I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend. I know I did! Before I get into why it was such a fun weekend, let’s talk about this Ethiopian Berbere Crusted Salmon with Timatim Tomato Salad! Let’s face it, salmon can be kind of boring but not today! This simple salmon recipe cooks in just 15 minutes and requires very little prep! Its flavorful and unique. A perfect summer cookout dish!
Okay, back to why this weekend was so fun (hint: this salmon was definitely a factor). One thing I love about summer in D.C. is rooftop cookouts. In D.C., there aren’t 4 seasons, there are 5: the fifth being rooftop cookout season. Seriously. Just visit the city in the summertime and you will find at least one rooftop packed with people grilling, chilling, or some combination of the two. And this weekend, the D.C. weather gods decided to smile down on the city, giving us a perfect sunny and humid-free day. So what did I do? Host a rooftop cookout of course! I am definitely more homebody that hostess but it’s always fun to have at least one yearly gathering with my close friends, especially when the weather is as beautiful as it was this weekend. And this Ethiopian Berbere Crusted Salmon with Timatim Tomato Salad was the star of the cookout!
I mean, its no wonder. Just look at this colorful work of art.
Why a berbere salmon and not a jerk salmon? Well, in addition to rooftop cookouts, another thing I love about D.C. is the city’s vibrant Ethiopian community. Growing up, I’d always had what I’d describe as a “soul tie” with Ethiopia: it was the birthplace of Haile Selassie I, whose real name was Ras Tafari Makonnen. Every Jamaican learns about Haile Selassie and his connection to the Rastafari movement that bears his name at a young age. But before moving to D.C., I did not know much about Ethiopia outside of what I had learned in connection to Rastafarianism, and had only tried Ethiopian food a few times. However, since moving to D.C., I have gained more exposure to Ethiopian culture and my “soul tie” with Ethiopia has grown into a lasting (and very delicious) bond.
Ethiopia is a diverse place with diverse people (particularly the Oromo, who make up more than one-third of the population but have been the target of political and governmental oppression for decades), yet there is one thing everyone from the country seems to share, and that’s a love of food. One of the first things that every Ethiopian I have had the gift of bonding with has shared with me is their food. Whether it be something as simple as homemade tea (which is honestly the way into my heart, I swear my blood is 50% tea!), or something totally foreign to me, like niter kibbeh (fermented butter, which tastes WAAAY better than it sounds), food has been one of my entry points into Ethiopian culture (reggae music is a very close second). Built on the idea of communal eating, an Ethiopian meal generally consists of a variety of stews called wot (many of which are vegan or vegetarian), served on top of injera, a kind of pancake-bread made from teff flour. Meals are often eaten without utensils; instead, diners tear off bite-sized pieces of injera and use the bread to sop up all the delicious stewed vegetables and meats.
Like Jamaicans, Ethiopians love spice and many of their foods are flavored with berbere, a kind of all purpose seasoning that is made by mixing together a variety of different spices (i.e. the Ethiopian version of jerk seasoning). Also, like Jamaicans, Ethiopians guard their berbere recipes with their lives! Berbere is probably a national treasure to be honest. One person’s berbere can vary widely from another in terms of the kinds of spices used and the ratio of those spices. The berbere recipe for this Berbere Crusted Salmon is loosely adapted from the recipe for the berbere sold at my local Ethiopian market and restaurant (living in a Ethiopian community has its perks!), as well as a mix of some of my favorite spices (and by “favorite” I of course mean curry — because curry is great on anything!). This berbere a mix of spicy and sweet and delivers a nice smokey flavor to anything its used on. I’m pretty proud of this little gem and I’ll be using the left over mix to create some fun dishes this week 😀
This recipe also features a simple timatim, or tomato salad. Traditionally, the salad has cucumbers in it, but since I’m not a huge fan of cucumbers, I opted to leave those out. Even without the cucumbers, this salad has tons of crunch, courtesy of the firm cherry tomatoes I use, which are marinated in olive oil and topped with fresh basil. This salad is a must because it adds a refreshing, flavorful element to the salmon.
The focus on communal eating in Ethiopian culture meant that making an Ethiopian-inspired meal was a no-brainer for a large get together. I also chose this recipe for the cookout because its simple and just different enough to not totally scare of my guests. People hate to try new things at cookouts but who could resist this salmon? NO ONE! For many of my rooftop cookout guests, it was their first experience tasting Ethiopian flavors and it opened their mind to a new type of food while also giving them appreciation for a different culture. I consider that WIN. Food should serve as a pathway for connecting people to different cultures. That’s exactly what Ethiopian food has done for me (though I will never admit that Ethiopian coffee is better than Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee! Who cares if its regarded as the birthplace of coffee or that I don’t even drink coffee… its the principle of it all!).
P.S. I had time to take a quick shot of the last remaining slice of this salmon before it was devoured at the cookout. Yup, devoured. It was THAT GOOD.
What are you all up to this summer? Let me know if you try this recipe for your summer get together and be sure to tag #SweetandSorrel! Looking forward to hearing from you all!
- 2 lb salmon fillet
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp paprika
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 1 tsp cardamom
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp hot yellow Jamaican curry powder
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp all spice
- 10 cloves
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 16z pack of multicolored cherry tomatoes
- 1 tsp olive oil
- bunch fresh basil
- salt and pepper, to taste
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together all the berbere spice ingredients. Set aside.
- On a roasting pan, place salmon fillet skin-side down and coat with olive oil and berbere spice. Let the salmon sit covered in the fridge for at least 1 hour and preferably over night.
- When ready to prepare salmon, turn on oven and set to broil. Broil salmon on the middle rack, rotating the pan halfway through (but do not flip the salmon), until the berbere caramelizes into a crust and salmon is cooked through. My salmon took about 15-18 minutes. Watch the salmon carefully as cooking times will vary depending on the thickness of the salmon.
- While the salmon is broiling, prepare the timatim salad. Wash the cherry tomatoes and cut each tomato in half. Next, chiffonade the basil by placing 3-4 fresh basil leaves on top of one another and rolling into a straw. Then thinly slice across the shortest part of the “straw” to create long, thin strips. Combine the sliced cherry tomatoes and basil together in a medium mixing bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and store in the fridge until you are ready to serve.
- Once the salmon cooks, remove from oven, drizzle with a bit more olive oil and top with timatim salad. Garnish with some fresh basil and serve!
*Note: you will have some left over berbere spice. You can store in an airtight container in your pantry and use for another recipe! Some other common ingredients you can add to your berbere mix include fenugreek and coriander.