Washington, D.C., with its heady mix of history and power, is a special kind of city.
Everywhere you look in D.C. you can find the story of America, and it’s not just in the Capitol or the White House or the many imposing monuments and memorials and museums that are part of this city. It’s in the centuries-old rowhouses that line the city’s streets, like the one where Lincoln died or the one Duke Ellington lived in his teens. It’s in the half a dozen black SUVs with dark-tinted windows and police outriders, as they zip down a busy artery ferrying some important dignitary every day of every week. It’s even in the “no-parking” signs tacked up on parking meters outside a hotel because the president is giving a speech inside.
D.C. may be the world’s most powerful city, but to some of us it is also home. Desi and I moved here to study journalism and we stayed not just because there isn’t perhaps a better place in the world to be a journalist in, not just because its quiet dignity seemed a welcome change from the bustling city we moved here from — Bombay — but because D.C. felt like our own from the moment we set foot in it.
There are many things I love about D.C. But when someone asks me what I love best, I don’t have to think twice– it’s the city’s diversity. It thrills me to know that I live in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan countries. For centuries immigrants have flocked here and refugees fleeing tyranny and strife back home have embraced the capital of the world’s greatest democracy as their home.
All of this diversity, of course, manifests itself in food, making D.C and its suburbs an adventurous eater’s dream. Because Silver Spring, the D.C. suburb I live in, has in recent years seen a vast influx of Ethiopians, we have been lucky to get at least half a dozen new Ethiopian restaurants in downtown Silver Spring. Which is perfect, because I adore Ethiopian food. In fact, there are days when I would die for it. Almost.
Last week, Desi stopped off at a store and while I waited for him in the car I was nearly driven to madness by these delicious smells wafting out from an Ethiopian restaurant nearby. By the time I got home, I couldn’t bear the idea of another day going by without getting some Ethiopian food inside my belly. So I charged into the kitchen, slammed the saucepan on the stove, and got cooking. And that’s how this delicious Ethiopian Lentil and Vegetable Stew was born.
I had most of the ingredients I needed for this stew in my pantry. I used mushrooms, sweet potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and red peppers in my stew, and you can use some or all of these, or even try different vegetables. Zucchini would be fabulous here, as would be any winter squash.
The Berbere spice mix, a bright red spice mix that takes so many Ethiopian dishes from delicious to sublime, is key to the flavor of this dish, so don’t try making the stew without it. It is worth the little effort, and you get enough to last you through three or four uses.
Gotta run now, but here’s the recipe. Enjoy!
- For Berbere Spice Mix (based on this recipe):
- 2 tbsp coriander seeds
- 2 tsp fenugreek seeds
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- ½ tsp whole allspice
- 10 green cardamom pods
- 8 cloves
- ½ cup onion flakes or fried onions (like the ones from French's or sold in packets in Indian store)
- 6 arbol chiles (can use dry serrano or Kashmiri chillies as a substitute)
- ¼ cup paprika
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp ground dry ginger
- For the stew:
- 5-6 cups of vegetable stock
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 heaping tbsp berbere spice mix
- 1 tsp wholegrain or Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 cup pink lentils
- 1 large red onion or two medium, thinly sliced
- 6 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 large tomato, diced
- 1 large red bell pepper (can use green or yellow), finely diced
- 2 medium carrots, finely diced
- 2 cups button or crimini mushrooms, sliced
- 1 large sweet potato, finely diced
- 1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary (if using dry, reduce to 1½ tsp)
- 1 tsp finely chopped thyme
- Ground black pepper and salt to taste
- 2 tsp olive oil
- Fresh coriander leaves for garnish
- Make the Berbere spice blend:
- Heat a small skillet and roast the coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, cloves, allspice, peppercorns, and cardamom until the coriander seeds are a couple of shades darker.
- Add the chiles and the onion flakes and grind into a coarse powder in a blender or spice grinder.
- Remove to a bowl and mix with the paprika, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg and ginger.
- Store in an airtight jar.
- Make the stew:
- In a bowl mix 2 tbsp of the vegetable stock, berbere spice, lemon juice, paprika , mustard and salt. Set aside.
- Heat olive oil in a saucepan. Add the onions, herbs and garlic along with some salt and pepper. Saute, stirring frequently, over medium heat until the onions are translucent and just beginning to turn color.
- Add the lentils and stir well. Add the tomatoes, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, carrots, and bell peppers along with the berbere spice mixture dissolved in the vegetable stock. Stir well to mix, add 5 cups of vegetable stock, and bring to a boil.
- Cover with a lid and let the sauce simmer on medium-low heat about 30 minutes or until the lentils are cooked and soft. If the mixture gets too dry, add more water or stock.
- Add salt and more ground black pepper if needed. Turn off the heat and garnish, if desired, with fresh coriander leaves.
- Serve hot with rice or bread.