Inspired by the delicious chicken dish I was served on a Kenya Airways flight not so long ago, I deviced this East African dish. It draws more on Ethiopian culinary tradition than Kenyan, as the main spice is berbere. Berbere is a distinctly Ethiopian spice mix, a bit like an Ethiopian curry.
In the cookbook Africa on My Mind, chef Marcus Samuelsson writes that each family in Ethiopia will have its own berbere recipe with varying degrees of hotness. The main base is dried chilli pepper, but that’s just the start. I buy my berbere in Joburg Mall in downtown Johannesburg, a small old-fashioned shopping center with several floors of mostly Ethiopian shops and restaurants.
The list of ingredients on my latest bag of ”red pepper powder”, aka berbere, lists cardamom, thyme, Bishop-weed, black cumin, basil, coriander, Ethiopian cabbage, roasted fenugreek, tenna adam, meaning ”health of man, a popular herb of Antiquity and Middle Ages,” garlic, salt, cinnamon and gloves, in addition to red pepper.
Berbere has a distinct, earthy taste. It can be quite hot, but the mix I am using at the moment is not. The in-flight meal that inspired this recipe did not contain berbere I think, but was quite similar in taste. In order to get close to what I experienced above the clouds, this recipe mixes berbere with tomato paste for the roulade filling. I think I came quite close, and the result is a fairly cheap but still elegant and different dish.
- 4 chicken fillets
- 100 ml tomato paste
- Slug of olive oil
- 2 heaped teaspoons berbere
- 1 onion
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 3 tomatoes
- 1/2 can of cruched tomatoes
- Salt and pepper
Put the fresh chicken breasts between sheets of clingwrap and beat or roll until they are flattened.
Fry the berbere with the olive oil until the smell of the spice mix rises from the pan. Mix in the tomato paste and fry for another minute or two until you have a compact paste.
Spread the berbere and tomato paste on the flattened chicken fillets, then roll the fillets into roulades and secure with tooth picks. Set aside.
Finely chop onion and garlic, and dice the fresh tomatoes. Fry onion and garlic in a pan until golden, then add tomatoes, half a can of crushed tomatoes, and any left-over berbere paste you may have. If you have no paste left over you might want to add a touch of berbere also to the gravy. Salt and pepper to taste.
Brown the chicken roulades in a fairly deep oven proof pan. This can be quite tricky, especially of the roulades are only loosely rolled.
Pour the onion and tomato gravy over the browned chicken roulades and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes in 220 C. Serve with rice, pap or sweet potato mash.