Yes, I know we’ve only just had a lentil dish, but this is one lentil recipe that everyone really should try.
It is from Ethiopia and, although it requires some preparation in terms of ingredients, once made, you have them on hand to whip this dish up at a moment’s notice. And whip it you shall, because it is rich and aromatic and exotic and satisfying. And not just a load of old lentils (which is, incidentally, a very delicious vegetarian cookery book I have by Rose Elliott from the 1980s. In fact, I can heartily recommend all of Rose’s books for tasty and accessible vegetarian recipes.)
If your palate is becoming a little jaded with the same old spice profiles, the key ingredients for Misir Wat will wake you up and dance all over your tongue. And if you’re heavy-handed with the dried chillies, might even beat you up a little, but in a spicy way.
Firstly, the spice mixture is called berbere. Just as with many other spice blends, the composition varies wildly, depending on who you ask. Some blends are roaring hot, involving many dried chillies, and others are mild and aromatic. I’ve tried several spice blend recipes and with a bit of tinkering, have come up with a mix that is relatively mild on the heat scale, but very aromatic. If you’re not sure whether you’re going to like berbere, or you’re not enthused enough to order the two or three specific Ethiopian spices required (perfectly reasonable and understandable), you can buy berbere ready-made online. The downside of this convenience is that you can’t control the heat, so err on the side of caution when using to begin with. I have bought spices from thespicegirl1969 (not a paid-for endorsement) on ebay before, and she also does berbere mixes, so I can recommend. If you like the flavour profile and enjoy tinkering, then you might like to try mixing your own blend.
The other element is niter kibbeh: clarified butter in which several whole spices and aromatics have been infused. It brings a depth of flavour and a fantastic richness of taste to the dish. I have seen it available online, but to be perfectly honest, there’s so little effort required, you’re better off making your own. I mean, can you throw stuff in a pot? OK, then you’re good to go.
You can also use the berbere and niter kibbeh in regular recipes to give a little boost. I used one of the test berbere mixes to make Berbere Bread. It’s amazing. Also in the pancake Crackers. And the Week Long Chicken.
Once you have the berbere and niter kibbeh to hand, the rest of the recipe is a breeze.
So let’s get on with the prep!
Berbere Spice Mix
There are many variations out there, just like there are for garam masala. I like this mixture, which has just enough heat to lift it out of blandness without blowing your head off. Substitutions suggested.
4 tbsp coriander seeds
2tbs black peppercorns
1tbs koraraima (Ethiopian cardamom) OR 1.5tsp green cardamom seeds OR 5 black cardamom
1 tbsp black cumin seeds OR nigella/kalonji seeds OR regular cumin seeds
1 tbsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp allspice berries
5cm cinnamon stick
1 tsp whole cloves
4-5 blades of mace
15-20 curry leaves
1½ tsp ajwain OR celery seeds
5 small, dried chillies – de-seeded.
4 tbsp bright red Kashmiri chilli powder (for colour – it has no heat) – Raja is a good brand
2 tbs ground turmeric
1 tbsp garlic powder
2 tsp ground ginger
- Toast the whole spices (first group of ingredients) in a dry pan until fragrant (2-3 minutes)
- Allow to cool.
- Grind in a spice grinder.
- Add to remaining 4 ingredients.
- Sieve and store in an airtight jar.
1 x 5cm cinnamon stick
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 tsp koraraima (Ethiopian cardamom) seeds OR 1tsp green cardamom seeds OR 3 black cardamom pods, crushed
5 whole cloves
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 teaspoon black cumin seeds OR nigella/kalonji seeds OR regular cumin seeds
1 tsp dried oregano
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 onion – chopped
3 tbs chopped fresh garlic
2 tbs chopped fresh ginger
600g unsalted butter (or 1 x 500g tin ghee – easier!)
- In a dry pan over medium heat, toast the cinnamon, peppercorns, koraraima, cloves, fenugreek, coriander and cumin until fragrant (2-3 mins).
- Add the remaining ingredients and stir until the butter/ghee has melted.
- Cover and infuse the butter/ghee for 1 hour over very low heat.
- Turn off the heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes.
- Strain through a fine-mesh sieve (back into the empty ghee tin if using) into a suitable container/jar.
4 tbs niter kibbeh – divided
3 banana shallots or 1 large onion, very finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large/beef tomato, finely chopped/pureed
3 tbs tomato paste
2 tbs bebere – divided
200g red lentils, rinsed
750ml vegetable stock
salt to taste
- Melt 3 tablespoons of the niter kibbeh in a non-stick frying pan (NB pan should have a close-fitting lid).
- Add the onions and cook for 8-10 minutes until golden brown.
- Add the garlic, tomatoes, tomato paste and 1 tbs of the berbere and cook for 5-7 minutes.
- Add the lentils and stock and bring it to a gentle simmer for 45-60 minutes until the lentils are tender, stirring to prevent the mixture from sticking. Add more stock if needed.
- Stir in the remaining tablespoon of niter kibbeh and berbere. Simmer for a couple more minutes. Add salt to taste.
- Serve with Ethiopian injera or your favourite flatbread, or rice, or vegetables, etc.