Sanbat Wat (Ethiopian Shabbat Stew)

Tina Wasserman
Recipe by
Tina Wasserman

Often declared the national dish of Ethiopia, a wat is a stew, and doro wat is a spicy chicken stew eaten with one’s fingers using injera bread to scoop up the morsels of food and gravy and to temper the heat of the seasonings. Sanbat means “Sabbath,” and Ethiopian Jews, not even those with very little means, would find a way to add a little bit of chicken to their daily stew to elevate their food for their Sabbath table.

I took my direction from Joan Nathan and adapted her recipe from The Foods of Israel Today to create this wonderful dish. More pepper flakes, hot harissa, or Berber seasoning may be added to spice this dish to your palate.

3 large onions, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons corn or peanut oil
4 large cloves of garlic, finely minced
2 teaspoons freshly grated peeled ginger
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon turmeric
One 8-ounce can of tomato sauce
1 chicken, cut into 8–12 pieces (if large, cut thighs and breasts in half)
  1. Heat a large skillet or casserole for 20 seconds over medium-high heat. Add the onions, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and sauté in the dry pan for 2 minutes.
  2. Add the 3 tablespoons of oil and stir to evenly coat the onions. Add the garlic and ginger and continue to sauté until the onions are soft. Do not let the garlic brown or it will become bitter.
  3. Add the cumin, nutmeg, coriander, pepper flakes, and 1/2 cup of the water. Combine well and simmer for 4 minutes.
  4. Add the remaining spices, the remaining 1/4 cup water, and the tomato sauce, and cook at a boil for 5 minutes.
  5. Add the chicken pieces, turning to coat thoroughly with the sauce. Cover. Reduce temperature to medium or a gentle simmer, and cook for 30–40 minutes until the chicken is tender. Serve with rice and injera (Ethiopian flatbread).
Additional Notes
  • Part of the Ethiopian cooking technique for wat is to sauté the onion in a dry pan first. This helps break down the onion so that it will thicken the sauce.
  • Spices, especially brown ones, should be stored in the freezer to retain their flavor.
  • Fresh ginger is easily peeled using the edge of an ordinary spoon.