I would burn it but everything went very smoothly.  The butter is sieved and allowed to cool before adding it to the stew mixture.  I’ll also note that it goes beautifully with fresh bread and would be a lovely alternative to traditional garlic bread.

After frying the Tegelese Tesmi with the onion mixture for a while, skinned tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic and ginger are added to the mix and simmered for 20 mins before the chicken and extra water are also added.  The concoction is simmered until the chicken is done with whole boiled eggs being added shortly before serving.

035 Tsebhi derho (spicy chicken)
Tsebhi derho (Spicy Chicken)

There is so much flavour to this dish, it’s almost overpowering.  The berbere calls for no less than 20 dried red chillies and I was a little worried that it was going to be too hot for me to eat, but the chicken wasn’t as bad as I had expected.  It did have a hefty bite to it, but the tomato and spices mellowed out the heat somewhat.  It’s difficult to describe flavour wise but has quite an earthy taste to it due to the mix of spices.

The boiled eggs were a lovely addition to the dish.  They complimented the sauce well and gave the stew an almost creamy texture.  I highly recommend making sure you include at least one per serving if you’re planning on trying this dish – they really set it apart.

If you’re after something that’s going to give you a smack in the mouth in terms of flavour this is one I’d recommend.  Unique and delicious!

Now onto my next challenge…..

036 Macedonia


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