berbere roasted chicken legs

Today’s word of the day is berbere.

(Oh, I’m sorry. Did I just do that? I’m spending most of the day with a three-year-old. A hilarious, kind-hearted three-year-old, but definitely a three-year-old. As in I KNOW WHAT I WANT AND I FINALLY KNOW HOW TO SAY IT IN COMPLEX SENTENCES AND I AM NOW ALSO AWARE THAT I HAVE A SAY IN LIFE AND NO I DON’T WANT TO STOP JUMPING ON THE COUCH CUSHIONS TO SIT DOWN FOR BREAKFAST NO I DO NOT.

I might be a little bit tired at the moment.

But the joy of this time — and what fuels the patience it requires to make it through without yelling or turning to drink — is all the lessons that are happening. All the time. Lu is burbling words at a steady pace, new ones every moment. Collaboration, festoon, and pomegranate came out this morning. And she goes on talking jags now, telling us about birthday parties for her sister, or the eggplant stew she is cooking in her kitchen, or reciting the recipe Pam made here from memory. Word for word.

The other day, she started chopping tomatillos with her nylon knife and told me all about it. I swear she was doing a Julia Child imitation.

So the push and pull, the constant chance to have conversations about how to be kind and use our words, the relief at the end of the day when she finally falls asleep? All worth it, of course.

Plus, we introduced her to Electric Company this week and she was immediately mesmerized. She has been walking around the house shouting HEY YOU GUYS! And staring at the words on the screen, starting to sound them out. Do you remember Morgan Freeman as Easy Reader? Lu wants to watch this clip, over and over again. It’s still the hippest thing on television.

This is why I have been thinking in Word of the Day.)

That might be the longest parenthetical in history.

Berbere is one of my favorite spice blends in the world. Marcus Samuelsson, in his book The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa, wrote that Ethiopian cooking is built on three foods: injera, spiced butter, and berbere. We adore Ethiopian dishes in this house. After I began frequenting the small Ethiopian restaurants on Jefferson and Jackson in Seattle, I fell in love with the communal dining experience of injera bread, spiced lentils, chicken wa’at, and dollops of delicious stewy foods.

(Most Ethiopian restaurants in the US mix in a little wheat flour with their teff to make their injera bread. It’s disappointing. However, we’ve been working on an entirely teff injera for our cookbook and we’re loving the results now.)

As is true of most spice blends, there is no one “right” combination of spices and salts. Each household makes its own taste decisions. Samuelsson uses fenugreek seeds, dried chiles, paprika, salt, ginger, onion powder, cardamom, nutmeg, garlic powder, cloves, cinnamon, and allspice. You could play with those, in any combination that works for you. Or, you could buy a berbere blend from several places online, including My Spice Sage, Zamouri Spices, and World Spice. (Spices should be gluten-free but be sure to ask the company before you purchase spices for your family.)

Danny and I recommend you buy some soon. We’re going to be using it in our cookbook.

Also, on an early afternoon, after the kid has gone to pre-school, you can coat chicken legs in olive oil, salt and pepper, and as much berbere as you want. Roast them in a 425* oven and cook until they reach an internal temperature of 185° (that’s about about 35 minutes in our oven).

Yesterday, we savored the spicy crunch of the crust on these chicken legs. We also enjoyed a few moments alone, as adults, without a kid in the house.

Of course, we talked about Lucy.


29 comments on “berbere roasted chicken legs

  1. Sam @ The Second Lunch

    I love Berbere. It has such a complex flavor profile, and I eat a lot of it stirred into red lentil soup. The last batch I had was from Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco and painfully spicy. I just picked up a new jar at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, so we’ll see how that one goes. I’ll be trying it on chicken legs next!

  2. Molly

    I went to school near Harlem in NYC, and instead of a fast food joint around the corner, I had two — TWO! — Ethiopian restaurants to eat at, go on dates, and take my parents to when they came and visited. The smell of berbere reminds me of all the good things about college. Yum!

  3. Harsi

    Since I’m a vegetarian, I saw those chicken legs and immediately scrolled down. Not for the recipe. But for the story. The bit of your life that you always choose to share which always makes me smile and keeps me waiting for the next installment. I was not disappointed today.

    Electric Company! Yesss! People of our generation (I’m 37) are always keen to relate their childhood love of Sesame Street, but then when I move on to talking about Electric Company they usually say something vague, like “Oh, yeah. I remember that show too.” Ever hopeful, I try singing a few bars of my favorite songs or referencing some hilarious sketch. But, I can see by their slightly-embarrassed-for-me expressions that they don’t know what the heck I’m talking about.

    So, it thrilled me a little to have you reference it. I grinned wide at the thought of a bright and joyful girl like Lucy getting a chance to be exposed to that entrancingly zany show, with all its colors and sounds. When I was her age, as much as I liked the show, that really didn’t compare to how I felt about my Electric Company record album. I played that thing over and over (and over) again. I knew every song by heart then. I don’t know what happened to that cherished record — and I wouldn’t have anything to play it on now anyway — but I just found this site which details how you can download the album for FREE!
    Yay! I’m looking forward to taking that long stroll down memory lane… I’m sure Lu would love this album as much as I did.

    My hands-down favorite song of all time: “Silent E”. For anyone who’s never experienced the joy, here’s the original show clip:

    ~ Harsi

    1. shauna

      Your comments makes me so so happy. And silent e is Lu’s favorite song so far! (We’re downloading the album tonight, of course.) Thank you!

      1. Harsi

        No. Thank you!!!! (I love reading everything you write and it thrills me to imagine Lu singing along to the record I loved so much at her age.)

        BTW, my husband and I are still sitting here in southern California, but we are signing our lease tonight for the rental home we’ve found on Vashon. We’ve been planning this move for quite some time and I’m excited to say that we will finally be starting our new life on the Island sometime in December. I can’t wait!!

  4. Victoria

    Well, I obviously can’t be 12 since a 12-year old girl would be horrified at the thought, but I can’t help but keep giggling as I think “roasted Bieber”.

  5. gluten free gift

    Yes!! Love Ethiopian food! Our local place Nunu in Toronto will make me everything GF available on the menu….omitting the injera – better than nothing, but still makes me sad to have to eat my platter with a fork instead of my hands like the rest of the gang. Frankly, anything with cardamom makes me crazy happy… i think it’s the main reason I like Indian sweets!

  6. Archer

    Thanks so much for this idea! I’m already planning on making these drumsticks! I just need to get my hands on some of that berbere. I’ve been in Ethiopia before, but never really got into cooking Ethiopian (although teff is one of my FAVORITE grains). Mmm, this will be my start. 🙂

  7. Julie

    We love Ethiopian food in our house too. I make a big batch of Berbere to have on hand. I have also been working on a gluten free injera, mine is getting a little closer all the time but I don’t know if with out wheat it will ever get to the spongy consistency of Blue Nile. I’m interested to see yours.

  8. Ann

    You paint such a lovely picture of Lu, and her language development … and your total engagement with her. I read once that bringing up a child is like reading a really really exciting book very, very slowly. I’m still turning the pages, and loving it. (Especially when yesterday, I improvised a beautiful fairy costume with a few hours notice – for my 17 year old, for her very last day of school forever. It took me back a few years, but I still had the knack.) You and Danny – many more pages to turn, and all of them exciting, meaningful and worthwhile.

  9. N Shah

    That was a great clip of Morgan Freeman on the Electirc Company. Someday whend Lu looks back she is going to love you for your write up about her. I would love to try out the new spice mixture with a vegetable dish. Any ideas?

  10. Molly Kay

    Omgoodness, I will buy your cookbook just so I can get my hands on that injera recipe. I miss Ethiopian food as well. I’m vegetarian as well, but I can’t wait to make some injera with lentils and spinich. Mouth is watering right now…

  11. molly

    Ah, yes, no one tells you three comes with a triple shot of opinion, do they? Oops. Sorry. OPINION!!!!

    Hilarious. Hoot out loud funny. Hang in there. Just wait until FOUR!

  12. Radiantly

    I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Brooklyn, but I picked up your cookbook at the Park Slope Food Coop while waiting in line, and decided I needed to have it! I am not celiac (as far as testing shows) but I am very gluten-intolerant. Can’t have a smidge or else I do react. Anyway, regarding Ethiopian, there’s a place on 4th Ave in Park Slope that will make a 100% Teff injara if you call the day before. I lucked out by showing up and not knowing about the needed call, but they had enough for me left over so I was soo happy! They even made me a separate plate with each of the sampler we’d ordered to share with 3 other gluten eaters. Their website is

    1. shauna

      It’s written in narrative fashion in the post. Something this simple just didn’t seem to require a typical recipe.

  13. Elizabeth

    Wow, I have a coincidence for you…I’ve been reading your “gluten-free girl” book all week (in between getting my 4 year old mildly autistic boy prepared for Halloween) and in the dark of this morning (after putting him on the bus at 6:15am) I read page 130 on teff. I dog eared the corner, because I finally found ground teff flour at the Whole Foods Market in Austin last week and had no idea what I was going to do with it, but figured I’d research it. You had more information in that one section than any other I’ve found so far! I planned on looking in your recipes for an injara recipe, but I see it’s going into your next book.
    So your talking about the very grain I read about this morning is one coincidence… but also this morning I took out frozen chicken legs that were organically grown, free range (from that same shopping trip) to make chicken caciatore, with gluten free pasta tonight, but now that I’ve read your mouth watering recipe for the berere chicken legs I’m going to make that instead. That leads me back to the injara bread, because I have lentils too (also, you guessed it from that same trip!), and I just can’t get this flat bread out of my head today! I’m going to experiment with making it in a skillet, maybe with some sourghum flour, potato starch, and yeast…
    Thank you for the inspiration, and the tickling at the back of my brain that your writing gives me. My little boy is thriving on his gluten free diet, and is talking a mile a minute now too. He loves being in the kitchen with me, as I introduce him to foods from around the world, and he eats everything! Tonight we travel to Ethiopia! It is wonderful, and magical how a diet change brought so many amazing ingredients and cultures into my kitchen with you as the muse, and tour guide. 🙂

  14. Elaine K

    If you ever come to Richmond, VA there’s a restaurant near VCU called the Nile where everything is gluten free except for the baklava (I never figured out why they had Baklava at an Ethiopian restaurant anyway!) The chef worked a long time perfecting her recipe (all teff) here in the states–maybe the altitude made a difference? I lived in Ethiopia as a child and am happy to have the chance to enjoy injera and doro wat as an adult.

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