Ethiopian lentils with Berbere spice blend (a.k.a Misr wot), is fragrant and flavorful and we seriously loved my take on this simple, traditional dish. It’s one of those easy plant-based recipes that leaves you so satisfied. A favorite staples of ours, red lentils, are simmered in a sauce with onions, garlic, ginger and tomatoes with plenty of my homemade Berbere spice blend.
Make Ethiopian lentils - start with Berbere spice blend
If you already have a Berbere spice blend on hand, then you can completely skip this step. If not, let’s start here. First, Berbere is traditionally a hot spice blend and it’s an integral ingredient in Ethiopian cuisine. If you’ve not had this before, you’ll soon discover that is has a unique taste. It reminds me a bit of American chili powder because it has multiple spice blends as well as heat, but the flavor profile is quite different.
DBY – do Berbere yourself
Perhaps you have some Berbere on hand, if not, you can easily make your own. I occasionally end up with a mix of per-ground and whole spices. I place the latter into a spice grinder and then just mix in the ground. I’ve included a few conversions in the recipe below for some of the whole spices if you grind your own.
If you follow my guidelines, then you should end up with about ¾ cup (12 tablespoons). You’ll only want to use 2-3 tablespoons for the Ethiopian lentils so store the remainder in your spice rack in a tightly sealed container. Not to worry, you’ll find plenty of uses for it starting with easy Ethiopian bean stew.
Controlling the heat
There are two main sources of heat in Berbere spice blend – the crushed red chili and white peppercorns. You have the option of cutting back on both if you want something a little less on the spicy side. Same goes for the cloves. Some folks find them a bit overpowering. Cut that back to ¾ tablespoon if you are sensitive to it. The final thing to keep in mind is that I add a tablespoon of salt (remember you aren’t using it all in one sitting). You can always eliminate this and add salt to taste as you use up your spice blend.
How long will my Berbere spice blend keep?
Over time, all spices start losing their potency. So, the skinny on your spice blend is that it will be as flavorful as your spices are young. You can sometimes get by with using spices that are a bit old and adding more, but for the best flavor, make sure they are well within the date on the jar.
The big spice sort
The next time you feel a bit domestically ambitious or you are in full avoidance of some unpleasant task, host your own spice sorting party. Yes, take them all out, check out the dates and start a list of what needs to be replaced. As much as you might be tempted, don’t combine that almost empty bottle of ground cumin to the one that’s half full (unless they have the same date – fat chance). You don’t want to sabotage all your good spice sorting intentions.
Misr wat (wot/wet) = Ethiopian lentils
Ethiopian cuisine takes on many forms and varieties. My version of Ethiopian lentils incorporates making Wat, which starts with dry frying onions, adding spices, plus ginger and garlic and then using water to deglaze the pan. Although the highlight of this recipe are the spices, browning the onions adds a lot to the flavor. I gave about 10 minutes to allow this. Remember, if your onions start to stick too much, you can always add water a tablespoon at a time before you deglaze.
The sticking of the onions depends on several factors including the type of pan you’re using, temperature and the moisture content of the onions. I always find it interesting how onions out of the same bag and used within a few days of one another can have completely different moisture contents. Weird.
Now, toss everything else in
The rest of the sauce comes from the tomatoes. Fresh works best here, but in a pinch, you can use 1 15-oz (400 gm.) can of tomatoes. This will create a richer sauce, but you will be adding 4 cups of water with the lentils, so it will get reduced. Also, I used split red lentils. They tend to cook and break down quicker and take a bit less water. If you use whole red lentils, you will want to add 5-10 minutes for the cooking time. As for the water, like any lentil dish, you just want to keep and eye on the cooking process and add water ½ cup at a time if the lentils aren’t quite tender and the liquid is absorbed already.
One-pot, not one flavor
When it comes to cooking, especially cooking easy plant-based recipes, there is probably nothing I revel in more than cooking up a pot of something on the stove. Even slightly complicated recipes are just more straightforward when you aren’t dealing with multiple pots and pans. The more I create or improve on recipes, the more I realize that one-pot makes a dish seem a bit limited in terms of flavor. Well, nothing is further from the truth. Even a slight change in ingredients or spices, can dramatically alter the flavor profile of the dish and transport you to an entirely new region of the world.
Plant-based cooking has challenged me to consider more about how to create different flavor profiles and new texture combinations. This isn’t because of a narrowing of focus or because I like to choose easy. It’s the opposite (except the easy part, I still like that). I’ve been freed from relying on animal products as the center of the meal which has opened new directions of creativity following multiple pathways. Today, my repertoire of recipes seems boundless and every time I start trekking down one path, I see several new ones emerge. It’s about this time, when I dash off to write down a new idea. Another day, another new recipe idea.
From time-to-time, we all need to do a bit of sorting. Maybe the spice cabinet isn’t a high priority, but it can be quite satisfying to take a close look when you aren’t under the pressure of digging around as you hurriedly toss ingredients into a pot. Spices might be simple enough, but it can be overwhelming just thinking about those other, much bigger projects that loom large. Maybe it’s that closet, maybe it’s making a lifestyle change such as getting serious about plant-based eating.
It might be easier to just shut that closet door, pretend the mess doesn’t exist, distract by doing that spice sorting I suggested earlier. We can promise ‘tomorrow’. And tomorrow after that. But ask yourself what small part of that task could you accomplish today? Can’t consider cleaning the entire closet? Take a few minutes to take on a small drawer. Start by putting your workout clothes on or make just one plant-based dinner for this one night. You never know where it might lead. Peace.Print
Ethiopian lentils with homemade Berbere spice is a fragrant, flavorful plant-based recipe with red lentils, simmered in a spicy tomato-onion-garlic sauce.
Berbere spice blend (makes ¾ cup or 12 Tablespoons)
- 1 Tbsp each:
- Fenugreek (2 Tbsp. seeds)
- ground cloves (1 1/3 Tbsp. whole cloves)
- Paprika (smoked or sweet)
- White pepper (3/4 Tbsp. whole peppercorns ground)
- Cumin (3/4 Tbsp. cumin seeds)
- Crushed red chili flakes (optional)
- Salt (optional)
- 2 medium onions diced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, minced
- 1 tsp. turmeric
- ¼ tsp. ground cardamom
- 1/3 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
- ½ cup water
- 2 medium tomatoes, diced (about 2 cups)
- 2 -3 Tbsp. Berbere spice blend
- 2 cups red lentils, rinsed and sorted (I prefer split lentils, but you can use whole)
- 4 cups water
- Start by making the Berbere spice blend. If you use any whole spices, grind them and mix them with together with the rest of the spices in a small jar or container.
- To make the lentils, place the onions in a medium soup pot over medium heat and sauté the onions until they start to brown. This should take about 8-10 minutes depending on your pan and the heat. If the onions start to stick too much, add water a tablespoon at a time.
- Add the garlic, ginger, 1 tsp. turmeric, ¼ tsp. ground cardamom, 1/3 tsp. cinnamon and 1/8 tsp. nutmeg. Stir to coat everything in the spices for 1 minute.
- Add ½ cup of water and stir to deglaze the pan.
- Add the tomatoes and allow them to cook and break down for another 10 minutes.
- Add 2 cups of lentils, 4 cups of water and 2-3 Tbsp. Berbere spice blend. Mix everything, cover and allow the lentils to simmer until they are tender (15-20 minutes). Add more water ½ cup at-a-time if the lentils are not tender after the liquid is absorbed.
- Season with salt and pepper if desired.
- Once the lentils are tender, remove from the heat and serve in bowls. You can also serve this over rice if you prefer.
- Garnish with lemon slices.
- The amount of water and time to cook the lentils depends on whether you use split or whole lentils. Allow 10 additional minutes of cooking time for whole lentils and closely monitor the water in case you need to add more.
- You will have leftover Berbere spice blend. Store this in a labeled, sealed container. Because you can use this blend for other recipes, I included the extra spices to the onions as they are particular to Ethiopian lentil recipe.
- Category: Main Courses
- Cuisine: Ethiopian
Keywords: Ethiopian lentils with Berbere spice blend