The Goal: Light, airy, bubbly batter… thin, delicate, spongy flatbread with a sourdough taste, and plenty of little holes all across the surface, indicating perfect fermentation.
Source: How to Make Great Injera
I began my attempts at creating this Ethiopian flatbread on June 12th, 2017. As with any experiment, the first step was research. The very first thing I discovered is that it requires a special gluten free grain called Teff. I called several mainstream stores, and none carried teff flour. One health food store, however, did carry the whole grains. When I arrived to pick some up, I discovered the store had stopped carrying the grain, and the bags I was buying were literally the last that would be for sale at that store. Relieved, I hurried home to carry out the next part of my plan… Grinding up teff grain in my little discount blender.
Perhaps this fateful decision was the first of my steps towards failure, but I was determined to press on. I started with about one cup of the grain.
I gave it a whirl in my blender as thoroughly as I dared without ruining the poor blades (though they still started to smell funny after a while). It grew it volume to approximately one and a half cups of flour.
The first recipe I used called for only two ingredients, teff flour and water. At this point, however, I had done exactly the wrong amount of research. I had about five different recipes open with very different methods in each one, and ended up combining a few. Many of the recipes suggested adding in a small amount of yeast. Other recipes suggested adding in half teff flour and half regular white flour, to help combat the unfamiliar sour flavor of teff.
I will share with you my arrogant notes made on the day:
They say if it does not ferment on its own, it is possible to use yeast to assist. However, I also did use half all purpose flour and half teff flour, as most U.S. versions of Injera are made this way to balance the sharp sour flavor. If it doesn’t ferment, I will try again with a higher percentage of teff flour first before trying to add yeast to the mix. I dislike the idea of an inauthentic assist to the fermentation, and I don’t want to add a yeast flavor.
You see what I mean about the wrong amount of research? Enough to think I knew things, and not enough to actually know anything. However, ignorance, as they say, is bliss, so I mixed the teff and white flour with enough water to make a thin batter, snapped a picture, covered it with a towel, and set it in my cupboard to ferment for the next day.
The next evening after work, I pulled out my batter and inspected it. According to all the recipes, it should have bubbled up into somewhat of a cracked dome, like the surface of the moon. Mine looked slightly bubbly, but much more like primordial ooze than an orbiting body. I felt in my bones that it wasn’t successful, but I decided to attempt cooking the batter anyway. Each injera should be cooked on one side only, covered, for approximately five to seven minutes. My unedited notes from the cooking process are I think worth sharing.
Taste of first batch: Haha!
The first one in the pan was a gummy, flat mess. The second one was completely burnt on the bottom and raw on top. The third one, I attempted at a lower heat. Turned out better, but still a terrible texture, gummy and raw tasting, regardless of how much I cooked it. I went ahead and cooked the rest using that temperature and method, but… None of them are edible.
Not to be deterred, I did a little more research, and decided to focus my efforts on one recipe, made with only teff flour and water. I was still holding out hope that the problem was in too high a concentration of white flour. Once more, I mixed together my ground teff flour and enough water for a thin batter. I also discovered that the batter needs at least a little exposure to air flow in order to properly ferment, so I left it out on the kitchen counter instead of in a cupboard.
I allowed the second batch to sit a bit longer, two days instead of one, and it turned out more sour and flavorful than the first batch, but still not bubbly in the slightest. I took a picture of one of the best pieces that I managed to get, and you can see how dark and dense it is! Not the light, almost foamy texture I was looking for. Additionally there are spots of flour not mixed in properly, and cracks from overcooking.
Unaccustomed to repeated failure, I began to revert to my old habits. ‘It’s too much trouble. It’s too much effort. I can’t do it.’ Fortunately, I had planned to make another Ethiopian dish, Beef Tibs with Berbere spice, to go with my injera, and had already purchased all the ingredients.
I almost gave up tonight. But I proceeded to cook the beef tibs and it turned out f*king delicious, even without injera to go with it. So, I am taking a bit of heart and trying the injera again next week. I knew this would take time! Can’t give up. 🙂
Finally, I came to the correct conclusion. I needed professionally ground teff flour. In a determined full scale assault of all health food stores within a twenty mile radius, finally I found a community coop that actually had the ingredient. Quickly, in case they were about to sell out of it too, I scampered over and picked up far more than I actually needed. As soon as I returned home, I started in on a new recipe. Determined this time to get it right, I decided to ditch all the old recipes and try a completely new method, bearing no similarity to that thin pancake batter substance.
Interesting. This recipe has me fermenting white flour with yeast, and teff dough separately. The yeast and white flour mixture was sloppy, glutinous, and wet. The teff dough was very stiff and required firm kneading. We’ll see, I’m intrigued. The dough was not easy to work with, at first, crumbly and stiff, but after working ended up very much like stiff play dough.
I pressed the clay-like dough ball into the bottom of the bowl and covered it with water, as directed in the recipe. The yeast mixture, I kept covered in a glass dish alongside the teff dough.
I set both dishes to ferment for two days. Full disclosure – during those two days, the yeast mixture bubbled up over the edges of the dish and spilled all over the counter. I would definitely suggest using a dish or bowl with a lot of extra room to avoid this issue. I didn’t start over, as by the time I discovered this it was already a day into the process. I will note, however, that the spill did not seem detrimental to the end product.
Injera – third attempt, and SUCCESS. I had so many doubts along the way. The white flour mixture was glutinous, stretchy, bubbled over messily during fermentation, and was looking disastrous. The teff dough was strange and hadn’t totally incorporated the water, and was still lumpy and clay-like. However, after mixing the two doughs together, doing the steps recommended in the recipe regarding “Ob-seet”, and letting it sit for two hours… I have achieved a foamy, bubbly batter, not lumpy or glutinous at all!
As you can see, this batter is a far cry from the thin, unpleasant substance I had achieved in previous attempts. I had extremely high hopes as I set up my cooking station. The pot full of batter, the lidded pan heated to medium for frying, and a pan lined with paper towels to set down my finished injera.
The only change I made to the recipe was to add a small amount of salt to taste, as recommended in most of the other recipes. It turned out exactly as it should, with holes creating a thin lacy texture yet somehow still spongy, edges lifting from the pan. I did the first two with oil but attempted the third without, and despite former attempts sticking, these did not. It was a miracle batter!
Also, I did not use a griddle, I pan fried these on medium heat, covered with a lid as shown. They really did not take longer than three minutes, and I think some of the thinner ones could have done with less. I would recommend keeping it thinner and swirling the batter around the pan, rather than pouring the batter to cover the whole surface. It turns out a little too thick that way.
When the injera is hot, it will still be extremely gummy. Don’t panic! Just be careful when you’re sliding it out of the pan, as wherever it first touches, it will immediately stick, until it cools down. Once the injera were cool, I didn’t have much of a problem with them sticking together. I tried a few different methods, one separating them with wax paper, one separating them with plastic wrap, and one just stacking them directly on top of each other. I would say, the direct stacking method worked best and has the least sticking, but keep your stacks short or else they’ll meld together while still hot.
Once they were completely cool, I was able to fairly easily roll them up and place them in ziploc bags for serving later.
So, after all the time, effort, and ingredients poured into it, I finally ended up with the product I was proud of, and eating it was one of the most satisfying meals of my life. Maybe the injera itself is not responsible for the level of exhilaration I felt, but it represents success, and the first step towards a new mentality. I can only hope the next recipe I try will be just as difficult… And just as exciting.
- 5 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 tablespoon yeast
- enough warm water to make a thin batter
- 5 cups teff
- enough water to make a very thick dough
Begin by combining the all purpose flour, baking powder and yeast in a large bowl. Add enough water to make a batter the consistency of thin pancake batter. Cover the bowl and set it aside.
In a second large bowl combine teff with enough water to make a very thick heavy dough. Knead this dough for ten minutes or so on a floured counter. Return the dough to the bowl, press it down into the bowl, and pour just enough water over the top of the dough ball to cover it with water. Cover and set aside. Let both bowls sit out on your kitchen for about two days.
After two days, combine the mixtures into one bowl and stir together until thoroughly mixed into a thick batter. Bring two cups of water to boil on the stove. To the boiling water, add one cup of the batter and stir vigorously until it is thickened. Then take it off the stove and whisk it thoroughly through the rest of the batter. This process is called “ob-seet.”
Set the batter aside for another 2-4 hours. When ready to cook, heat a griddle or pan to approximately 450 degrees. Pour some of the batter into the pan, and swirl to thin the batter and coat the heated surface. Cover immediately and let cook for approximately three minutes, until the top is darkened, shiny and sticky, and the edges are curling up from the pan. Gently lift injera from skillet and set aside to cool.
To serve, roll up and cut into desired size, or lay out onto a plate and serve your favorite Ethiopian dishes on top, to let the sauces soak into the injera.