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No Bugs Were Harmed May 4, 2010

Posted by Toy Lady in random stuff.
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Do you remember, as a kid, being told that you needed to eat your dinner because there were starving children in China?  Yeah, me too.  And I never understood how my eating all the onions and mushrooms that I’d picked out of my dinner would affect those poor Chinese kids.  Then, sometime between my childhood and Surly Boy‘s, all the hungry kids apparently moved to Ethiopia, and they were why he needed to clean his plate.

I can remember the Sally Struthers commercials and the National Geographic pictures of those starving people, with, literally, nothing to eat but a handful of grain (on a good day) and, if they were lucky, maybe a bug or two.  I’ve just always kept that picture in my mind – maybe the Boy’s cleaning his plate wouldn’t help those kids, but it just seemed to make wasting food almost obscene, you know?

Then we received this month’s Cooking Light magazine, with its article highlighting Washington, D.C.’s ethnic restaurant scene, including Ethiopian cuisine.

I didn’t even know there was such a thing as Ethiopian cuisine.


So, given our commitment to ourselves to cook out of the magazines that we spend our hard-earned money for, we thought that an Ethiopian lentil stew would make a fine dinner one night last week.

Except it called for a spice blend that, not only did we not have in our (ridiculously) extensive spice cabinet, we’d never even heard of.

Berbere spice?

So we asked The Internet, where we found a variety of answers, as is wont to happen.

Toast the spices then grind them.

Don’t toast the spices.

Just toss them together, then grind.

Use cayenne.  Or no cayenne, but New Mexico chiles.

But they all had one thing in common – the one spice we didn’t have in our cabinet.

PhotobucketFenugreek.  I’m not even certain what that is, but I dutifully went to Tadco and picked up a small packet of ground fenugreek, and we mixed up the blend.

Wow.  There’s a LOT of cayenne pepper in this stuff!

From there, it was simply a matter of assembling the ingredients, and starting.


We sauteed about 3 chopped onions (2 cups) until they were tender, about 10- 15 minutes.

Then we added 2 frozen cubes (a couple of tablespoons) of grated ginger and several (3 or 4) cloves of minced garlic and continued cooking 5 minutes or so.


Add 3 tablespoons (or another couple of frozen ice cubes) of tomato paste and a tablespoon and a half of our newly-minted Berbere spice blend — heaping, since we have a jar full of the stuff!*

Stir that in, and keep your face well away from it – most of those spices are fat-soluble, which means, if you stick your nose down in there, you’ll get a snoot-full!

Cook that up for a minute or so, to give those spices a chance to really bloom.


Now the directions called for 3 cups of organic vegetable broth, and I’m sure that would be just fine.  But as it happened, we had a pint plus a little more of homemade chicken stock, so that’s what we used.

Not very Ethiopian, I’ll give you that.  But you use what you’ve got that needs to be used up, which is the point of stew, right?


Now, once we whisked the broth in, we brought it up to a boil, then added 1 cup of rinsed red lentils.

You know, I happened to see those one day in Wegmans (or maybe it was Tops, I don’t even remember) under the Goya label, and, since we’d never had them, and they were cheap (a buck and a half, maybe, for a pound), well, why not have them on hand, right?

After all, you never know when you’re going to run across an Ethiopian recipe that calls for red lentils, am I right?


From there, it’s a simple matter of letting the mixture simmer, mostly covered, until the lentils are tender, about half an hour.

And here’s the cool thing – this stew doesn’t even need to set in the fridge overnight to achieve its full flavorful goodness.

It’s great right out of the pot.


But here’s the other thing.

The main seasoning for this – the Berbere spice blend, is very spicy.

You would be well served to, while the lentils are simmering, start a batch of rice to serve with them.

You’ll thank me later.

The original recipe is here – if you try it, let me know what you think.


1. anne - May 4, 2010

I’d be interested in trying this. We love lentils, and being veggie and all, anything new is, well, new. DH eats things explosively hot, so he’d probably think it has a nice tingle, while I was going straight for the sour cream.

I thought fenugreek had a horrific odor to it. Maybe I’m thinking of something else obscure …

That sounds about right – Peeps loved it straight up, while I was stirring more rice into it. . .

I still don’t know what I think of the fenugreek. It sort of smelled like an Indian restaurant, with kind of maple-ish undertones. Weird, huh?

Anyway. . . I’ll hook you up with the spice blend – heaven knows I’ve got enough, now, to share with the entire neighborhood. 😯

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