Injera (or engera) is a large, flat crepe-like spongy bread that is a staple source of carbohydrates in Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is made from tef (or teff), a millet-like grain native to Ethiopia.
The large pieces of spongy bread serves as both the dish for meals, which is used for a variety of different stews or sauces, especially wat, Ethiopias spicy, and sometimes fiery, curry-like stew.
The injera soaks up the juices from the dish and pieces are torn off to scoop up bites, communally.
The batter for injera is fermented, sometimes up to three days, resulting in sponge-like texture and a sour flavor. The tef grain, which has a nutty taste, has three main types, coming in white, brown, and red varieties. However, about 250 species actually exist. The white variety is the most preferred, and the most difficult to grow. The red is the least preferred, but the easiest to grow.
Tef has grown in Ethiopia for thousands of years, and has probably been cultivated for at least two thousand. It is sometimes called lovegrass in English, and a more ancient name for it is thaf. It is grown today in India, Australia, and Canada but in Ethiopia still accounts for at least 30 percent of farmed land.
Tef is a highly nutritious grain, rich in fiber and protein. It is also, of course, a good source of carbohydrates. Tef is a much better source of calcium than either wheat or barley and is a very good source of iron. The red has a higher iron content than the white, or ivory, despite the fact that the red is not favored. The tiny grains are mostly husk, or bran, which is what makes it so nutritious. In fact, the entire notion of whole-grain would be meaningless for tef, since there is no other way to use it. It would be impossible to remove the brand and actually retain the tiny part that is left.
The unique thing about tef, however, is not its nutrition, but the fact that grows along with a symbiotic yeast, which coats the grains. This is similar to the bloom which coats wine grapes. Therefore, yeast does not need to be added to tef, as it will naturally ferment when water is added.
The process for making the injera is complex, as it requires making a batter, and the letting it ferment for up to four days but at least three (some sources attest up to 72 hours).
Although yeast is not needed, sometimes a yellow liquid reserved from a previous ferment, called ersho, is added to help speed things up. This is a bit like a sour-dough starter.
After fermenting, hot water is added to the fermented batter, thinning it a great deal. Then, this mixture is allowed to sit for up to 8 hours.
When ready to cook, the batter is poured onto a heated round clay griddle called a meted and a lid is placed over it. Only the bottom is cooked and the injera is not turned. When done, many small holes form on the surface. After being made, the injera can be stored for up to three days.
To serve, the large sheets of injera are lined on a communal dish and the stew is put on top of it. Then, each person pulls of pieces of the bread and scoops up some of the stew, folding it around the food to eat it. If you’ve eaten at an Ethiopian restaurant, you might have experience this communal dining
If you search for recipes you might find that they use added yeast, and it is true that Ethipians living outside Ethiopia use yeast, and even all wheat flour. When yeast is added, the flavor is not the same as native injera, and certainly whole-wheat tef will not taste the same, but tef can be hard to find in places like the U.S. However, it is gaining some ground and it is possible to find it in Ethiopian specialty stores or some other specialty markets. Be aware that it is quite possible that tef sold in these stores might have other grains added.
Although, in Ethiopia, injera is the main food made with tef, and also a ubiquitous food at most meals, it is also used to make porridge and simple unleavened pancakes called kita.