An Ethiopian red lentil stew may not be the first thing that comes to mind for everyone who celebrates Passover. But for Ethiopian Jewish chef Beejhy Barhany of Tsion Cafe, it's a must on the seder table alongside lamb, chicken and at least 20 types of veggies and salads. If you are looking to celebrate the diversity of the Jewish diaspora this year, this easy, nutritious, vegan dish is an excellent way to do that. And if lentils aren't part of your Passover diet or you don't celebrate Passover, that's OK too -- you should still bookmark it and make it any time.
Lentils, an ancient legume and staple of the Ethiopian diet, are an underrated nutrient superfood. A serving of lentils is rich in vitamins and minerals like fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, zinc and potassium, and boasts about as much protein as a steak. Seriously. If you have a meat eater in your life who thinks plant-based meals won't fill them up or provide them with enough protein, lentils are a great way to show them otherwise. Barhany says that her red lentil stew, also known as messer wot, it is so hearty that "you're almost going to feel like you're eating beef."
This traditional Ethiopian dish has layers and layers of flavor, but is easy to make at home. The very first layer of flavor comes from pureed onions, garlic and ginger, which are cooked in onion until lightly brown. Tomato paste, salt and berbere are what really kick this dish into high gear. Berbere is an Ethiopian spice blend consisting of 17 or so spices, including paprika, chili powder, cinnamon and cardamom. If you can't find berbere in your local market, it's easy to purchase berbere online.
After getting your base down, it's time to add the red lentils and let them simmer and soak up all that incredible flavor. At this point, the aroma coming from your kitchen will be straight up intoxicating.
The traditional accompaniment for messer wot is injera, the tangy Ethiopian flatbread, but Barhany says you can serve it with rice or anything else you fancy.
Recipe Courtesy Beejhy Barhany, Tsion Cafe
Step 1: In a food processor, puree the 4 onions onions, 6 cloves garlic and 2 teaspoons fresh ginger until smooth.
Step 2: In large pan, heat 1/2 cup oil and sauté the onion-garlic-ginger in oil; cook until soft, stirring occasionally; about 10-15 minutes.
Step 3: Add 6 ounces tomato paste, ½ cup water, 1/4 cup berbere and 1 teaspoon salt; cook for 15 minutes while stirring; reduce heat.
Step 4: Add 2 cups red lentils to pan; stir and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer the lentils, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes until the lentils are soft. Add water as needed to prevent the lentils from drying up and the pan from scorching (up to 4 cups water total).
Step 5: Add additional salt to taste, if desired. Serve with injera or rice.
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