I realise this blog’s been a bit of a downer since it stopped being written in Africa and its writer returned to the grey skies of Scotland. So here’s something to try to make it up to you all.
I’m going to share a bit of a ‘how-to’, and hopefully teach you how to make tibs.
I love tibs. I really do. I’ve made them a few times since coming home, and it’s a great introductory dish to give to people that want to try Ethiopian food, but don’t want their head blown off.
Tibs is composed of finely chopped onion, meat cut into small cubes, and the addition of whatever else you want to jazz it up a bit. My host mum, Mesai, and Sara would also add some kind of magic umami-style flavour enhancing thing that may or may not have been stock cubes ground up (but since I don’t actually know what it was, I’ve left it out of mine).
I’ve had ox-onions-bit of water- green chilli tibs, ox-onions-garlic-rosemary tibs and Stanley-onions-green chilli tibs. But my absolute favourite ever tibs was the recipe I’m going to share with you below. And there’s a story.
I believe the day in question was a Wednesday, around 7am. I’d been up at my usual time, washed, dressed, taken my tablets and counted my mosquito bites, and as had become my custom, was sitting with Mesai in her bed in the chillax room, talking and waiting for breakfast. Temar was still asleep, like a doll.
And then Temar got woken up. And all hell broke lose.
She informed her mother that she wouldn’t be going to school that day, because she had things to take care of at home (she’s 4 years old). She was more useful in the house – she could clean round the back of the sofas, because she’s the smallest. She had to stay at home and make sure Sara worked properly. She didn’t need to learn Amharic because she spoke that anyway and since Laura spoke English there was no point going in for that either.
We put her tights on. She took them off. We put the dress on. She took it off. Tights on. Tights off. Dress on. Dress off.
Then the screaming started.
Remember the description of the noise the hyenas made? This was absolutely on a level with that. We tried washing her face to calm her down. We poured water on her head to shock her. Heck, Gelila threatened to squash her if she didn’t stop. Nothing worked.
And then, Dimbet issued her ultimatum: I’ll go to school if I get tibs for breakfast.
The time was pushing 7.20 at this point, and she was meant to be leaving in 10 minutes for a bajaj to school with Gelila. Temar obviously thought that a) tibs were out of the question and b) they’d take too long to make.
It would appear that the little one was incorrect on both counts.
No sooner had the decleration been issued than Sara suddenly appeared with 4 dabbo and a massive pot of tibs. Within the space of about 10 minutes, I got the best tibs of my life for breakfast, a full Temar got bundled out to a bajaj, and things resumed their normal course of action for the rest of the day.
So if peace needs to be restored in your house, here’s how to do it.
You will need:
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
Oil for cooking – we used palm or vegetable oil in Ethiopia, so try rapeseed oil or sunflower in the UK
Meat of your choice – I used goat leg meat, but it would be equally delicious with some beef. Ultimately, it’s all about the meat, so get the best quality you can afford. ‘Tis worth it.
3 or 4 medium tomatoes
A little water
A proper big handful of fresh rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
- Very finely chop the onion and garlic. Grating the garlic may actually be easier – you want it to almost be like a paste. And then chop the tomatoes to kingdom come too. If you can still see distinct pieces, you can probably half them again.
- Cut your meat into small cubes. I was going for about fingernail size – not too small or it’ll disappear, but make sure it’s small enough that you don’t need to exert that much effort chewing it. You’ll also want to remove as much fat as possible from the meat. Trimming takes time but it’s worth it. I promise.
- Heat the oil (more than you really need – coat the entire pan and then some) in a large frying pan, and add the onion and garlic. Cook until the onion goes just translucent, on a medium heat, and add the meat.
- Once the meat is browned on all sides (if it’s cut small enough, it won’t take long), add the tomatoes and turn the heat down. The juices from the meat will have formed a bit of a gravy all on their lonesome, and the tomatoes make it amazing. If you think the sauce is getting a bit thick, you can add a little water to thin it down. What you’re aiming for is meat and onions with a ‘gloss’ of liquid.
- Add the rosemary, salt and pepper, and leave it for about a minute to do its thing.
- Whack the tibs out onto a plate (or a melamine dish with a lid, if you’re doing it the Dire Dawa way), and serve it with whatever you like. My parents don’t understand the ‘we are eating this with bread and that’s it’ concept, so we have it with rice, and it’s good. For the proper Ethiopian experience though, get some plain white finger rolls (the closest thing we have to dabbo), and share it out of one plate, using the bread to eat. Bon appetit!
If that doesn’t settle a tantrum, I don’t know what will.