Berbere: the spice mix essential to Ethiopian cuisine (Photo/Faith Kramer)
Berbere: the spice mix essential to Ethiopian cuisine (Photo/Faith Kramer)

Find the flavor of Sigd in fish and veggies with Ethiopia’s favorite spices

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

The Ethiopian Jewish holiday of Sigd begins tonight. In preparation, I’ve been experimenting with some of the spices used by the Beta Israel.

Sigd has been recognized as a state holiday in Israel since 2008. According to the Knesset website, Sigd is a time for the renewal of the “covenant between the Jewish people, God and his Torah.” It is a day of fasting, community and prayer, followed by a festive meal.

Berbere, a spice mix that includes among its ingredients chili peppers, garlic, ginger and fenugreek, is an Ethiopian staple. It’s often used in stews. Here it is the basis of a marinade for fish.

Whole brown mustard seeds, another essential Ethiopian spice, are paired here with Brussels sprouts and potatoes to make a side dish for the fish or for grilled meats or chicken.

A kes (Ethiopian Jewish priestly leader) celebrating Sigd in Israel (Photo/Wikimedia-האגודה הישראלית למען יהודי אתיופיה CC BY-SA 3.0)
A kes (Ethiopian Jewish priestly leader) celebrating Sigd in Israel (Photo/Wikimedia-האגודה הישראלית למען יהודי אתיופיה CC BY-SA 3.0)

Berbere Fish

Serves 4

1 recipe topping, chilled (see below)
¼ cup olive oil
1 Tbs. berbere spice mix (see note)
1½-2 lb. boneless, skinless cod, or similar

Make and chill topping. Heat oil in small pot over medium heat. Stir in berbere. Cook until spices are sizzling. Let cool. Stir. Brush spiced oil on top, bottom, and sides of fish. Let sit 20 minutes. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place fish on rimmed baking tray. Bake about 6-8 minutes (timing will vary depending on thickness) until cooked through. Serve with topping.

Topping: Mix together 2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest, 2 Tbs. finely chopped parsley, ½ Tbs. finely chopped garlic and 2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt. Chill at least 2 hours before using.

Note: Berbere spice mix is available (including some certified kosher brands) at many speciality, spice and online stores. Many recipes have you grind whole spices, but this recipe from chef Marcus Samuelsson uses preground spices. Berbere keeps well in the refrigerator or freezer.

Brussels Sprouts and Potatoes with Mustard Seeds

Serves 4-6

1 lb. small red, yellow or new potatoes
2 Tbs. oil
1 Tbs. brown whole mustard seeds (see notes)
1/3 cup chopped shallots
½ lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half top to bottom
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. sugar
½ cup water, plus extra as needed
1½ cups chopped tomato
1 tsp. mustard oil, optional (see notes)

(Photo/Faith Kramer)
Brussels Sprouts and Potatoes with Mustard Seeds (Photo/Faith Kramer)

Cut unpeeled potatoes into ½-inch chunks. Steam until about half-cooked. Drain. Heat oil in large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add seeds. Take pan off heat. Stir until the seeds are sizzling in the oil and have begun to pop (much like very tiny popcorn). You may hear a small pop sound and the seeds will “jump” a bit in the pan and expand slightly. This usually takes about 5-10 seconds. Be careful not to overcook and burn.

Return pan to heat. Quickly add shallots and sauté until golden. Add Brussels sprouts, salt and sugar. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until sprouts begin to brown and caramelize. Add water by tablespoonfuls if needed to prevent sticking. Once the sprouts brown, add potatoes and stir in ½ cup water. Stir up any browned-on bits and cover. Cook until potatoes and sprouts are cooked through, adding water as necessary and stirring occasionally. Mix in tomatoes. Taste. Add salt if needed. Serve warm or room temperature. Stir in mustard oil just before serving.

Notes: Brown mustard seeds are traditional, but whole yellow seeds can be substituted. Mustard oil is available in speciality and online stores. Its pungency complements this recipe, but a little goes a long way.

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is Contact her at [email protected].