Ethiopia, where the earliest human fossils have been found, has one of the oldest cultures on Earth.

Their 4,000-year history of monarchy dwarfs that of the British, until the 1974 revolution when Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown. Chef and food business owner Sefanit Sophie Sirak-Kebede and her husband Menyahill, Meny for short, didn’t return to Ethiopia after the revolution.

Following a career in hospitality, Sophie set up the award-winning company Tobia Teff from a workshop in Wembley, selling products made from the ancient African grain teff.

Ham & High: Sophie making pancakes in her Wembley kitchenSophie making pancakes in her Wembley kitchen (Image: Kerstin Rodgers)

When I visited Sophie in Wembley to find out more about Ethiopian cuisine, she explained that most of the diet is vegan due to the Orthodox adherance to fasting, which they do every Wednesday and Friday as well as for the traditional Advent and Lent. In fact, the Amharic word for fasting is identical to that for vegan.

Ethiopian teff, the world’s smallest grain, is gluten-free and iron-rich. It forms the basic diet in the form of injera, a fermented, pancake-style flatbread. Eating is a communal activity in Ethiopia, in the literal sense that people don’t have their own plates, but eat a series of sauces, known as ‘wot’, placed on top of a huge injera bread, like a vast edible tablecloth.

As Sophie says: "He who is alone will die alone. He who is with the family will die with the family. There is no individual plate – you share."
Ham & High: Sophie with her injera breadSophie with her injera bread (Image: Kerstin Rodgers)
Kik Alicha

There are two main types of 'wot' sauce in Ethiopian cooking: hot and spicy 'kai wot' with 'berbere' spice mix; and a mild turmeric-based sauce, 'Alicha'. This is the latter, made with split peas.


500g yellow split peas
4 or 5 medium brown onions, sliced
4 tbsp ghee or sunflower oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
5cm fresh ginger, grated
2 tsp turmeric or a stick of fresh root, grated
1 tsp cinnamon, ground (optional)
1 tsp sea salt


Wash the split peas until the water is no longer cloudy. Then soak for at least an hour or leave overnight.
Prep the onions, covering the slices with water in a large pan. Boil until slightly soft. Strain, then fry the onions in butter or oil.
Add the garlic, ginger and turmeric and cinnamon, if using. Fry for a few minutes until light golden.
Add the soaked and strained split peas. Add the salt. Cook on a low heat until the split peas are soft, around 60 minutes.

Ham & High: Bread made with Ethiopian grain teffBread made with Ethiopian grain teff (Image: Kerstin Rodgers)
Injera bread (Serves 7​)

Frankly, this is the most difficult recipe I've ever attempted. It takes a long time to create, and it's hard to get the ideal texture for this flatbread. Set aside at least a week to make it, longer if the weather is cold (fermentation speeds up during hot weather). For an easy life you can buy the bread ready-made at some shops in Kilburn and Shepherd's Bush Market (where there is a large Ethiopian community). You can also get both the flour and the bread from Tobia Teff on prescription from your GP if you are gluten-free.

For the starter:
250g teff flour
300ml lukewarm water

For the teff injera:
1kg teff flour (Sophie uses 2/3rds brown teff flour, 1/3rd white flour)
1.2L water
A little clarified butter or vegetable oil

Days 1-3, make the starter:
Mix the teff flour with the lukewarm water until thoroughly mixed. Cover and set aside in the fridge for 3 days.

Days 4-9, make the injera batter:
In another bowl, whisk together the flour and 600ml of water.
Add in the original starter. Cover and set aside for 3 days in a warm place.

On Day 4, bring 600ml of water to the boil in a large pan. Add 300ml of the fermented injera batter. Simmer for 6 or 7 minutes on a low heat, stirring constantly. Pour this mixture back into the original bowl and stir well. Cover and leave overnight in a warm place.

On Day 5, heat a flat-bottomed frying pan over a medium heat. Grease the pan with clarified butter or oil. Using a jug, pour the batter, thinly and evenly, in a circle from the outside in a spiral towards the centre. Cover and cook for a minute or two. It should bubble like a crumpet.

Remove the injera from the pan using a fish slice and set aside to cool. Repeat the process until all the mixture is used. Serve with the sauce.

The injera can also be rolled up and frozen.