Injera is a sourdough-risen flatbread with a unique, slightly spongy texture. Traditionally made out of teff flour, it is a national dish in Ethiopia and Eritrea. A similar variant is eaten in Somalia and Djibouti (where it is called canjeero or lahooh), Yemen (where it is known as lahoh), and Sudan.
Ingredients and cooking method
The most valued grain used to make injera is from the tiny, iron-rich teff. However, its production is limited to certain middle elevations and regions with adequate rainfall, so it is relatively expensive for the average household. Because the overwhelming majority of highland Ethiopians are poor farming households that grow their own subsistence grain, wheat, barley, corn, and/or rice flour are sometimes used to replace some or all of the teff content. There are also different varieties of injera in Ethiopia, such as nech (white), kay (red) and tikur (black).
In making injera, teff flour is mixed with water and allowed to ferment for several days, as with sourdough starter. As a result of this process, injera has a mildly sour taste. The injera is then ready to bake into large flat pancakes. This is done either on a specialized electric stove or, more commonly, on a clay plate (Amharic mittad, Tigrinya mogogo) placed over a fire. Unusual for a yeast or sourdough bread, the dough has sufficient liquidity to be poured onto the baking surface, rather than rolled out. In terms of shape, injera compares to the French crêpe and the Indian dosa as a flatbread cooked in a circle and used as a base for other foods. The taste and texture, however, are unique and unlike the crêpe and dosa, and more similar to the South Indian appam. The bottom surface of the injera, which touches the heating surface, will have a relatively smooth texture, while the top will become porous. This porous structure allows the injera to be a good bread to scoop up sauces and dishes.
In Eritrea and Ethiopia, a variety of stews, sometimes salads or simply more injera, are placed upon the injera for serving. Using one's right hand, small pieces of injera are torn and used to grasp the stews and salads for eating. The injera under these stews soaks up the juices and flavours of the foods and, after the stews and salads are gone, this bread is also consumed. Injera is thus simultaneously food, eating utensil, and plate. When the entire "tablecloth" of injera is gone, the meal is over.
In Somalia, at lunch, the main meal of the day, injera might also be eaten with a stew (maraq) or soup.