Monday, July 9, 2012

Ethiopian Red Lentil Stew and Niter Kibbeh

Normally I avoid multi-step recipes. If I see something that starts off with, "First roast the peppers in the oven and then transfer them to a paper bag..." I stop right there. However, this is one recipe that is completely worth taking the extra time for. All of the East African recipes I tried from cook books ended up tasting bland, nothing like the Ethiopian food I used to get in Chicago. Then I discovered Niter Kibbeh and Beriberi (both of which there are multiple ways to spell). The flavors you can create with those two ingredients, besides smelling like heaven when you cook, will make your eyes roll back in your head with pure mouth pleasure. I try to avoid hyperbole, so when I say this I mean that my eyes do roll back in my head when I eat this stew.

Amazingly there is a "Hindi Store" in Mankato, the small southern Minnesota town in which I currently reside. I don't know why it's called "Hindi Store" because as far as I can tell there's no relation to anything Hindi or Indian except for maybe some of the spices and lentils sold there. In fact, there are two Hindi Stores in Mankato, the original Hindi Store moved to a new location. A kindly gentleman took over the old location and never changed the name, perhaps hoping to retain some of the first Hindi Store's customers? In any case, both Hindi Stores in Mankato sell a beriberi mix and injera bread, which is a highly recommended (if not required) accompaniment to this recipe. I made my own beriberi mix once and it tasted the same as the store bought mixture so now I just purchase it. If you can't find beriberi in your town, just google it and pick a recipe. It's mainly a mixture of cayenne, paprika, fenugreek, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, corriander and other spices. It was quite easy to mix.

Below I'm going to give you my version of niter kibbeh, which is a heavenly spiced butter. I'm giving you my version because it's vegan and because I've experimented a few times and found a good balance. Then I will give the recipe for the stew. Once you make the niter kibbeh and make or buy the beriberi you can make this stew several times over. So really it's only a lot of work the first time and then it's very simple to make the stew once you have the spice & butter ready. The niter kibbeh can be refrigerated for several months or frozen for up to 6 months. I should add that the original niter kibbeh would be made by clarifying butter with spices. This recipe is not clarified butter because it's vegan. You could also experiment using olive oil.

Niter Kibbeh

1 lb. Earth Balance Buttery Spread, diced into chunks
1/4 c. minced shallots, about 3
1" knob of ginger, peeled & grated
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
4-5 cardamom seeds, crushed with the handle of your knife
3/4 tsp. turmeric
3 whole cloves
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. crushed fenugreek seeds
1 tsp. dried oregano

1) Melt the "butter" in a sauce pan and add the remaining ingredients. Stir to mix.

2) Let it simmer vigorously, but not boil, for about 15-20 minutes while stirring very frequently.

3) Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a glass or ceramic container. As you let the mixture cool stir it once in a while to make sure all of the spice doesn't sink to the bottom.

4) Once it starts to harden a bit, move it to the fridge and try to stir it a couple more times before it's completely hardened.

Once you've got your beriberi and your niter kibbeh, you're ready to cook:

Ethiopian Red Lentil Stew

1/4 c. niter kibbeh
1 white or yellow onion, diced
1 large unpeeled potato, 1/2" dice
1 1/2 c. red lentils, sorted and rinsed
2 3/4 c. water or vegetable broth to start, more as needed
1-2 Tbsp. beriberi (depending on how spicy you want it, I like it HOT)
1 Tbsp. sweet Hungarian paprika
1 tsp. sea salt
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

1) Melt the niter kibbeh in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until soft, about 7 minutes.

2) Add the diced potato, beriberi, paprika and salt and toss to coat the vegetables with the spices. Then add the rinsed lentils and stir to incorporate.

3) Add 2 3/4 c. water or broth and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let it simmer for 10 minutes, adding more broth or water if it starts to dry out. Make sure to stir the stew frequently throughout the cooking process because red lentils love to stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.

4) Add the crushed tomatoes and simmer for 15 more minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary.

This is excellent served over brown rice and even better with injera bread.

Serves 6-8

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