I am so delighted to be sharing a recipe today from Kittee Berns’s new Ethiopian cookbook: Teff Love. These Ethiopian red lentils are super easy to make, and I think I’ll be pulling this book off of my shelf a LOT, y’all.
Kittee is one of the first vegan food bloggers that I ever discovered. I think I actually “met” her when we all used LiveJournal. Remember LiveJournal, you guys? Who knew that our days of posting blinkies and quiz results would morph into so many amazing projects, right? When I heard that Kittee was putting out an Ethiopian cookbook, I was over the moon for her.
Teff Love is a beautiful book, and what I love most about it is that Kittee manages to talk about Ethiopian cooking – which seems to inaccessible – in a way that feels totally doable. The Ethiopian red lentils that I chose came together in around 30 minutes total, and my kitchen smells like magic now.
She offers a couple of variations to this recipe, and I chose to go with the spinach one. I can’t resist a chance to add some leafy greens to my food. You can also serve these without the spinach or add chopped tomatoes when you add the garlic, ginger, and spices in step two.
Kittee also solved the mystery of berbere for me. It turns out that a lot of spice companies – even my beloved Penseys – makes it way too hot. Here’s what she has to say about this crucial Ethiopian spice blend:
“It’s imported from Africa and contains an array of seasonings, including spices, chiles, and probably even special Ethiopian pixie dust that isn’t readily available in the West. Imported berbere definitely packs some heat, but it contains a lot of other notable flavors too. I find domestic berbere, which is usually seasoned primarily with cayenne, to be too spicy and overpowering; the heat from the chiles shouldn’t drown out the flavors of the other ingredients, When you’re shopping for berbere, check the ingredients (and if possible, ask for a sample taste), and stay away from any that list cayenne as the primary or only chile.”
She also offers a recipe for homemade berbere paste, which you can bet is on my to make list.
I chose to make these Ethiopian red lentils, because I was sort of stunned by their simplicity. If you ever found Ethiopian cooking overwhelming, this recipe is a great starting point. The flavors are simple and strong, and you can find all of the ingredients in a regular grocery store.
Ethiopian Red Lentils in a Mild Garlic-Ginger Sauce
aka: ya’misser alicha, from Teff Love by Kittee Berns
The recipe below includes some notes from me in italics. I also worked in the variation that I used, which ever so slightly altered the instructions from the ones in the book.
Yield: 4 cups
- 1 cup dried red lentils
- 5 cups water
- 1/4 cup yellow or white onion, minced (1/2 cup)
- 2 tablespoons Ye’qimem Zeyet (page 25) or extra-virgin olive oil (I used olive oil.)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more if desired
- 6 cloves garlic, pressed or grated (1 tablespoon – I used my garlic press.)
- 2 teaspoons peeled and grated ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 2 cups reserved lentil cooking water or Sleepy Vegetable Stock (page 38 – I used the cooking water.)
- 2 jalapeno chiles, seeded, veined, and quartered lengthwise
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 1/2 cups fresh baby spinach, coarsely chopped
- Put the lentils and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to medium-high and simmer, skimming off any foam that forms with a large spoon. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until just soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the lentils and reserve 2 cups of the cooking water. (I did this by sticking a bowl under my colander, just like when collecting aquafaba.)
- While the lentils cook, put the onion, olive oil (or Ye’qimem Zeyet), and salt in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft and translucent (don’t let the onion brown), about 7 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, turmeric, and cardamom and cook, stirring almost constantly, 3 minutes.
- Stir in the drained lentils, the reserved lentil cooking water, and the chiles. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium and simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, until the lentils are reduced to a thick, soft puree, 15 to 20 minutes. Season to taste with pepper and additional salt if desired, and stir in the spinach. Stir until the spinach wilts, and you’re ready to serve.
- If the mixture seems a little thin, cover and let rest off the heat to thicken slightly before serving, about 10 minutes.