Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Gluten Free Injera

I recently went out with a bunch of friends, for a birthday dinner at a Ethiopian restaurant (sorry, they don't have a website!) I've been there several times, but that was before I was wheat free. It's pretty good, the service is a little slow, but not rude, and the food is really, really tasty.

Injera (the bread) is traditionally wheat free, being made from teff flour. However, wheat is cheap and readily avaliable, so restaurants tend to supplement the teff with wheat, mostly for cost reasons, or so I thought. Now, some places will make GF injera for you, and I'm sure it's lovely, but they probably charge for it, because as we all know, GF flours are expensive.

I decided I would do it myself.

I bought an inexpensive, but well rated cookbook and did some research on the interwebs. When you look at the book, it's pretty short - about thirty pages long - so there aren't too many recipes in it. The reason you want this book is because it was written by American missionaries who didn't know how to cook Ethiopian food. See, that's the major complaint about most Ethiopian cookbooks: amounts and instructions tend to be very vague. Once you have a basic understanding of how to cook the food, look on the interwebs and find all the recipes you want, but because you now know how the basic cookery works, you won't feel like you're screwed. What these ladies did was move over there, get to know people and how to cook the food. Then they made a cookbook that we can understand!

It does not have a traditional injera recipe in it. It has ... a cheater recipe. I'm sure you've seen it out there, it used baking soda to leaven the bread. You're not going to get the right texture this way. Injera is a fermented bread and the fermentation process breaks down stuff in the grains.

So we come to my soap box moment: pretty much everyone on the interwebs says that injera is SUPER hard to make. It can't be. Honestly people a whole freaking country of people make this as a staple bread, it can't be rocket science. That's like saying pancakes are hard to make. What people don't understand out there is how to make sourdough bread. That's what it is, a sourdough bread. Get over yourselves, I did some research and managed it on try one. Crying out loud!

I also used my brain (perhaps I'm cheating by doing that), maybe something people out there didn't do. When you make GF breads, they tend to be crumbly. Crumble, crumble and then fall apart. Apparently this is a problem with GF injera, and this is where people think it's hard to make. I did not have this problem (see, using my brain here!) And this is probably why adding wheat is so popular, because it contains that magical substance: gluten. Gluten, the glue of breads that provides so much texture and reduces crumbles.

What do we all add to our flours to help fake that gluten feel? Xanthan gum.

Well, another point about Ethiopian food I have to make is they eat a lot fat. It seems to be where most of the calories come from. The books aren't wrong, it's not a typo, several recipes call for a cup or two of fat. These feed 4-6 people. Good gravy! If I ate like that I'd be super porky! Just add less. Like when you make anything healthy, just use less. I made one of the recipes that called for a cup of olive oil, and just used a few tablespoons, it turned out delicious. Don't worry about following the recipes that closely, just put in normal amounts of fat. Especially because they make a spiced butter, and you don't need a lot of that (1/4 cup here, 1/2 cup there, 2 cups to cook a pound of chicken), I think you'll get the hang of it when you start cooking it.

I will tell you what the pictures are: I have a lentil stew, a cabbage salad (I didn't photo it well because I had leftover red cabbage from another dinner I made with that great German red cabbage and it just didn't look at pretty when I got done with it all, but it tasted just fine. I wouldn't do it again for like, people coming over unless I knew them well. Instead I would use white cabbage.) There's a beef stew (amazing: saga) and a onion wot. You will notice that my injera folds, and folds nicely. I'm going to give you the recipe for the GF injera, because I couldn't really find a good one out there. I bought my teff from Whole Foods, but you can pick it up online if you don't have a good specialty store out there. I'm not sure that the grains you use will be super important, but I probably wouldn't use millet. I like it, but it's really crumbly, so I would maybe use quinoa or something like that if you don't have sorghum.

You must start the night before, it only takes a minute to whip up, and then you take care of it the next day. This will start out not very sour, but get better as you make it over a period of several days, and when you make Ethiopian food, it's like a leftover's dream. You'll be able to just whip up the bread and heat up leftovers for a week at a time if you cook a bunch at once, or just make one more dish as they start to run out.

Another small note, you don't eat a lot of each dish, just like 1/3 cup, so invite friends over.

Gluten Free Injera

Ingredients Day 1:

1/3 C. Teff flour
1/3 C. Sorghum flour
1/3 C. Basic rice mix or other GF blend (it probably won't matter)
1 tsp. yeast
1 tsp. xanthan gum
2 C. water

Ingredients Day 2:
1/3 C. Teff flour
1/3 C. Sorghum flour
1/3 C. Basic rice mix or other GF blend (it probably won't matter)
1 C. water
a little salt
some oil in your misto

A pan that you can make crepes in. I've often used my big cast iron pan for this, it is well seasoned and works really well. A crepe pan would work, but I've been using a big non-stick skillet that's in good condition.


Whisk together the day 1 dry ingredients and then whisk in the water. Cover loosely with a clean plastic bag and set on the counter to hang out. It might look a little gloopy, have no fear, just let it be, and it might also be a bit lumpy.

The next evening when you're ready to make the injera whisk up the batter and then take out 1/2 cup or so and put it in a clean bowl. Again add the ingredients for day one to this new bowl and whisk it all together. This is the last day I would add yeast, just two days of yeast, as you'll have a good sourdough started after that. If it doesn't rise up the third time, just pitch in a tsp of yeast in the morning.

Now with the rest of your batter whisk in the ingredients for day 2. Whisk them well and let it sit and whisk again to remove lumps. My stove is a gas stove that has 7 settings (1 is low and 7 is high). I put my stove on 3, a low setting. Heat your pan and give it a little tiny mist. Rub a clean cloth around to leave enough oil for crepes. Take the pan and hold it in your off hand, pour about 1/2 cup of batter in the center and shake and tilt the pan to move the batter to cover the pan. When you're done shaking, shake the excess toward the center of the pan to leave thin edges.

Put the pan on the heat and let it hang out till the edges start to pull away from the pan. It might not look all done, but should be dry and have lots of broken bubbles. Lots of people talk about how you need a cover to finish the cooking, I just flip mine over for a few seconds, just to finish those pesky little spots that aren't done.

Remove from the pan (do be gentle) and place on a cloth, stack them up they don't seem to stick too much.

Repeat until you're out of batter.

This process can keep going as long as your batter is good. It will get more sour over time, and if you get to a point where you're not going to make it for a while, just save some of the batter in the fridge (in a very clean jar), probably not for more than a month. But you can feed it like sourdough to keep it going longer. The first day, of course you won't have very sour bread, but it was still good. The bread will just get better with time.


  1. try powdered psyllium husks as an alternative to xanthan

  2. You could defiantly try other types of additives, you could also go true traditional and add none at all, but I think you would need a longer fermentation process to do that.