Every year or two we try making injera bread, and are usually crushed by disappointment when it sticks to the pan, tastes weird and is just generally unsuccessful. This time it actually sort of worked.
Injera is a traditional Ethiopian flatbread made by souring a batter made of teff flour for several days, then cooking it like a large pancake to produce a stretchy, spongy sour bread which is perfect for mopping up spicy stews and is also used as a plate. Many cookbooks assume that you can’t get teff flour in the United States, and so suggest a blend of wheat flours. However, that adds gluten, and doesn’t really have the right flavor – teff is easier to find now that gluten-free baking is more popular, so I strongly suggest seeking it out. I also don’t recommend “quick” injera recipes that use baking soda instead of a slow yeast rise or sourdough starter. It’s not just supposed to be bubbly, you want it sour. Plan ahead!
After trying various recipes over the years, I decided to go back to the one really traditional version that I’ve found, from Flatbreads & Flavors. When I first made it years ago, we had so much trouble cooking it there was barely any worth eating. But I had no complaints about the batter this time, it behaved perfectly and tasted just right. The cooking…was a learning experience.
The first pancake is always the worst, right? We decided to try using our big enamelled Copco pan. I buttered it, poured in the batter, covered it to steam, then tried to get the bread out. It didn’t want to come, I suspect because I hadn’t let it cook long enough.
The resulting pile of partially-cooked sourdough teff goo was not attractive. We tried again.
Jon took over the cooking, as the resident pancake expert. Still, it didn’t work quite right – the bottom crisped up while the middle stayed raw. We dumped it out and nibbled on the crisp edges while we pondered our options.
We switched to a non-stick pan. This worked better, and didn’t seem to need the butter. Plus the lid fit better on this one.
The breads gradually improved. Jon experimented with different lids and heat settings.
Eventually, they started to look pretty good! We were afraid they would end up brittle as we’ve had happen before, but after they sat out on a towel for a few minutes they gained that soft, stretchy texture that injera is supposed to have. We scooped up our spicy chicken stew with no problems at all, and it tasted exactly like a good Ethiopian restaurant should. Now we just need to make it again before we forget everything we learned this time!
- 2 cups teff flour
- 3 cups lukewarm water
- 1 tsp dry yeast
- 1 cup water
Begin three days before you plan to make the breads.
Combine the flour with 2 1/2 cups of the warm water in a bowl, stirring with your fingers to break up lumps.
Dissolve the yeast in the remaining 1/2 cup of warm water, then add it to the batter. Stir, cover and set aside for 2-3 days. Don’t bother it. It will smell funky and look worse – don’t worry.
An hour or so before you’re ready to cook the injera, pour off the water that has gathered on top of the batter. Heat a cup of fresh water in a small saucepan. When it boils, add 1/2 cup of the batter, lower the heat to medium, and stir until it becomes thick and smooth. Take it off the heat and let cool. When it’s just warm to the touch, add it back to the batter bowl and stir smooth. Let rise 30 minutes to an hour, until frothy.
To cook the injera: this has definitely taken some trial and error on our part to find which pan and lid work best. Ideally you want a 10-12 inch skillet that has a tight-fitting lid. Heat the skillet over medium-high heat. You may or may not want to butter the pan – it doesn’t seem necessary with non-stick cookware. Give the batter a stir, and pour about 1/2 cup’s worth into the skillet in a spiral, starting at the outside, then shake the pan to get the batter to flow into any remaining empty areas. Cover the pan and let cook for two minutes. Check for doneness and wipe the lid dry before continuing to cook for another minute or two. When the edges are curling and the surface is dry, remove the injera from the pan (if the bread is done this should be fairly easy) and lay it on a dry towel. Continue cooking breads until the batter is gone.
Lay the breads out on plates and ladle the food on top (you could make doro wat, or kitfo, or just dal – anything saucy and spiced). Serve with more breads alongside and use the injera to scoop up bites by hand.