They Called Me Mr. Tibs

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Ethiopian tibs recipe in a bowl
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Dinner service was over. Time to finally make myself some dinner. It was almost always the same.

Blast some onions in a pan, add spiced butter, some bits of lamb, a few chiles. Dip a big spoon into our house spice mixture, toss, toss, toss. A few tomatoes, a splash of red wine. Boil like a volcano for just a minute, then you’re done. Tibs.

This was my nightly routine at my first restaurant job, at an Ethiopian place called The Horn of Africa, in Madison, Wisconsin, back in 1992. The Horn was owned by an Eritrean woman named Meselesh Ayele, and the little bar at the back of the restaurant was a sanctuary for the expatriate African community of Madison — yes, one existed. They were mostly students, researchers or professors at UW. I learned a lot drinking with that crew.

Once the restaurant’s dinner service was over, which normally wasn’t that late, I’d make myself some food and take a spot at the bar. It wasn’t long before this guy from Djibouti called me out on my menu choice. I forget his name, but he had this huge, booming voice like that Trinidadian dude from the 7-Up commercial in the 1980s, only with a slightly French accent. I use to piss him off my calling him “My Favorite Frenchman,” since the French basically owned Djibouti.

“Hey, man,” he say, “Why you always eat the same thing? Every night. Tibs. Tibs, tibs, tibs. They should call you Mister Tibs!” He thought this was the funniest thing he’d ever heard, and the name stuck. From then on, I was Mr. Tibs. (Please tell me you get the reference to the Sidney Poitier movie… )

Tibs is the name for one of the cooler Ethiopian dishes out there. It’s a hybrid stir fry and stew that comes together in an instant, is meaty, rich and can be spicy as hell. Served with bread, rice or, more properly, injera flatbread, it was and is my favorite Ethiopian dish. I always made it with lamb, but we also served it with beef — and now I use venison.

I remembered how to make it from back then, but I never had an actual recipe. So when I went looking, it took some time.

I finally created the recipe below, from an amalgam of recipes, the best of which is in a little book called Exotic Ethiopian Cooking: Society, Culture, Hospitality, and Traditions. It’s hard to find, but it you do, buy it. It’s the best Ethiopian cookbook I know of.

Those were fun days. I was a graduate student, cook, rookie journalist and distance runner. I worked hard and played harder. Tibs was my go-to fuel back then, and I am glad to be able to bring it back.

When you read through this recipe, I know it sounds like a lot for a simple plate of food, but if you do this, you will not be sorry. The flavors are exotic, mesmerizing and addictive. And once you have the basic ingredients, they all last for months. So you can make it again. And again.

ethiopian tibs recipe
5 from 17 votes

Tibs, Ethiopian Stir-Fried Beef or Venison

This dish is super easy to make, but you do need a few unusual ingredients and spices, and you need to have everything set to go before you start cooking because it comes together very fast. First, you must get yourself some Ethiopian berbere. It comes as either a spice mixture or a paste. You can buy it online or in places like Whole Foods or Cost Plus Market, or you can make it yourself. You'll also need clarified butter, although this tastes more authentic if you make your own Ethiopian spiced butter. Of the many spices listed in the ingredients, the most important is the fenugreek. It is this spice that makes the version of tibs we served at Horn of Africa different from most others. 
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Ethiopian
Servings: 4 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 1 large red onion, about 2 cups, sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup niter kebbeh or ghee spiced butter
  • 2 pounds venison, lamb or beef, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 tablespoons berbere
  • 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 to 4 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
  • 2 cups whole peeled tomatoes, broken into bits
  • 1 to 5 green chiles, such as jalapenos or serranos
  • 1/2 cup red wine

Instructions 

  • Get the saute pan or wok very hot. Stir-fry the onions without the butter for a few minutes, until they char just a little on the outside. Add the spiced butter and the venison. Stir-fry hot and fast until the outside of the meat is brown but the inside of the meat is still very rare. You need to do this on as hot a burner as you have. Do it in two batches unless you have a very large wok or pan.
  • The moment the meat has browned, add it all back into the pan along with the spices, garlic and chiles. Stir-fry another 30 seconds or so, then add the tomatoes and the wine. Toss to combine and let this cook for a minute or two. Serve at once with bread or injera.

Nutrition

Calories: 444kcal | Carbohydrates: 10g | Protein: 54g | Fat: 17g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Cholesterol: 222mg | Sodium: 391mg | Potassium: 985mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 641IU | Vitamin C: 16mg | Calcium: 29mg | Iron: 11mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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43 Comments

  1. This is my first time for having Ethiopian food either at a restaurant or home cooked. I also love spicy food. I mean actual spicy food, not Taco Bell hot-sauce-pretend-spicy.

    I followed the recipe as much as possible. I had to order the Berbere and Fenugreek spices (both from Frontier Co-Op) as I live in an area where anything much past onion powder is exotic.

    I used regular butter. I didn’t use the cardamom as it was hiding in my cabinet when I made this. I used 2lbs venison. I used two fresh jalapenos from the garden (sliced). Everything else to the recipe.

    This was very spicy!!! It was also delicious! I will absolutely make it again and again. Though will have to dial back the Berbere or jalapenos or something.

    Thanks very much for sharing

  2. All the spices are available from Penzey’s at penzeys.com. If you haven’t tried their spices, you are in for a treat. I have compared them to co-op spices, high end grocery store spices and ethnic store spices. Penzey’s is fresher and more aromatic every time. And they come in small as well as larger jars so you don’t buy a pound of berbere.

  3. This recipe is a winner! I had to make niter kibbeh and order a few of the spices just for this recipe (they weren’t available locally) and I am so glad I did! Hank’s tibs come together beautifully. This meal comes together fast enough for weeknights and satisfies in hot or cold weather. Berbere and fenugreek were new to me, but they’re both now staples in my meat seasoning repertoire. Make this, you won’t regret it!

  4. GREAT RECIPE! It tastes like exactly what I’d get in a restaurant. I’ve seen other recipes online that are pretty simplistic. I went with yours since the flavors are pretty specific and I also happened to have all of the spices on-hand. Notes for other people:
    1. I didn’t have niter kibbeh and used regular butter instead. This worked well since the other spices still give it a nice kick. I might try making niter kibbeh in advance since other Ethiopian recipes call for this.
    2. Used 2 lbs of pre-cut beef stew cuts from the supermarket since I didn’t have venison.
    3. I’m a wuss when it comes to hotness, so I only used 1 Serrano which adds more kick than it already has from the spices. It was still a tad hot for me, so I added dabs of sour cream to my plate serving. I wouldn’t add sour cream to the entire batch since people will have different tolerance for heat. Plus, traditional tibs doesn’t have sour cream.
    4. Served with rice. Injera is challenging to find/make (I’m in lower slower Delaware) unless you’re willing to order the ingredients and make it yourself. That’s a long process unto itself.

    I’ll definitely make this again.

  5. I randomly picked up a Berber Seasoning from Penzeys Spices, tonight i googled, “skirt steak and Berbere spice and found your web site! Thank you Mr Tibbs. Love the recipe. Guess who’s coming to Dinner! ? No one. I’m making it for myself!!

  6. I’m excited to try this, but I have a question.
    If you’re going to use beef, what cut of beef would you use for this dish?

  7. Hi Hank,
    I used lamb sausage because it’s what I had already. This was perfect! Thank you so much! This reminded me of the wonderful flavor of Desta restaurant in Atlanta, GA. So so delicious. Thank you!

  8. Made this yesterday …. used beef, 2.5 jalapenos, extremely hot fry pan, the flavour was absolutely wonderful! Made a wonderful 6 item Ethiopian feast (all for me! Will be eating this for a week and happy to do it!) Will definitely be making this recipe again.

  9. Mr. Tibs, indeed! This is spectacular. Followed the method and measurements exactly. Used niter kibbeh (make a batch on a regular basis and keep it in the fridge for emergencies such as this.) What started as a “what should I do with this stewing beef from the freezer tonight” quickly went the direction of fine Ethiopian dining. We have travelled widely and have been fortunate to have had some amazing Ethiopian meals over the years. This dish is top shelf and stands up to restaurant-quality Tibs anywhere…not bad for a home cook from Toronto, Canada. Many, many thanks. I will always be indebted…note – I feel the “red onion” in a dry fry pan is the game changer in the layers of flavour…my two bits.

  10. Hi Hank
    Making this with lamb tonight. I make a lot of word, but this will be my first ribs and I was looking for a recipe I could trust in terms of authenticity and was relieved to find you had one.

  11. I’m experimenting with berbere I bought and threw it together with ground venison and made meatballs with some of the spice mix and made the tomato sauce to go with. My favorite restaurant when I was a teenager was a place in Minneapolis called odaa. I made my parents take me there every birthday and brought everyone I knew there. I miss their lamb and injera 20 years later and have recently been trying to find recipes to recreate some of those flavors. Are there any books or sites you would recommend?

  12. Hi, just made this for me and the kids. Have to say it was ridiclously hot. Way too much spice, almost inedible. I used berbere spice dried, maybe that was the problem, but I only used 1 tablespoon instead of the two recommended. If I do it again I would only use 1 teaspoon!!
    looking foward to trying a more modified version x

  13. I do not make Ethiopian food often as it usually involves endless hours of doing nothing by stirring in large pots. But a quick tibs I always enjoy. Usually I use beef or lamb, but I love the idea of using venision – I must give that a try. And as for an Injera recipe. I follow my mother’s recipe (and a good trick is to have sparkling water and/or baking powder close for should those “eyes” not appear) If you try it, let me know how it turns out! https://afracooking.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/ethiopian-injera/

  14. Okay, you link to recipes for niter kibbeh and berbere but you really, really need to post a good injera recipe. I have yet to find one that works. Do you have one? Please!

    1. I don’t, sadly. I am trying to recreate the injera I made at the restaurant, so far with limited success. If anyone else has a really good recipe for injera, post it!

  15. Keely: Yeah, you use good meat here, or at least meat without sinew and fat. It turns out medium.

    Wronkee: It will, but I’d increase the simmer time at the end by a couple minutes to make sure the pork is cooked through.

  16. I’ve got to make this since I have plenty of venison. I was taught to cook Ethiopian food by my Ethiopian neighbors in DE over 18 years ago, but I learned how to make Dora wat and injera. From that I played with my own ideas and whenever I visit them; they give me Berbers, miti miti & shiro. I also have the book, “Exotic Ethiopian Cooking” which I must have purchased in D.C. Thanks for the new idea, now I need to visit my old friends on next De visit.

  17. With such a short cook time I’m wondering what cut of meat would you use? A more tender steak? Kept med-rare overall?
    Thanks!