Ethiopian Red Lentils

May 2, 2006 at 8:06 pm (B plus (3.5 stars, like a lot), Beans, Ethiopian)

Berbere is the hot spice mixture that is used in many Ethiopian wats, or stews. It can also be used in other recipes that call for a hot spice. I found three berbere recipes. One in the cookbook Sundays at Moosewood, one online from a personal chef, and one in my recipe collection from who-knows-where originally. But they were all relatively similar. I wonder if they were all based on the same recipe originally?

The recipe in the cookbook “Exotic Ethiopian Cooking” by D.M. Mesfin that I checked out of the library certainly was extremely different. First of all, it called for 15 pounds of dried new Mexican chilis! It was more of a paste also, with fresh garlic, ginger, and red onion. It also had a number of ingredients I didn’t recognize, like rue seed, sacred basil, and bishop weed. After all the ingredients are ground down, the mixture is supposed to stand for 12 hours, then be baked in an oven or the sun, so I’m not sure how wet the final product is. Another spicy paste in the cookbook, Awaze, looks pretty similar except it also includes 2 cups of red wine. Anyway, here is the recipe I ended up using for berbere:


2 tsp. cumin seed
1 tsp. fenugreek
8 cloves
3/4 tsp. cardamom seeds (black)
3/4 tsp. peppercorns
1/2 tsp. coriander seeds
1/2 tsp. whole allspice (or 1/4 tsp. ground)
1/2 tsp. ginger powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. turmeric, ground
1/4 tsp. cinnamon, ground
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. dried shallots (optional, or dehydrated onions maybe more, up to 2 ounces?)
3 ounces dried new mexican chilies, seeded and stemmed (or 3 Tbs. sweet paprika and 5 tsp. red pepper flakes or 10 small dried red chiles)

In a small frying pan, on medium-low heat, toast the whole spices (cumin, cloves, fenugreek, cardamom, peppercorns, coriander, and allspice) for about 2 minutes or until fragrant, stirring constnatly. Remove the pan from the heat and cool for 5 minutes.

If using the chiles, discard the stems. If using the New Mexican chiles, seed them and tear into coarse pieces. In a spice grinder finely grind together the toasted spices and chiles. Mix in the remaining ingredients.

Store berbere refrigerated in a well-sealed jar.

Yields about 3/4 cup (i.e. 12 Tbs.) Or maybe 1/3 cup if using the small chilies and 1/4 cup if using the chili flakes?

This berbere recipe has an awful lots of spices. I wonder if they’re all absolutely necessary? Could I make a berbere that was just as good with only 1/2 the number of spices?

Spicy red lentil stew (Miser Wat)

The Ethiopian cookbook mentioned above calls for 2 cups lentils, 6 cups water, and 1.5 cups oil! I cut down on the oil, but used the 6 cups of water, which was probably a mistake.

4 Tbs. olive oil
2 cups onion (one large onion or two small onions)
1 tsp. garlic, chopped
1 Tbs. fresh ginger, minced
2 Tbs. berbere
2 cups split red lentils
6 cups water or vegetable broth
1.5 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. tomato paste (maybe more, up to 1/4 cup? or chopped tomatoes?)
1 ounce red wine (optional, maybe more?)

Saute the onions in the olive oil, until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for another minute. Add the berbere and saute for a few minute smore, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. The onions should start to carmelize Mix in the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes. Add the lentils, tomato paste, salt, red wine, and the vegetable stock or water and bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook uncovered for an hour?

Serve with injera and a vegetable.

Makes about 7 cups?

My notes: This recipe is quite good. My friend said it tasted just like what you get at an Ethiopian restaurant. I wasn’t positive about that, but enjoyed it thoroughly. I do however find the lentils a bit strong to eat by themselves. They need injera or a vegetable or other starch to eat in conjunction. Also, with 6 cups of water my lentils started out very soupy and I thought they would always be soup, but after cooking them on very low for a long time they eventually developed the nice thick consistency they’re supposed to have. However, if I made them again I think I would use less water (maybe 4-5 cups?) and cook covered instead. I also might use slightly more berbere, or make a spicier berbere since although the lentils had great flavor they weren’t spicy enough in my opinion.

These lentils (like all red lentil dishes) have more calories than you might think. They are, however, quite filling, so 1/2 cup is quite sufficient.

Nutritional info for 1/14 of the recipe (about 1/2 cup I think)
Calories 144
Total Fat 4.5g (27%)
Saturated Fat 0.5g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 282mg
Carbohydrate 18.9g (51%)
Dietary Fiber 4.4g
Sugars 1.7g
Protein 7.8g (21%)
Vitamin A 1% Vitamin C 3%
Calcium 2% Iron 10%

Rating: B+
Derek: B+

Update May 8, 2006: I used 4 cups of water and it didn’t quite seem like enough, so I added another 1/2 cup after they’d been cooking a while. The quantity of lentils seemed like less than last time though, maybe 5 cups rather than 7 cups? I think next time I will try starting with 5 cups of water. I used 2 Tbs + 1 tsp. berbere and the lentils tasted good but still weren’t spicy enough. I don’t think they need any more berbere–I think I’ve just got to add some cayenne.

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Polenta Nera (B-)

May 2, 2006 at 7:24 pm (C (2 stars, okay, edible), Italian, Rebecca Wood)

Polenta nera means black polenta, although in actuality it’s more grey than black. In the north of Italy polenta made from buckwheat flour is a common “peasant” food. This recipe is from Rebecca Wood’s cookbook the Splendid Grain.

1 cup buckwheat flour
1 1/2 cups water
2 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock
1/4 tsp salt, or to taste
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

Whisk together the flour and water until smooth. Combine the stock, salt, and 1 Tbs. of the oil in a heavy saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Add the flour mixture in a steady stream, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring as necessary, for about 7 minutes, or until quite thick and smooth. Pour into individual bowls as hot cereal (top with milk and maple syrup for breakfast), or pour into an ungreased pan, smooth the top, and let cool at room temperature until firm.

Cut the polenta into squares. Heat the remaining oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. When warm, add the polenta squares. Fry for about 3 minutes on each side, or until golden and crisp. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot.

My notes:

Okay, I confess, I didn’t follow the recipe very closely. I thought it would be forgiving like regular corn polenta. So I just mixed it all together at once. But the texture was kind of like glue. Well, lumpy glue. And I don’t know if you’ve ever tried it, but lumpy glue doesn’t really “simmer.” So I kind of skipped that step. I tried a little porridge-style and the flavor wasn’t unpleasant–a very mild kasha taste. The texture was like over-mashed mashed potatoes though. Yuck. So I let the polenta cool and cut it into slices. I’m not sure if I didn’t let it cool long enough, or what, but the slices were much more sticky and less firm than regular polenta. But I formed about 16 “pieces”. Again, I didn’t follow the directions about frying, but put put 1/2 Tbs. oil down on a cookie sheet, then drizzled the other half over the top. I baked them at 500 degrees until they were crisp (about 15 minutes I think), then flipped them and cooked until the other side was crisp. I originally placed my cookie sheet on top of a cast iron pan to get it closer to the heating element, but then only the polenta on the edges was crisping so I removed it and it cooked more evenly.

In the end the top and bottom of the polenta got nice and crisp, but unlike corn polenta the inside stayed sort of soft and gooey. I really liked the crispy outside, and the contrast with the soft inside wasn’t unpleasant. I had to add extra salt though. 1/4 tsp. just didn’t cut it. I think if I make this again I will try 3/4 tsp. salt. But besides that follow the directions 🙂

So I liked the crispy polenta okay, but when I tried reheating in the toaster the next day it wasn’t particularly good. So I’d rate the porridge a D, the original broiled version a B-, and the reheated version a C.

Nutritional info for 4 pieces (of 16):
Calories 160
Total Fat 7.7g
Saturated Fat 1.1g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 295mg
Carbohydrate 21.2g
Dietary Fiber 3g
Sugars 0.8g
Protein 3.8g
Vitamin A 0%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 1%
Iron 7%

Rating: B-

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