Ethiopian Shiro is Nourishing, Simple & Cheap

Eat Ethiopian food. You will have energy. Click here to view a great Gurage grandpa.

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1. Ethiopian Shiro is a One-Pot-Wonder

Herbal Aromas

Stranded in Addis Ababa, Mesfin cooks one-pot wonders on a hotplate on the concrete floor. Our health improves. When we send photos to Australia, friends ask, ‘What have you been doing? You have lost weight. Your hair is long & shiny.’ Our secret is Ethiopian food and drink.

Locals spoil us with invitations to dinner. Due to COVID-19, we wear masks and resist hugging our lovely hosts. In another post, we will describe their fanciest dish: doro wat. Everybody loves it. Friends say, ‘We have cleared out our spare room.’ We keep them safe by staying on our own, but are grateful to Ethiopians. They have always welcomed and nurtured refugees. Currently, Ethiopia has 5 million refugees from more than 4 countries. Now, Ethiopians make us feel at home.

Our shiro pot emits sugary & herbal aromas

A unique staple food of Ethiopia is shiro. Naturally processed, it is vegetarian and made with beans and spice. The powdered mixture is a rich yellow. Cooked, it is a smooth, curry paste.

Shiro is cooked in a single pot with water & salt: 3 ingredients. Our shiro pot emits sugary & herbal aromas from fresh herbs, garlic and red onion. To read about Ethiopian herbs & spices, click here. Red onions provide the sweetness. In cold weather, Mesfin adds them to the basic shiro recipe.

Red onion, which is used in Ethiopian cookery

Do you have a cold or ‘flu? Cut an onion. Place it by your bed.

Throw it out in the morning.

People did this during the bubonic plague.

Extra Onion

Mesfin buys onions from vegetable shops like the one in the photo above. Wheelbarrows on street corners also sell loads of shiny red onions, Roma tomatoes (not from Italy), sugar cane, watermelon, pineapple, oranges, tirungu (like mango) or bananas. Ethiopians never purchase onions with the skins removed: peeled onion absorbs toxins from the air.

Addis Ababa’s alpine nights can be chilly, although the temperature never drops below 5-degrees Celsius. All year round, shiro with injera (Ethiopian flatbread) is comfort food. We eat it for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

2. How to Cook Shiro

Buy Shiro

Shiro powder used in Mesfin's mother's recipe for Ethiopian shiro
Ethiopian shiro ready for the cooking pot

You may see this on the label: ሽሮ (shiro in Amharic)

  • In Ethiopia, a 500-gram packet costs 80 birr. This is less than $3 Australian.
  • Outside Ethiopia, buy it from an African grocery. In Australia, the owner is likely to be a teacher or engineer.
  • Keep opened packets in a dry place, sealing them inside another bag.

Equipment

Ethiopian dark clay shiro pot, made by women's pottery collective in Kechenis Addis Ababa, handpainted by owner
Shiro pot

Dark clay pottery is typically Ethiopian. Our shiro pot comes from a women’s collective in Addis Ababa. Click here for a website about a similar place. Mesfin decorated the pot with nail varnish.

Cooking Utensils

  • heavy-based pot with lid
  • stirring spoon
  • tablespoon (15 millilitres)
  • teaspoon (5 millilitres)
  • cup (240 millilitres)

Shiro Recipe

Ingredients

  • Shiro powder (meten shiro) – allow up to 4 tablespoons per adult
  • 500 millilitres, or 2 cups, of cold water
  • iodised salt

Between 2 & 4 tablespoons of shiro powder serves 1.

Cooking Method

Cooking time: 10 – 12 minutes

  • Boil 2 cups of water in the pot. Add half-to-1 teaspoon of iodised salt. Adjust according to taste.
  • When the water is boiling, turn down the heat to low.
  • Add shiro powder – 1 heaped tablespoon at a time.
  • Stir the mixture constantly. Do not let it boil over or stick on the bottom.
  • Shiro can be eaten like soup, or thicker, like a paste. 4 spoons of powder will make a generous serve for 1 person.

Option

During cooking, add chopped onion & garlic to taste. You can also add sprigs of fresh basil after stirring in the shiro powder. Remove them before serving. Ethiopian basil is more piquant than other varieties.

Shiro can be eaten with homemade white cheese, called ayeb in Ethiopia. Garnish servings of shiro with the very soft cheese.

Cooked Ethiopian shiro
Cooked shiro, onion added

How to Serve Shiro

Kibbeh

When the shiro is cooked, stir in 1 teaspoon of kibbeh per serve. Kibbeh is clarified Ethiopian butter with the worst fats removed. The process filters them out as “butter waste”. This makes good kitchen furniture- & utensil-polish for wood and clay. Kibbeh is usually homemade – click here to learn more.

Otherwise, use “bread butter” or olive oil – 1 teaspoon per serve of shiro. Ethiopian bread butter is as delicious as French butter. In Arba Minch in the south, women churn milk by taking it for a walk in a pretty container. They wear it like a shoulder bag. When they get home, there is butter.

Below is an exquisite bead & shell kibbeh storer. It is displayed at an Addis Ababa Restaurant. Click here for a talk, in Amharic, by Soramba Cultural Restaurant.

Injera

Serve shiro in the centre of 1 unrolled piece of flatbread, preferably Ethiopia’s unique injera. Ethiopians use injera, or qocho, instead of cutlery. Made from a grain called teff, injera is highly nutritious. Click here to read about Ethiopian teff grain. Black or dark injera is lower in gluten. Rolled-up injera, ‘black & white’, is in the photo above.

How to Eat Injera & Shiro

With your right hand, tear off a piece of injera, which is soft. Scoop up shiro with it. Never use your left hand. To learn how to share a dish hygienically, watch Ethiopians. If you make a mistake, they will keep a straight face.

An Australian dined with new Ethiopian friends. She washed her hands & dried them with a circle of injera, before discarding it in a wastepaper basket. When all began to eat, she discovered its real use.

Ianet makes bigger gaffs. In Addis Ababa, she visited the suburbs of Arat (4) Kilo, Amist (5) Kilo, & Sidist (6) Kilo. Then she asked, ‘Where is Sost (3) Kilo?’

Teff, indigenous Ethiopian grain used in injera flatbread
Ethiopian teff

Leftover Shiro

Cool leftover cooked shiro. Remove it from the pot if you used stainless steel or aluminium. Put it into a glass or pottery bowl and cover. Store leftover shiro in the middle part of the fridge. It will keep out of the fridge in temperate climates like Addis Ababa’s. There, it is never above 28-degrees Celsius.

Keep Leftover Shiro for 72 Hours

Do not store cooked shiro for more than 3 days.

Re-Heating

Re-heat leftover cooked shiro before eating. Heat shiro over a gentle heat, stirring for between 7 and 10 minutes.

3. About Ethiopian Shiro

Food For All

Shiro is food for all: young & old; rich & poor; healthy & sick. People with stomach problems can eat it. For the very young, there are less spicy preparations. Those with high levels of cholesterol eat it with olive oil. Shiro is economical: 1 packet lasts well. For a single person, the cost is negligible. It is student food.

Fasting Food

In March, the 45-day Jewish fast for Easter begins. This is not for the faint hearted: Ethiopians do not merely give up chocolate for Lent and eat fish on Fridays – Aussie Catholics did this when Ianet was growing up. They eat no meat, including fish, take no milk products, & do not eat before the afternoon. Many do not drink water until then. People also do not swear. Courts reduce their activity. Butchers close, supplying meat only to hospitals.

Only Ethiopians fast for 45 days prior to Easter. Shiro provides energy then. Instead of kibbeh, people eat it with olive oil.

Preparation of Meten Shiro

Types of Shiro Bean

There are 5 types of shiro bean. 2 varieties make the best curry paste. The most nutritious shiro bean growns on Ethiopian tropical highlands. Amhara people farm it. Did shiro give their ancestors the strength to build the granite Lalibela Rock-Hewn Monasteries from the top down? To read our post about those tough guys, click here.

Processing

Traditionally, women process shiro. Processing remains traditional and without chemical additives. First, they wash and dry the beans. Then they roast them lightly before grinding them with a mixture of ingredients. These consist of dried red onion, garlic, ginger, basil and turmeric. Sometimes, chili is included. Click here for images of Ethiopian basil, or beso bela.

Only those women know the precise ratio of ingredients. This is important to processing. Different consumers will need different ratios. For example, the spice will be reduced for very young children.

The final step in preparing the shiro powder is carried out at a green mill. The combination of ingredients is ground finely into a powder. This is meten shiro – ready for cooking.

Health Benefits of Shiro

  • High in protein, shiro can be eaten by diabetics.
  • Shiro contains vitamins A, B & D-complex.
  • Prepared well, it provides anti-viral good fats.

Salt

Iodised salt is better than sea salt in the long run. Mesfin avoids too much finely-ground sea salt. Ethiopians observe that long-term overuse of fine sea salt can lead to kidney and gallbladder problems. Island dwellers develop kidney disease. Sea salt creates wealth and is easy to obtain. However, it contains high levels of sodium chloride & sodium carbonate. This is why ships’ hulls are concrete, for endurance.

Volcanic sources provide the best salt, rich in minerals and iodine that is yellow. Hadar in Ethiopia has this salt. Currently, Ethiopians do not benefit from this. Salt from there is exported, mainly to Europe. It is used in industry, for cleaning boilers with caustic acid, and in pharmaceuticals.

4. More Ethiopian Food

Bula, served at Soramba Cultural Restaurant
Bula with kibbe

The pampas grass basket under the pottery dish is handwoven by Ethiopian women. To view our post about woven wisdom, click here.

  • Try Gurage food, from Ethiopia’s south: delicious. No wonder that, during the time of Negus Haile Selassie, one community had the muscle to build its own main road. Boy scouts, including Mesfin, sold Gurage flowers in the city as part of a fundraiser to build the road. Today, Gurage grandpas are virile and vital, executing athletic dance moves.
  • Two staples are made from the root of koba, the false banana. They are bula & qocho – good for bones. Qocho is used like injera, so that little or no cutlery is needed.
  • View an image of a serving of qocho. Click here to go to https://ethiopianfood.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/qocho1.jpgQocho is Ianet’s favourite food. It is as delicious as New Guinean breadfruit & taro roasted in the ground.
  • In Ethiopia, visit Addis Ababa Restaurant, near Giyorgis. They prepare qocho with little or no fat.
  • Find out more about Gurage food at this Ethiopian-food website: Click here to go to https://ethiopianfood.wordpress.com


  • Featured image: Fresh Ethiopian Vegetables & Fruit © Ianet Bastyan, 2020
  • Photos: Red Onion on White (Wikimedia Commons); Meten Shiro, Shiro Pot, Cooked Shiro © Ianet Bastyan, 2021
  • Traditional Ethiopian Meal; Ethiopian Kibbeh Storer © Ianet Bastyan, 2021, with permission of Soramba Cultural Restaurant, Addis Ababa
  • Ethiopian Teff (Wikipedia Commons)
  • Bula © Ianet Bastyan, 2021, with permission of Soramba Cultural Restaurant, Addis Ababa

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