Mekelesha Pumpkin Pie

I became enamored with Ethiopian food earlier in the year, and for months afterward, I played with one of its mother spice blends extensively: mekelesha. Mekelesha isn’t very well known to most American cooks. It can be rather tricky to use: it isn’t spicy, or even savory, and yet it is still utilized in so many savory dishes. Due to the dominating presence of cardamom and cinnamon in it, it has a funny ability to generate the illusion of sweetness in anything you use it in. It possesses a complex and inviting floral aroma and flavor, and it’s a revelation on vegetables; especially carrots. The strong flavor match with carrot led my curiosity to sweet potato, and sweet potato led to…


Then my wheels really started turning.


I’ll be honest. I think Thanksgiving food is boring. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the holiday—I do—but I also enjoy diversity and newness, especially with food. With the Thanksgiving usual suspects, there’s very little textural variety, and it’s basically an assault of tryptophan, potatoes, beta-carotene, and fat. We all have family members who are steeped in tradition and can’t bear the thought of changing anything, so some of us sit in silence and eat the same things every single year. However, that desire for something new still remains. And it bugs me.

This pie might not be for everyone. It isn’t traditional by any means, and eating it might not summon up holiday memories that people cherish and seek out around this time of year, but I will say this: it IS delicious. For me, the mekelesha breathes new life into this staple and has made me love pumpkin pie even more than I already do (and it’s a lot). For anyone who wants to shake things up a bit and explore something new, I’d highly recommend giving this pie a chance to be on your holiday table.


Mekelesha Spice Blend:

  • 6 whole cloves

  • ½ tsp cumin seeds

  • ½ tsp whole peppercorns

  • ½ tsp fenugreek seeds

  • 1 tsp cardamom meats

  • 2 tsp ground ginger

  • 1 tsp ground turmeric

  • ¾ tsp ground cinnamon

  • ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg (or ground)

In a small pan on medium heat, add the cloves, cumin seeds, peppercorns, fenugreek, and cardamom. Stir occasionally to avoid too much browning, and toast the spices until they begin to give off a heady perfume. Remove from the heat and add the toasted spices along with the ground ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, and nutmeg to a spice grinder (we use a designated coffee grinder) and blend blend blend until everything is a very fine powder.

Store your mekelesha spice blend in an airtight container in the freezer to maintain maximum freshness for a couple months.


Mekelesha Pumpkin Pie:

  • 1 9-inch pie crust shell, pricked, chilled.

Note: People have strong preferences about their crust, so you should use your most beloved recipe for this, or your preferred pre-made iteration. Nate and I like Martha Stewart’s pâte brisée recipe because it’s delightfully flaky and less sweet (of course), and it’s also the crust recipe that I grew up with, so I’m partial to it.

  • 1 15-oz. can of pumpkin puree

  • ⅓ cup sugar

  • ⅓ cup brown sugar

  • ½ tsp salt

  • 1 Tbs cornstarch

  • 1½ tsp mekelesha spice blend

Note: Even though this recipe has a twist, at its core, this is a solid pumpkin pie recipe. If you don’t want to use mekelesha spice in it, swap it out for more traditional pumpkin pie spices. It won’t change the chemistry, and it’ll still turn out sweet, silky, aromatic, and delicious.

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 cup cream

  • 1/2 cup milk

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Blind bake your pie shell for up to 10 minutes, making sure to put some parchment paper and pie beads on top to keep your crust from ballooning up on you.

While the crust is blind baking, make the pie filling by mixing the pumpkin puree with your sugars, salt, cornstarch, and mekelesha spice blend until everything is completely homogenous (no cornstarch clumps!). Add the eggs and whisk everything together, then gradually add in your cream and milk and mix until all the ingredients are thoroughly integrated.

When your crust is done blind baking, remove it from the oven and take out the parchment and pie beads. Add all of your pumpkin pie filling to your pie shell and place it back in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes at 425, then decrease the heat to 350 and bake for another 40 minutes. Check on the pie by shaking it very gently to see if the middle jiggles only slightly. If not, bake the pie for a few more minutes until it does, then remove it from the oven and allow it to cool completely for at least two hours.

Serves 8.


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