Ethiopian food has gained a foothold in America that has yet to be equaled by other African cuisines. A big part of this has to do with the distinctive flavor of berbere spice mix, which is used in many of that country’s dishes. If you want to make misr wot or any other Ethiopian dishes and have them taste authentic, you will need berbere spice. Try to find it in stores if you can. If you cannot find it and do not want to order it online, you can try one of the many berbere spice alternatives.
Your best bet: Make your own berbere spice
The spices that are used to make berbere spice may be easier to find than a pre-made blend. Berbere spice blends include common spices such as cloves, cardamom, and ginger. While berbere spice does not have to be hot, most blends are; a berbere spice blend should therefore also contain lots of dried chilies. You should be able to find everything you need in your local grocery store. Here’s a good recipe for berbere spice for you to follow.
You can use berbere spice as a dry powder or combine it with oil to make a paste. It is also important to remember that there is no one blend; berbere spice is made according to regional recipes or even just the cook’s own preferred flavors. As long as you use the fundamental spices that provide berbere’s distinctive warmth and sweetness, you should be able to come up with an authentic-tasting mix.
A decent second choice: Ras el hanout
Ras el hanout is popular in North African cooking and shows up frequently in Moroccan food. The spices in ras el hanout are supposed to be the best that a spice merchant has in stock. It is just as subject to variation as any other spice blend, with each maker selling their own proprietary blend. Ingredients can range from well-known spices like cloves, coriander, and cumin to more exotic ones like grains of paradise and orris root. Simply choose a ras el hanout blend that has the same spices found in berbere spice and use it exactly as you would berbere spice. Ras el hanout can be purchased online or in Middle Eastern markets.
In a pinch: Tsire
Tsire spice blend is another African spice blend that may not be as widely known as berbere spice or ras el hanout. This blend is also known as suya and is used to season West African beef kebabs. It consists of a few spices, all of which are easy to find and that should already be an experienced cook’s spice cabinet. These spices include ginger, cloves, red pepper, and one other ingredient that you will not see in many spice blends: peanuts. The peanuts may be ground to a coarse powder but many immigrants in the west just use peanut butter, preferably unsweetened.
Baharat is a staple of Middle Eastern cooking and is used as a general seasoning for many different foods. It typically contains cinnamon, cloves, and paprika along with other common spices that also show up in berbere spice.
Tandoori masala is the set of spices used to make tandoori chicken. Tandoori chicken is so named because it is cooked in a tandoor, which is a clay oven. One of this spice blend’s distinctive characteristics is its bright red color, which comes from the Kashmiri chili powder used to make it. The heat and the fragrant spices typically used in this blend make it a good substitute for berbere spice.