Preparing a “Dist” – an Ethiopia casserole

Many people return from Ethiopia with various pottery casseroles and coffee pots, and then have no idea how to get them ready for use. Or worse, they just throw some food in them and wonder why the unsealed dishes make their food taste like dusty pottery.

Well, the preparation of a jebuna, an Ethiopian coffee pot, is another post altogether. But this post I’ll share how to prepare a casserole dish, or dist, for cooking.

With that big intro, it’s actually super simple. I was getting all serious so you would think I’m the bearer of great wisdom. But really, you are basically doing the same thing as tempering a cast iron pan. Heat, oil, heat, oil. Those are the basics, and you do the same to keep it in good condition over the years. Of course a cast iron pan will last a lot longer (mine is my Grandpa’s baching pan from the 1930s!) but you should get quite a few years out of a traditional pottery dist.

Start by warming it up in the oven. 350 will do. Then take it gingerly out, and wipe down the inside with fat or oil. Traditionally, it would be raw sheep or beef fat. Never, ever, would an Ethiopia use pork fat. Of course, that’s exactly what I used for my first dist. I just rubbed down the inside of the dist with bacon fat until it wouldn’t absorb any more. This bigger dist I picked up in Ethiopia a few weeks ago, I decided to go the veggie route, and used just canola oil. Note that a low smoke-point oil like olive oil would be a bad choice. You want a neutral oil that can get hot hot hot without smoking. Also, only temper the inside of the pot (and don’t forget to do the lid!)

When it won’t absorb any more oil, then put it back into the oven for some more baking. I usually bake shiro at 400 degrees, so I make sure that my dist is fired at that temperature. You don’t have to leave it in long… Just five to ten minutes will do. Remove, wipe more oil or fat all over the inside, and then put in the oven for another go.

Usually I do this about four times. If it stinks a bit of earthenware, then I’ll do it a few more times and heat out the nasties.

Hope that helps you prepare your dist! Then remember, when you wash it, never soak it in water. Just wash it out then dry the inside right away. You can add a little oil on the inside to store.

When I make shiro, I also always roll around a tablespoon of oil or two around the dist before I put the shiro in for baking.


Oil it up with canola oil, or animal fat.
Don’t forget to rub it all over the sides… You don’t want them to stick either.
Warm it up in between oil-downs.
And now for a short break to make some shiro.
I put a few tablespoons of oil in the bottom before I add the cooked paste. Of course, never put your pottery on a hot stove… This is a cold burner.
and after ten minutes in a hot oven…
Bubbly-licious! That’s some ice looking shiro!

2 thoughts on “Preparing a “Dist” – an Ethiopia casserole

  1. Oh, this is great. I have only been to Ethiopia twice, and it wasn’t until the last afternoon of the last day of my last visit that I finally found the pottery shop that everybody talks about. By then our suitcases were packed, the bubble wrap was already used up, and we didn’t have many Birr left. I kick myself so often for not taking the time to exchange more money so I could buy some casseroles and some bigger items! In the end, we just bought a few little dishes. I can’t wait to get back to Ethiopia — I will be going back to that pottery shop right away!

    • I really don’t trust the pottery to come home in one piece unless I schlep it in carry on… But boy o boy does it get heavy. This trip, a huge party jebuna for a friend, a code of casseroles, a a big chicken, and a doll sized jebuna etc for the girls. Thats a lot of weight!

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