Ethiopian Lentil and Vegetable Stew

Ethiopian Lentil StewWashington, 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.

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Ethiopian Lentil Stew

Berbere Spice MixThere 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!

Ethiopian Lentil and Vegetable Stew

Ethiopian Lentil and Vegetable Stew
Recipe Type: Stew
Cuisine: Ethiopian
Author: Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 10
Includes recipe for Berbere spice blend, an essential spice mix used in Ethiopian cuisine
  • [u]For Berbere Spice Mix [/u](based on [url href="" target="_blank"]this [/url]recipe):
  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp whole allspice
  • 10 green cardamom pods
  • 8 cloves
  • 1/2 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)
  • 1/4 cup paprika
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground dry ginger
  • [b]For the stew:[/b]
  • 5-6 cups of [url href="" target="_blank" title="Vegetable stock"]vegetable stock[/url]
  • 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 1 1/2 tsp)
  • 1 tsp finely chopped thyme
  • Ground black pepper and salt to taste
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • Fresh coriander leaves for garnish
  1. [u]Make the Berbere spice blend:[/u]
  2. 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.
  3. Add the chiles and the onion flakes and grind into a coarse powder in a blender or spice grinder.
  4. Remove to a bowl and mix with the paprika, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg and ginger.
  5. Store in an airtight jar.
  6. [u]Make the stew:[/u]
  7. In a bowl mix 2 tbsp of the vegetable stock, berbere spice, lemon juice, paprika , mustard and salt. Set aside.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Add salt and more ground black pepper if needed. Turn off the heat and garnish, if desired, with fresh coriander leaves.
  12. Serve hot with rice or bread.
Calories: 74 Fat: 1.7 grams Fiber: 3.9 grams Protein: 2.4 grams



Vegan Doro Wat

My vegan version of the classic Ethiopian favorite Doro Wat is a labor of love unlike the more minimalist recipes I’ve shared recently. It took me upwards of two hours to put together which, to a speed-seeking cook like me, is an eternity and an indulgence.

But this is an indulgence I had long craved. There’s something about the very look of this ravishing, flaming-red dish that stokes my appetite. Doro Wat is often called Ethiopia’s national dish and just inhaling its spice-rich aroma reveals just why it’s so popular. Traditionally it’s made with chicken, but it’s not a hard dish to veganize because all those spices and flavors in there are perfect with “meaty” vegetables like mushrooms or eggplants.

Cooking Ethiopian food is always a pleasant revelation to me, both as a cook and as someone who primarily cooks Indian food. That’s because Ethiopian cuisine couldn’t be more similar to Indian cuisine in its use of spices, yet it couldn’t be more different in technique, and the end results are worlds apart. To put it more simply, an Indian curry contains a lot of the same spices and ingredients that a Doro Wat does, but because you cook them so differently they taste vastly different.

Doro Wat has two flavor building blocks: niter kibbeh, which is butter spiced with garlic, cloves, cardamom and cinnamon, and berbere, a powdered mix of chillies and more spices (there are paste versions of this too). For the niter kibbeh, I swapped the butter with some heart-healthy olive oil. Don’t try to take a short cut and leave out either the niter kibbeh or the berbere because your Doro Wat will then taste like its missing something, which is never a kind thing to do to your tastebuds.

The most tedious part of this recipe was, to me, roasting a pile of onions to a rich brown color with the help of nothing but a little water– it took over an hour. I  toned down the heat in this dish because Desi, despite his Indian tastebuds, cannot tolerate too much chilli. If you are a heat-seeker, go ahead and use more red chillies.

Here’s the recipe, just in time for your weekend. Enjoy, all!

Doro Wat, Vegan

(Serves 8-10 people)

For the Niter Kibbeh:

Combine in a saucepan:

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup minced onions

1-inch piece of ginger, grated or minced

3 cloves garlic, grated or minced

1-inch piece cinnamon stick

1 tsp turmeric

1/8 tsp grated nutmeg

3 cloves of green cardamom

Place the saucepan over medium heat. When it starts to bubble, reduce heat and let the oil simmer for about 20-25 minutes. Pass through a sieve and reserve the oil.

For the Berbere:

Place in a blender or spice grinder:

1/4 cup of dry, red chillies

1 tbsp paprika

1-inch stick cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger powder

1/2 tsp coriander seeds

3 cloves

2 berries of allspice

1 tsp grated nutmeg

Process to a fine powder and set aside.

Other ingredients:

1 8-oz package of tempeh, cubed and sprinkled with juice of half a lemon (The tempeh is optional. I just used this for extra protein and it was delicious, but just use veggies if you can’t find this or don’t want to use it)

1 1/2 pounds of crimini or portabella mushrooms, halved or quartered if large (eggplant and potatoes would also be great in this dish)

3 medium onions, finely chopped

1 six-ounce can of tomato paste

1 cup dry white wine (optional)

1 tbsp grated garlic

1 tbsp grated ginger

Heat a large saucepan. Add the onions and stir. When the onions start looking dry, add 1/4 cup of water and cook until the mixture dries up. Keep adding a couple of tablespoons of water each time the onions dry and start to stick, stirring at frequent intervals, until the onions become golden-brown. Like I said earlier, this took me more than an hour on medium heat, but don’t skip this step and hurry to add other ingredients because the roasted onions add a lot of flavor.

Now add the tomato paste, ginger and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, about 2-3 minutes.

Add the Berbere, 1/2 cup of water, and the Niter Kibbeh. Stir to mix and bring the mixture to a boil.

Add the mushrooms and tempeh and stir well. Bring the sauce to a boil (add more water if the mixture is very dry), slap a lid on, lower the heat to simmer, and let the mixture cook about 15-20 minutes.

Add the white wine, if you’re using it, and simmer for another 10 minutes. If you’re not adding wine, skip this step.

Serve hot over rice or with some crusty bread. Tip: This tastes even better when you’ve allowed it to stand for a few hours, or overnight, to let the flavors meld together.

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.