Ethiopian Lentils

February 2, 2017

If there's one thing we are known for in the Emergency Department I work at, it's our potlucks.  Sure, we can bring people back from death, deliver babies in the parking lot, and see 170 patients out of 2 rooms, but the potluck is where we get our true street cred (and that's a big deal in our 'hood). 

Whenever we deem necessary a celebration (babies, birthdays, football games, holidays...), a blank white sheet of paper goes up on the door, and you either sign up to bring something amazing, or you get signed up.




There's always a person or two notorious for volunteering to bring plates. (That gets crossed right out and a food item written in). 


But here is what make our potlucks great.  



ER staff know how to eat, and ER staff know how to cook.


We've got Carmela, she's Italian, and brings Pasta Fagioli- the pot is empty before breakfast.  


Anna, she's Russian, and you want her to bring one of her cakes.  


MJ, well, she doesn't cook, but she brings huge trays of Pancit and Lumpia from the Filipino restaurant.  


Shelly almost always brings amazing smoked meat; 


Heather, a trained chef, brings cheesecake, or tortellini soup, or pork verde, or... the list goes on and on.  





The only thing that can sorta-kinda get you off the cooking hook is if the potluck falls on day 4 of your 4th 12 hour shift.  Then you may bring plates.  Or soda.  


Or if you're Carol, you bring "fruits." We let her because she's Carol.  Carol also gets to cut to the front of the line when we clock out.

It's just always been that way.  


On super fortunate occasions, our potlucks fall on the weekend, and then Carol cooks.  She's Ethiopian, and no one can make lentils like hers.  


They are to-die-for, and sometimes she sends me home with the leftovers.  


She also brings Injera, very complicated fermented, teff-flour bread of sorts.  It's used for scooping up & sopping up the lentils, and the combo of the sour Injera and spicy lentils is perfect.   For a year now I've been begging Carol to give me the recipe, but she just mumbles something about needing to write the recipe out nicely, and bringing me spices.  


So I was forced to attempt my own Ethiopian lentils.  




They're technically called Mesir Wat, but since mine are a far cry from what they should be, I'm withholding the proper name.  


When Carol gives me her recipe, I'll allow them their title.  In the mean time, this humble lentil dish is tiding me over.  


It's actually really good, and as close to authentic as I could

get with the basic spices in my pantry.  


The Injera I'll leave for another day- and either make the trek to the Ethiopian bakery, or beg Carol for it.  


Funny story?


The potlucks we have in our ER are so notorious we have to station a bouncer at the door.  Well, we would if we could... people from departments 12 floors away get wind that we're eating and stalk our break room.  


But unless we really like you, you don't eat if you don't bring food.  Or at least plates.  


Ethiopian Lentils - serves 4


  • 1 cup red lentils

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 small yellow onion, diced

  • 1 cup diced tomatoes

  • 1 tablespoon jalapeno, minced

  • 4 cups vegetable broth

Spice Mixture

  • 1 teaspoon paprika

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

  • 1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic

  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric

  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 1/8 teaspoon ground coriander

  • pinch ground nutmeg

  • pinch cayenne


  1. Heat the oil in a medium pot. Add the onion and saute for 2-3 minutes. While the onion sautes combine all of the spice mixture ingredients in a small bowl.

  2. Add the spice mixture to the onion and saute for 1 minute.

  3. Add the tomatoes, jalapeno, lentils and broth to the pot. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes , uncovered, stirring occasionally or until lentils are soft and most of the liquid is absorbed.

  4. Season to taste with salt, serve garnished with fresh cilantro.

 Nutrition Info: 230 calories, 5g fat, 34g carbohydrates, 9g fiber, 13g protein, 636mg sodium


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