Baby Lady says “Last night’s dinner was 5 stars. You’re not chopped and can move on to the next round.” She liked the flavor of the berbere seasoned crust of the pork loin with the creamy, full flavored spinach filling. It was a delicious meal and pretty, too.
One weekend when we went to our local market we stopped by the deli because Baby Lady wanted some luncheon meat for work. Specifically, she was looking for some roasted turkey breast. Behind the counter was a nice looking roasted turkey breast with Berbere seasoning. We asked the person behind the counter what was berbere seasoning. He explained it was an Ethiopian chile – spice blend. He gave us a taste and it was very flavorful and went beautifully with the roasted turkey. So, we bought the turkey and asked him if he would give us some of the seasoning, which he did. This stuff is really fabulous. It has big, bold flavors just the way we like it with a nice touch of heat. Having now found this wonderful spice the question then became what’s in it and how do you make it. Aha! A new research project. 🙂
After scouring the internet and reading various and sundry magazines, books and articles I discovered that Berbere, whose name means HOT!!!!!! in Amharic, is a chile-spice blend that’s essential to many Ethiopian dishes. Like the Moroccan spice blend ras al hanout, berbere is unique to each household. It is made from a pantry full of herbs and spices, toasted, freshly ground, and stored in jars. Despite the wide variations of spices and amounts basic berbere is made by combining roughly equal amounts of allspice, cardamom, cloves, fenugreek, ginger, black pepper, and salt with a much larger amount of hot red (cayenne) pepper. It can be fiery hot or milder depending upon your tastes. Milder berbere can be made by using paprika for some or most of the red pepper but it is the combination of fenugreek and red pepper that is essential to berbere. Also, berbere is not always made as a dry spice mix. Instead, some make it into a paste through the addition of oil, water or even red wine. The red wine, however, is not an authentic Ethiopian ingredient but a Western world variation that intrigues me. Like many dry seasonings, berbere benefits from heat and fat, both of which intensify its flavors and put it on full display.
Now last night’s meal came about because we had a beautiful pork loin in the freezer we needed to use. Quickstep was coming over for dinner so I could prepare a roast and not worry about leftovers. I knew I wanted to use the berbere seasoning but I wasn’t sure how. Then it dawned on me. This beautiful chile-spice blend would be a perfect accompaniment to a goat cheese, spinach filling. You would have the bold flavor of the chiles and spices that would blend well with the spinach and pork while the heat from the chiles would be cooled by the creaminess of the goat cheese. This combination was perfect for the pork loin we fixed for dinner and went unbelievably well with the rosemary potatoes as the side (a subsequent veggie post). So, if you have never tried berbere seasoning, you should, especially if you like Middle Eastern and Indian food. Berbere can be used to season everything from vegetables to meats (poultry, lamb, beef & pork) and stews. Let your imagination guide you. This is where our imagination took us for dinner last night and allowed me to move on to the dessert round (post to follow).
For the Berbere
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground fenugreek
- 2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 cups cayenne pepper
- 1/2 cup sweet paprika (or bittersweet depending upon your preference)
- 2 Tbsp sea salt
- 1 tsp grated nutmeg
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
For the Pork Loin
- 2.5 lb pork loin
- 1/4 cup Berbere seasoning
- 1 package frozen spinach, 12 oz. thawed and squeezed dry
- 4 oz goat cheese
- sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
For the Berbere
Mix all of the ingredients together and place in a mason jar for storage. If you really want, you can use seeds as opposed to previously ground, toast the seeds and then grind them in a spice mill. This approach almost always provides you a greater depth of flavor and character for your spice blends. I simply used the ground spices I had on hand because I was lazy. 😮
For the Pork Loin
First, make the filling. Place the spinach into the food processor and add the goat cheese.
Process into a smooth, creamy mixture.
Take the pork loin. Do NOT trim it as you want what little fat is on the top layer. Using a very sharp knife, slice the pork loin, rolling it as you go. You want the pork loin to roll out flat, roughly 1/2 inch thick.
Alternatively, you can have your butcher do this for you. I just like to play with my food. Now, once the pork loin is laid out flat, season with salt and pepper.
Take the filling and spread on the pork loin.
Beginning at one end, gently roll the pork loin.
When finished it should look like this.
Now, tie the pork loin being careful not to squeeze the filling out of the roll.
Liberally season with berbere and place on a rack in a roasting pan.
Place in a preheated 350 F oven and cook for 50 – 60 for medium to medium well doneness. If you like your pork rarer, adjust cooking time accordingly. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes.
Once it has rested, slice into 1/2 inch thick slices.
Serve with rosemary potatoes and enjoy.
NOTES: This recipe make about 1-1/2 cup of berbere. Although berbere can be super spicy hot its favor is quite remarkable. Our version of berbere is toned down somewhat. If you want it hotter, use 3/4 cup of cayenne and 1/4 cup of paprika; however, be forewarned that you are now exceeding my heat level. 😮
We use berbere on pork (as in this recipe and Prosciutto Wrapped, Berbere Seasoned, Roasted Pork Loin with Root Vegetables), turkey and chicken. In fact, I roast a 6 lb turkey breast (without skin) lightly oil and heavily seasoned with berbere every 60 days or so for luncheon meat for Quickstep. It makes some of the best turkey sandwiches you can imagine. I also would imagine berbere would be killer on lamb or goat.