I love lentils and lentil soup, but after a while I get tired of the same old-same old and know it’s time to mix it up.
What better way to perk up lentils than to bring in the flavors of Ethiopia, one of the world’s most ancient cuisines?
Butter made better
This Spicy Ethiopian Lentil soup’s base flavor begins with a spiced clarified butter called Niter Kibbeh. You can purchase Niter Kibbeh online or at an African grocery, but it’s more fun and satisfying to make your own. This gorgeous, golden-yellow elixir is deliciously aromatic and seductive. I couldn’t help taking the lid off the jar and passing it back and forth with my wife, each of us inhaling deeply as if the Niter Kibbeh were some fresh blossom of spring. There is clarified butter and then there is Niter Kibbeh. It is amazing.
But what about the spicy?
What gives this soup its kick is the use of Berbere (pronounced bear-bear-EH). Berbere is a signature spice mix of Ethiopia with a rich, reddish color. It consists of numerous spices including allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, ginger, nutmeg, paprika, black pepper and cayenne pepper. The latter is usually the primary ingredient, which gives Berbere its fiery character.
This Berbere recipe from Chef Marcus Samuelsson is a very good one. Otherwise, you can purchase a ready-to-go Berbere spice mix online.
Let’s begin with the Niter Kibbeh!
- 1 pound unsalted butter
- 1 cup onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2-inch piece ginger, minced
- 2-inch cinnamon stick
- 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
- 3 cloves, whole
- 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- Cut the butter into 1-inch pieces and place in a medium saucepan
- Melt the butter over medium heat
- When the butter is foamy white on top, add the remaining ingredients and mix well
- Turn the heat down to low and let the mixture simmer untouched for about 45 minutes
- Eventually, the solids will collect on the bottom of the saucepan
- Line a colander with four folds of wet cheesecloth and pour the mixture through it into a heat-proof bowl or saucepan
- The liquid should be clear and free of any solids. If not, pour through cheesecloth again.
- Discard the solids and cheesecloth
- Allow the liquid to cool; then transfer to a clean jar – you will get about 2 cups of Niter Kibbeh
- When refrigerated, the Niter Kebbeh will become solid and is good for about 3 months
Now, onto the Spicy Ethiopian Lentil Soup!
- 1 cup lentils, rinsed thoroughly in cold water
- ¼ cup Niter Kibbeh
- 1 small onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon Berbere
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 quart chicken stock
- ½ cup tomato paste
- 15-ounce canned tomatoes, diced
- ½ teaspoon Himalayan Pink salt
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Melt the Niter Kibbeh over medium heat
- Stir in the onions and cook 4 minutes
- Add garlic, Berbere, cumin, paprika and cook 1 minute
- Mix in the lentils and stir to coat with the onion-spice mixture
- Pour in the stock and bring to a boil
- Reduce heat and simmer uncovered 30 to 40 minutes, until lentils are cooked
- Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and let simmer another 10 minutes
- Season with salt and pepper
- Top with a spoonful or two of thick plain yogurt
Looking for the perfect pot to cook up your next batch of soup? I recommend the Lodge Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven. It comes in 11 different colors and is an excellent value for the price.