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I love Ethiopian food.  It has spice and lamb and vegetables and injera, all things that make me happy.  You get to eat with your fingers from a communal bowl!  What could be more fun than that?  I first ate Ethiopian food about a year ago with my friend C and his lovely wife; they were visiting from Maine to check out some Seattle neighborhoods, thinking they might like to live here.  (They ended up in CA, but hey, at least we’re on the same coast!)  On C’s recommendation, we looked for an Ethiopian restaurant and ended up at Habesha (the same place I took my sister).  That meal was like a foodie advent calendar to me: each bite had a different texture or nuance of flavor and it was all exciting and new.  I went to World Spice the very next day and bought some berbere so I could make Ethiopian dishes at home, but somehow never got much farther than sprinkling it on sweet potatoes before roasting them, or adding it to ketchup for dipping roasted potatoes.  Both uses are very tasty, but not very creative, and hardly Ethiopian.

I have been researching recipes like a champ, though, and blame some of my failure to try/lack of creativity on the relative absence of published Ethiopian recipes.  I am absolutely willing to say that I am not looking in the right places, or haven’t found the right cookbook(s), but other than a few examples of kik alicha (a split pea dish), injera (flat bread made with teff flour) or gomen (collards), I am not having much luck in my search for authentic dishes.  I find many versions of “I put berbere in this, so it’s Ethiopian”, if you know what I mean.  Even so, I was elated to open my new issue of Eating Well and find a recipe for Ethiopian-Spiced Chicken Stew… for a slow cooker!  The clouds parted, etc.  At first glance, I thought it was doro wot, because of the chicken, berbere, red wine and assorted flavorings.  We have a new tradition on New Year’s Eve of having an international-themed potluck with our friends and I had declared that my dish would come from either Ethiopia or India.  It was a perfectly-timed discovery.

Now that I have tasted the stew, I know it is not doro wot– it was not as deeply red-flavored (which probably doesn’t make any sense if you haven’t had it, but I don’t know how else to describe the classic mix of paprika and berbere), doesn’t have any hard-boiled egg and is mellowed by the red lentils.  Nevertheless, I have a new dish to add to my winter repertoire.  I loved the way this came out.  I served it over steamed rice with some yogurt cheese on the side and it is still tasty four days later.  (I had some today for lunch.)  Just the smell makes you wish for a deep bowl, a big spoon and a cozy armchair.  My husband loves it and it was received well by our friends.  I may not have found my doro wot recipe, but I did discover a keeper.

Ethiopian-style Chicken Stew with Red Lentils

  • 1 1/2 c. red lentils, rinsed thoroughly
  • 2 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs (I used Smart Chicken)
  • 1 T. butter
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 4 c. chopped red onions (about 3 medium)
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 T. fresh ginger, minced
  • 5 T. berbere*
  • 1/2 c. dry red wine
  • 1 14 oz. can (or equivalent) diced tomatoes
  • 2 c. chicken broth
  • 2 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 T. kosher salt

Spread rinsed lentils in the bottom of a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker and place chicken pieces on top of the lentils.

In a large skillet, heat butter and oil over medium-high heat.  Add onions and cook, stirring often, until soft (4-6 mins.).  Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, stirring often, 1-2 mins.  Add berbere and cook, continuing to stir, 2-4 mins.  Add wine; use a wooden spoon to scrape cooked bits from the bottom of the skillet. Add tomatoes and their juice.

Pour the onion mixture over the chicken and lentils in the slow cooker; add broth.  Cook until the chicken is tender and falling apart, 5 hours on High or 7-8 hours on Low.  Add lemon juice and salt; stir to combine the stew.  Serve with rice or injera.

*Berbere is available from World Spice and in some grocery stores and specialty markets.  I saw it at Central Market in December.