Ethiopian cooking can be heavy on meat — but the east African country’s cuisine is also full of delicious and super-satisfying dishes that are perfect for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten and lactose-free eaters.
Ethiopian food is probably best known for the spongy sourdough flatbread calledinjera, which serves as the “spoon” for lentil, bean, meat, and vegetable sauces piled on top.
Within Ethiopia — population 90 million — the names and ingredients of dishes may vary among the country’s diverse regions and ethnic groups.
Part of what makes Ethiopian food perfect for so many diets is that there’s always a “fasting” (or animal-free) option: Many Ethiopians are Orthodox Christians and traditionally eat vegan on Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as other special days.
Ethiopia’s cuisine is very similar to the food of its neighbor and rival Eritrea (which until 1991 was part of Ethiopia). Some of the country’s culinary style also reflects the influences of neighbors like Sudan (where the sour bread is called kesra), and the lasting impact of Italy’s partial colonial rule in the mid-1900’s.
So next time you eat out, order the bayenetu, a collection of meat-free dishes. And in the meantime, try a few of these delicious options:
Injera is a sour and spongy round bread, made of teff flour, that’s naturally vegan and gluten-free. Sauces and dishes are commonly poured on top of the injera, which is then used as a vehicle to get the deliciousness from table to mouth.
The bread comes in a darker and lighter version, depending on the teff variety. Injera has a very strong taste and texture — so when you like it, you love it, and it’s hard to put down.
Shiro is a delicious chickpea powder-based dish (sometimes also including lentils and broad beans), slow-cooked with Ethiopia’s popular — and spicy — red berbere sauce. There are several kinds of shiro to enjoy, from the soupy thin shiro wot to the thick and glob-like (but still delectable) shiro tegamino. Try it out with this recipe.
Azifa is a green lentil salad that’s perfect on its own or mixed with injera. Recipe here.
Gomen is made of collard greens and spices cooked to tasty perfection. Recipe here.
6. Inguday Tibs
Inguday tibs are mushrooms sautéed with onions. In Ethiopian cooking, tibs dishes usally consist of meat, but make it with mushroom and vegan here.
7. Mesir Wot
Mesir wot is a delicious (and beautifully colored) combination of split red lentils simmered in spicy berbere sauce. (Depending on the ingredients, it may be look darker.) Recipe here.
9. Kik Alicha
Kik alicha is a split pea stew-ish dish often cooked with a light turmeric sauce. There are different kinds of alicha dishes (and ways to spell it in English), depending on the exact spices and consistency of the lentils and sauce. Go for some here:
Buticha (front and center) is a chickpea dip mixed with lemon juice, good on its own and with injera. Recipe here.
Chechebsa, also called kita firfir (also called kita fitfit), is typically eaten for breakfast and is one of the rare Ethiopian dishes eaten with a spoon. Chechebsa is made of lightly fried injera or other bread cooked in berbere sauce and often served with honey. On the right it’s pictured with eggs, which can be substituted out to make it vegan. Vegetarian recipe here:
13. Shiro Firfir
Still got leftover injera? Mix it with a spicy berbere sauce for shiro firfir. Recipe here.
16. Ethiopian Pastries
Dessert is not a mainstay of Ethiopian cooking, though many Italian dishes like tiramisu and chocolate mousse have become incorporated into the cuisine. Instead, Ethiopians make cake-ish pastries that are not too sweet and range from doughy to dense. They are often fasting-approved, or dairy and meat free — so stay worry free!
17. Fasting Macchiato
Coffee is a huge part of Ethiopia’s culture and economy, and due to the Italian influence, macchiatos are also now a mainstay. Luckily for the vegan or lactose-free macchiato drinker, you can find a fasting version made with Ethiopia’s non-dairy sunflower milk (or sometimes soy milk) to get your caffeine fix.