Recipes: Shiro Alecha and Shiro Wat


When we were in Ethiopia we had very few opportunities to explore the city, but I did make sure I stopped into a grocery store. I purchased several kilos of spices, powders, and other unfamiliar substances with the idea that a) whatever the stuff was, I could learn how to make it, and b) it would be a lot cheaper to buy it in Ethiopia than in America. Among my bags of mystery goods were two types of shiro: plain shiro and mit’in shiro. Shiro is a flour made from ground legumes. It is not entirely clear what kind of legumes- I have heard chickpeas, fava beans, and split peas are all possible ingredients, although it seems like the menus at the Ethiopian restaurants we frequent say it’s made from chickpeas. Mit’in shiro is just like plain shiro except it already has spices added and thus has an orange color. Mit’in shiro (used to make shiro wat) is hot, but shiro alecha is mild. Adam prefers shiro wat, but I love both versions; it just depends on what you’re in the mood for!

You might notice that the recipes are virtually identical. The only difference is that the wat recipe calls for tomato paste where the alecha recipe calls for turmeric. And I use a hot pepper to add a little bit of flavor at the end of the alecha. That’s it; otherwise, the recipes are the same. If you go to an Ethiopian restaurant, check out the menu- many offer the same dishes with the choice of wat or alecha (misser wat/misser alecha; doro wat/doro alecha; etc.).

Shiro Wat

1 onion, chopped
1/2+ cup oil
2 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
2-3 c water
3/4 c mit’in shiro
minced ginger and garlic
salt, to taste
**see Notes

Cook the onions dry in a large, stirring frequently, for several minutes on medium/medium-high heat. When the onions have softened, add the oil. When the oil has heated through, add the tomato paste and mix well. Wait a few minutes, add 2 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Add the shiro slowly and stir briskly (preferably with a whisk) to remove any lumps. Add more water or oil as needed to achieve the right consistency (see Notes below). Add the ginger and garlic and stir. Add salt if you desire.

You can tell when the shiro is ready when it gets very thick and pops (careful, it can get messy!). The oil will also separate and rise to the top.

Shiro Alecha

1 onion, chopped
1/2+ cup oil
1 tbsp turmeric
2-3 c water
3/4 c shiro
minced ginger and garlic
salt, to taste
1 jalapeño pepper, deseeded and sliced into thin strips (optional)
**see Notes

Cook the onions dry in a large, stirring frequently, for several minutes on medium/medium-high heat. When the onions have softened, add the oil. When the oil has heated through, add the turmeric and mix well. Simmer a few minutes, then add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add the shiro slowly and stir briskly (preferably with a whisk) to remove any lumps. Add more water or oil as needed and continue cooking. Add the ginger and garlic (I actually measured the other day and I used about 1 tbsp. of each) and salt, if desired, and stir.

You can tell when the shiro is ready when it gets very thick and pops (careful, it can get messy!). Add the pepper before serving.

NOTES: I have not had to purchase shiro or mit’in shiro in the U.S., but I will have to eventually when my stock runs out. You can buy it online (fyi, the sites I’ve come across spell it mitten shouro, in case you are looking), but your best bet is to find an Ethiopian grocery store in your area or just stock up like crazy when you’re in Ethiopia. You can substitute a pureed tomato for the tomato paste in the wat. I use a lot of turmeric in the alecha because I love it, but you might want to cut back the first time you try it if you’re unsure. Same with the ginger (you can use powdered if you don’t have fresh) and garlic- I can never have too much of either of those, but I know not everyone feels the same way. The most important thing to pay attention to when making shiro is the consistency. It should be smooth and thick, but not too thick. Definitely something you would eat with a spoon (or, obviously, injera!!) and not a fork. Make sure that no lumps remain- Kidist and I had a funny shiro-making experience a few weeks ago when it came out very lumpy for some reason we couldn’t figure out. She was horrified; apparently, lumpy shiro is a telltale sign of an inexperienced cook in Ethiopia 🙂 So just whisk like crazy when you’re adding the shiro, and add water or oil to smooth it out if it’s getting too lumpy or thick.

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One response to “Recipes: Shiro Alecha and Shiro Wat

  1. That is awesome I can’t wait to make it for myself:-) 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
    10Q so much for your help♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

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