How to Make Ethiopian Lentil Stew + Shabbat with Joan Nathan

February 9, 2014

One of the great things about being Jewish is Jewish geography. If you are Jewish, you know exactly what I’m talking about. For the unfamiliar, I will explain.

Whenever Jews meet each other in social settings and ask where the other person is from, they begin to play a game called Jewish geography. It is essentially a game of who’s who, to see if you might have mutual friends. It’s like prehistoric Facebook. Except its much much better.


Shabbat, Joan Nathan, Jewish Geography

“Oh! You know Shelly Weissberg? She and I went to camp together! Oh you were college roommates? That’s crazy!” -game of Jewish geography.

Jewish geography gets even better (did you think it possible?) when Jewish celebrities get involved. Case in point: Joan Nathan- America’s Jewish mother.

Joan Nathan

Joan Nathan popularized Jewish cooking before most of you even knew what bagel and lox meant or for that matter knishes and kugels! You see, Joan is the mother of American Jewish cooking, and last weekend, by some crazy work of the Gods (or perhaps a game of Jewish geography?) I was having Shabbat dinner with this urban Jewish legend.

It all started at Hazon, the Jewish Food Conference in Connecticut. You all know about Hazon, because I write about it quite a lot it seems! Joan did a cooking demo during the conference on cooking eggplants (swoon) and one of my fellow fellows shmoozed it up enough and convinced her that having Shabbat dinner with our ragtag bunch would be the Friday night of a lifetime.

And it was.

Seven Jews. One Ethiopian Feast


We were all told to come up with an Ethiopian dish, as Joan’s latest cookbook is about Jewish food from around the world. Did you know there is an ancient Jewish tribe living in Ethiopia? It’s true. In fact, one of them is a fellow with me! While most of the Ethiopian Jews now live in Israel, their cooking traditions are still very much in tact.

Avi, a fellow fellow from Ethiopia, shared stories of his childhood, the foods his family ate and why food on Shabbat was always cold (no heating on shabbat!) The rest of us listened, and ate. A lot.


I found this recipe from Savuer, and only slightly adapted it, and by adapted I mean I didn’t have some of the ingredients so I just cut them out. Very professional over here, I know. In any case, this stew turned out to be bomb. So good- that I think I am now an honorary Ethiopian Jew in some circles. Not really.


If you want to mix it up and try a new recipe with your tired old lentils, then try this recipe. I promise you’ll be satisfied. And don’t worry about the spice factor- its almost non existent. Let me know how it goes, this was definitely a step out of my comfort zone!


Joan- thank you again for sharing this meal with us, it was such a pleasure getting to share a Shabbat meal with you, and hope to see you again soon in San Diego!

Ethiopian Lentil Stew Recipe

Ethiopian Lentil Stew

SERVES 4 – 6


  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. Ethiopian Spice Mix (berbere)
  • 1 handful cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Kosher salt, to taste

Spice Mix

I ended up using a lot of already ground spices- use what you got, it’s not a big deal. 

  • 2 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp. fenugreek seeds
  • 1⁄2 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 6 white cardamom pods
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 5 dried chiles de árbol, stemmed, seeded,
  •    and broken into small pieces
  • 3 tbsp. paprika
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1⁄2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1⁄2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon

In a small skillet, combine coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, black peppercorns, , cardamom pods, and cloves. Toast spices over medium heat, swirling skillet constantly, until fragrant, about 4 minutes.

Let cool slightly; transfer to a spice grinder and grind until fine. Add chiles, and grind with the other spices until fine.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in paprika, salt, nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon. Store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

Red Lentil Stew, Ethiopian

For the stew:

Rinse the lentils in a sieve under cold running water and set aside.

Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the reserved lentils, 1 tbsp. of the berbere, tomatoes, and 4 cups water to the saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick and the lentils are tender, 45–50 minutes. Stir in the remaining berbere and season generously with salt. Serve immediately.

*Images from Shabbat dinner courtesy of Tzvia Adler- thanks Tzvia!