In making injera, flour is mixed with water and allowed to ferment for several days, as with sourdough starter. Because of this process, injera has a slight sour taste. The injera is then ready to bake into large flat pancakes, done either on a specialized electric stove or more commonly, on a clay plate (mogogo) placed over a fire. Injera compares to the French crepe, the South Indian dosa and the Mexican tortilla as a flatbread cooked in a circle and used as a base for other foods.
A variety of stews, sometimes salads (during Ethiopian Orthodox fasting, for which believers follow a vegan diet) or simply more injera (called injera firfir), are placed upon the injera for serving. Using one's right hand, small pieces of injera are torn and used to grasp the stews and salads for eating. The injera under these stews soaks up the juices and flavours of the foods and, after the stews and salads are gone, this bread is also consumed. Injera is thus simultaneously food, utensil, and plate. When the entire "tablecloth" of injera is gone, the meal is over. The most valued grain used to make injera is from the tiny, iron-rich grain teff. However, its production is limited to certain middle elevations and adequate rainfall regimes, so it is relatively expensive for the average household. Because the overwhelming majority of highland Ethiopians are poor farming households that grow their own subsistence grain, wheat, barley, corn, and/or rice flour are sometimes used to replace some or all of the teff content. There are also different varieties of injera, such as nech (white), kay (red) and tikur (black).
Injera is eaten daily in virtually every household, and cooking it requires considerable time and resources. In Ethiopia, the bread is cooked on a large, black, clay plate (mogogo) over a fire. This set-up is a stove called a mitad, which is difficult to use, produces large amounts of smoke, and is dangerous to children. Because of this cooking method, much of the area’s limited fuel resources are wasted. But in 2003 a research group was given the Ashden award for designing a new type of stove for cooking injera. The new stove uses available fuel sources (including dung, locally called achwar) for cooking injera and other foods efficiently, saving the heat from the fuel. Several parts are made in the central cities of the countries, while other parts are molded from clay by women of local areas.