Spaghetti silsie, or spicy fragrant tomato pasta sauce (Eritrea)

Eritrea is a small country in the Horn of Africa, a single-party republic (gulp). In 2010 it received the lowerst press freedom rating in the world. It has been in constant problems, including a 30-year war, with the neighbouring Ethiopia. Eritrea used to host a large population of elephants, but currently there are thought to be only about 100 left. However, the country has managed to significantly increase its life expectancy at birth during the past 50 years, from 39 years to 60 years, while many African countries have experienced drops of similar magnitude, mostly thanks to AIDS. Especially mortality from malaria has greatly dropped.

Eritrean cuisine is quite similar to Ethiopia and it was difficult to find dishes that were distinctly Eritrean, not essentially Ethiopian. Traditional meals feature a stew/curry, a pancake-like flatbread called injera and a legume paste known as hilbet. Ethiopian injera is usually made with teff flour, but Eritreans use a variety of grains. Food is spicy, featuring a lot of chili and more aromatic spices like cinnamon and fenugreek. Berbere is a particularly popular spice mix with e.g. ginger, basil, garlic and chili.

Because Eritrea is a former colony of Italy, Italian-influenced dishes, especially pasta dishes are also common. I like the way this dish, which I believe the dish is called spaghetti silsie, features very quintessential Italian ingredients: tomatoes, pasta, garlic, rosemary and chili (well, Italians aren’t that big on chili, but it’s used in e.g. pasta arrabbiata) , but the Italian cuisine wouldn’t combine them all together. The amount of spices seems quite high, but for example the rosemary isn’t overwhelming, even though it might sound that way. I

It is quite a tasty sauce, though I was perhaps hoping for something even tastier. The recipe is marked gluten-free and low-carb, because it is, and you could always eat it with gluten-free or low-carb pasta (e.g. zucchini “pasta”, which is both, as well as potentially raw).

I used TVP, a soy parmesan brand which is almost powder-like (almesan might have been better) and I cooked the sauce for a while (unlike in the original recipe), because tomato sauces are always better when simmered for some time.

Spaghetti silsie

Spaghetti silsie

1 lbs/450 g (or slightly less) rehydrated TVP, ground seitan or other ground meat substitute
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 chili peppers, finely chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
oil for frying
14 oz/400 g can chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
(soy parmesan, almesan or other non-dairy cheese)

Fry the onion in the oil until translucent. Add the garlic, chili and rosemary. When the onions are golden, add the “meat”. Fry for a bit. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Simmer for 20-30 minutes. Serve hot over spaghetti, with a “cheese” if you want. Makes 4-6 portions.

2 Responses to “Spaghetti silsie, or spicy fragrant tomato pasta sauce (Eritrea)”

  1. 1
    Sam

    I made this recipe and it was delish. BUT it isn’t authentic Eritrean pasta sauce because we use a spice called Berbere, which is markedly different from chili. This recipe def has heat but it doesn’t taste the same.

  2. 2

    Good to hear you found it tasty anyway!


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