Ethiopian Beef Stew & Collard Greens (Paleo, Whole30)

In each issue of Paleo Magazine, I team up with Steph Gaudreau to bring you the story of a traditional recipe and adapt it to fit into a healthier Paleo lifestyle. (I make the food; she makes the gorgeous photos.) This time, we take your taste buds to Ethiopia for earthy spices and bold flavors.

There is so much to love about Ethiopian cuisine: Eating with your hands! Hearty stews and butter-infused vegetables! Spicy-hot, bright red berbere seasoning! Bread that doubles as a plate! And gursha, an intimate sign of friendship and hospitality.

At a traditional Ethiopian meal, vegetable and meat dishes are served family style, often on an extra-large circle of injera, the spongy, flexible flatbread made from fermented teff flour. (Teff is an ancient, gluten-free grain that’s indigenous to the area.) There’s always a basket of additional injera, so no forks or spoons are needed. Instead, diners tear off a piece of injera with their right hand—always the right hand—and use it to scoop up bites of the main dish before popping it into their mouths. Tear, scoop, eat, repeat. It’s communal, friendly, and relaxed.

In both familiar and formal settings, dinner guests literally feed each other during a meal. An act of respect and love called gursha, it’s common for friends and family to feed others in the group by scooping up a bite of food and placing it in their companion’s mouth: the bigger the bite, the bigger the love. The person receiving a gursha is called the gorash, and the giver is the agurash. (Visit here to see a cartoon of a family sharing gursha.)

Many dishes are seasoned with the spice blend berbere, made from chili peppers, fenugreek, garlic, coriander, ginger, cardamom, cumin, and other spices. Every family has its own carefully guarded secret recipe, and the best berbere is made by roasting whole peppers and spices in the sun, then grinding the ingredients into a fine powder. Another common flavoring is niter kibbeh, clarified butter that’s spiced with fenugreek, cardamom, garlic, and ginger.

The most popular and common dish is wat: meat and vegetable stews, similar to curries. Doro wat (chicken) and key wat (beef) are the ones most frequently found on restaurant menus and family tables, but wat can also be made with lamb (beg wat), chickpeas (shiro wat), or lentils (misir wat). It’s always seasoned with berbere and served with injera, and the richness of the stew is often contrasted with fresh vegetables like gomen (stewed greens).

Rather than ending with a sweet pastry or other dessert, Ethiopian meals usually come to a close with buna (coffee). The coffee ceremony begins with the roasting and grinding of the beans in view of the guests, then the coffee is boiled in a clay pot called a jebena. It’s served in small espresso-style cups with sugar, sometimes salt, and even a dollop of niter kibbeh (the original butter coffee).

For this paleo-friendly Ethiopian-style feast, we’ve selected key wat and gomen, but have replaced the traditional injera with cauliflower rice. Homemade berbere seasoning allows you to control the level of heat, but you can replace the spices in key wat with store-bought berbere, if you prefer. Serve both dishes family style, and feel free to share a little gursha with your favorite people.

Ethiopian Beef Stew (Key Wat)

Serves 4-6 | Prep: 10 minutes | Cook: 90 minutes | Whole30 compliant

Berbere Seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons paprika

  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

  • 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek

  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander

  • 1 teaspoon ginger powder

  • 1 teaspoon onion powder

  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • NOTE: You can adjust the amount of cayenne to control the heat of your berbere seasoning. If blazing hot isn’t your thing, reduce the cayenne to 1 teaspoon.

Beef Stew
  • 2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes

  • 2 tablespoons ghee or extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 1 small onion, finely diced

  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

  • 1-2 tablespoons berbere seasoning

  • 1/4 cup tomato paste

  • 1 teaspoon coconut sugar (omit for Whole30)

  • 4 cups beef or chicken bone broth (or a combo)


Mix the berbere seasoning. Combine all the spices in a jar, stir with a fork, and set aside.


Brown the beef. Heat the ghee or oil in a large Dutch or soup pot oven over medium-high heat. Season the beef with the salt and pepper, then brown the beef in batches, removing the chunks to a plate as the brown.


Cook the aromatics. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add a little more fat to the pan, if necessary, and add the onions. Cook until golden and translucent, about 12-15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds, then add the tomato paste, berbere seasoning, and sugar. Cook until a thick paste forms, about 3 minutes. Add the broth and beef cubes to the pot, and bring to a simmer. Cook, covered, for 60-75 minutes, or until the beef is very tender.


Big finish. Remove the beef from the cooking liquid and shred it with two forks, then return it to the pot and simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes. Serve with the collard greens. (Cauliflower rice is a nice go-along, too!)


Ethiopian Collard Greens (Ye’abesha Gomen)

Serves 4 | Prep: 10 minutes | Cook: 90 minutes | Whole30 compliant

  • 2 tablespoons ghee

  • 1/8 teaspoon black cardamom seeds

  • 1/8 teaspoon ground fenugreek

  • 1/8 teaspoon nigella seeds*

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 large yellow onion, minced

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 Thai chiles, stemmed, seeded, and minced (or 1 jalapeño)

  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced

  • 1 1/2  pounds collard greens, stemmed and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide strips

  • 1 1/2 cups water

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 1 lemon

  • *Nigella seeds—black and triangular in shape—have a slightly nutty taste that’s reminiscent of cracked black pepper. If you can’t find nigella seeds, you may substitute whole cumin or caraway seeds instead.


Bloom the spices. Heat the ghee in a large pot over medium heat. Add the cardamom, fenugreek, and nigella and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, 1–2 minutes.


Cook the aromatics. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the olive oil; add onions and cook, stirring often, until browned and soft, 10 minutes. Add garlic, chiles, and ginger and cook, stirring frequently, 3 minutes.


Finish the greens. Add the collards, water, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the collards are tender, 50–55 minutes. Stir in the juice of the lemon and serve hot.

Tastes Great With…

Cook a batch of cauliflower rice to soak up the delicious sauce from the stew. You could go plain, fancy, or lemony.

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