Ethiopian-ish Griddle Cakes

December  7, 2011
4 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Serves 10 as an appetizer
Author Notes

I am completely obsessed with Ethiopian food. I have an injera starter living in my fridge, which is viewed with no small amount of alarm by my exceedingly tolerant husband. I have about a pound of homemade niter kibbeh (clarified, spiced butter) nestled right next to it along with some berbere sauce. Yah, it's that serious. And because I have about a pound of homemade niter kibbeh in my fridge, I decided to put a dent in it with these griddle cakes. At first I cooked the rice and lentils. It was too mushy. Then I left them raw and just blitzed them in the food processor. It was too dry (like a falafel gone horribly wrong). Then I decided to "poach" them—yahtzee! Dumped a ton of great spices in the mix and sautéed in Ethiopian goodness; cut the cayenne's heat with some yogurt sweetened with honey. Devoured by grown-ups (and kids!) alike!

One thing that I have found about this kind of food is that the proportions (and sometimes even the ingredients) are entirely flexible. If you don't have black rice, don't worry. Ditto with red lentils. Any legumes/grains would do, I'm pretty sure. Same with the niter kibbeh recipe. There doesn't seem to be any one "authoritative" way to make it. So if you don't have one particular ingredient, you could omit it without too much grief, I would imagine. And I should mention that this version of niter kibbeh is sort of a mishmash of the dozen or so different recipes I found on the internet when I went a-wassailing around looking for instructions on how to make the stuff. —Niknud

Test Kitchen Notes

My husband and I really liked these lentil rice cakes. The clarified butter used for frying the cakes was phenomenal. The recipe called for red lentils. I could be wrong but I assumed that red lentils are the same as the red lentil dal found in Indian grocery stores. However, simmering the grain mixture for 45 minutes turned the red lentils into soup. Next time, I will start with very little water and add more as needed. The recipe suggested using an egg or a couple of tablespoons of flour if the cakes would not hold after frying. I had to use both and the result was excellent and yummy. —cookingProf

What You'll Need
  • For the griddle cakes:
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1/2 cup long grain white rice
  • 1/4 cup black rice
  • 1/2 cup walnuts (unsalted)
  • 1 sweet onion
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 to 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne (depending on your heat tolerance)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • niter kibbeh (recipe to follow)
  • 1 egg, if needed
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons flour, if needed
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt (plain, full fat)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
  • For the niter kibbeh:
  • 1 pound unsalted butter (the best you can find)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fenugreek seeds
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 4 cardamom pods, smashed
  • 1/2 teaspoon tumeric
  1. For the griddle cakes:
  2. Put the lentils and both kinds of rice in a pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and cover the pot, simmering for about 25 minutes adding water if necessary. Do not worry if they aren't cooked all the way—you don't want them all the way cooked. And do not worry if the lentils are more done than the rice—the textural variation is lovely and it all gets blitzed in the food processor later. Remove from heat and drain, then return to the warm pot and stir until any remaining water has been evaporated. Set aside.
  3. In a food processor, pulse the walnuts until they are a relatively fine ground. Remove to a small bowl and set aside.
  4. Add raw onion to food processor (no need to clean it or anything) and run it until you have a thick onion soup-ish texture. Remove the raw onion to the stovetop and sauté it in a small pan over medium heat until most of the water has been evaporated and the onion has lost its "edge," 5 minutes or so.
  5. Return rice, lentils, onion, walnuts and remaining spices to the food processor and run until the mixture is relatively even-textured.
  6. Heat a generous amount of niter kibbeh in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add a tablespoon of the batter to the pan and fry for about 5 minutes per side, until crispy and brown on both sides. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and let cool. Test it out. If it holds together okay, carry on. If not, add an egg or a tablespoon or two of flour and try again.
  7. When your batter is the right consistency, shape it into patties (3 to 4 inches in diameter) and fry in the niter kibbeh. Make sure to wipe the sauté pan clean after each batch and add fresh niter kibbeh. Serve with Greek yogurt mixed with honey.
  1. For the niter kibbeh:
  2. Melt butter over low heat. When completely melted, add all the remaining ingredients and cook on the lowest temperature possible for about an hour. Feel free to skim any accumulated solids off the top of the pan if you like. Strain through a cloth (I use left-over diaper cloths because I don't have cheese cloth).
  3. NOTE: This makes a lot of niter kibbeh. Alternative uses for the glorious stuff: Add a couple tablespoons to rice or lentils when cooking. Dollop on top of steamed vegetables. Spread it on toast topped with sardines and tomato (okay, that last one may just be me). The possibilities are endless! It is SO easy to make and it smells/tastes so delicious. It can seriously take your cauliflower to places you didn't even know existed.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • midnitechef
  • vrunka
  • hardlikearmour
  • mrslarkin
  • boulangere

Recipe by: Niknud

Full-time working wife and mother of two small boys whose obsessive need to cook delicious food is threatening to take over what little free time I have. I grew up in a family of serious cookers but didn't learn to cook myself until I got married and got out of the military and discovered the joys of micro-graters, ethiopian food, immersion blenders and watching my husband roll around on the floor after four servings of pulled pork tamales (with real lard!) complaining that he's so full he can't feel his legs. Trying to graduate from novice cooker to ranked amateur. The days of 'the biscuit incident of aught five' as my husband refers to it are long past but I still haven't tried my hand at paella so I'm a work in progress!

12 Reviews

midnitechef April 20, 2012
Are the walnuts essential? I can't eat them, could I just add more of the rice and lentils?
Niknud April 20, 2012
You could or you could sub some toasted pine nuts if you wanted to. Thanks for making my recipe!
Niknud April 20, 2012
Trying to comment but it's not showing up....will probably post twice now... Anyhoos, you can leave out the walnuts or add some toasted pine nuts - either should work ok. Good luck and thanks for testing my recipe!
vrunka April 12, 2012
Oh, wow. I am so making these! I love the idea of just having nitter kibbeh on hand to pour over everything!
hardlikearmour December 9, 2011
Wow, oh, wow! These sound fabulous, and the niter kibbeh is worth the price of admission on it's own.
Niknud December 9, 2011
Thanks hla! I am somewhat (ok completely) obsessed with niter kibbeh. I would roll around and make snow angels in this stuff if it weren't so darn unsanitary. And butter weren't so expensive......
mrslarkin December 9, 2011
Yum. these look crazy good. LOVE Ethiopian food and lucky to have a restaurant nearby. Is that injera recipe coming? (no pressure)
Niknud December 9, 2011
Well, it's not really my injera recipe. Much like the niter kibbeh, it's a mish-mosh of wierd recipes found on the internet. I CAN tell you that any 'quick' injera recipes out there are not good at all. You really have to let your starter sit around for a few days to get that tang that injera has. I'll see if I can pull together something to post. Wish we had an ethiopian restaurant in town but we don't - it's what led me to start cooking it at home. I would conduct rituals with niter kibbeh if I could.....
boulangere December 7, 2011
Wow. Love the -ish. I plan to try them when the son and the daughter are here for Christmas. The idea of an all-appetizer dinner is starting to take shape.
Niknud December 8, 2011
Aren't they sometimes the best part of the celebration? Sounds like a plan to me!
lorigoldsby December 7, 2011
Hurry back!
Niknud December 7, 2011
Done. Sorry, early morning insanity set in with the whirlwind of small children, breakfast, showers, runny noses, packing lunches and trying to blow dry my #$@# unmanageable hair. It's a wonder I didn't forget anything!