Berbere Spice Basics

Course: Main Dish

Cooking with Co-Op Basics: African Spiced Lentils & Greens

Serves 4

Gluten Free, Vegan

Berbere Spice is used in many traditional Ethiopian dishes and recipes can vary. I relied on paprika rather than chiles de arbol, which are usually used.

Berbere Spice is used in many traditional Ethiopian dishes and recipes can vary. I relied on paprika rather than chiles de arbol, which are usually used.

Starting in November 2017 the East Side Table project began partnering with Mississippi Market for their Cooking with Co-Op Basics classes. Each recipe is an adaptation of a recipe used in the East Side Table meal delivery kits by Local Crate.

The challenge is to stay true to the heart and culture of the recipe while remaining in the $10-ish range to feed a family of four. This recipe was used for the January 2018 class and is adapted from this Local Crate recipe: Red Lentils & Greens with Toasted Almonds and Brown Rice. The best version of this recipe comes from it's original creator, Nessib Negusse who is a caterer at Kitchen On The Bluff.

Berbere Spice Blend Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons fenugreek seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 2-3 cardamom pods
  • 1 Tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 3 Tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 1 Tablespoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Entree Ingredients: $9.40 (with full Berber Spice Recipe: $10.64)

  • 1/3 cup Olive Oil* $1.00
  • .66lb (3/4 cups) Long Grain Brown rice* $1.05
  • 5 oz Red lentils (3/4 cup dry)* $.80
  • 2 Tbsp. Berbere Spices* $1.26
  • 2 Tsp Granulated Garlic* $.20
  • 1 Tsp Ground Ginger* $.20
  • 1 Small Yellow Onion (6-8oz) $.90
  • 2 1/2 cups Water
  • 1/2 Bag Sno-Pac Spinach $1.50*
  • 2 oz Whole Almonds* $1.24
  • 1 Lemon $1.25

*Denotes Co-op Basics or bulk item


  1. Prepare your spice blend:

    • Set a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fenugreek, coriander, peppercorns, and cardamom pods. Toast the spices, moving the skillet around the burner constantly, until the smells are released, 3 to 5 minutes. (Older spices are drier and take less time)

    • Let the toasted spices cool. Add them to a clean spice grinder, along with the chili flakes, and grind fine. You can do this in several batches in a mortar & pestle if preferred. Add 10 minutes for hand-crushing.

    • Pour the ground spices into a jar. Add in the smoked paprika, paprika, dried basil, ginger, and cinnamon and shake or stir to combine. This will keep in an airtight container for 3 months.

  2. Place spinach in bowl to thaw partially. Dice onion and set aside.

  3. While preparing lentils, cook your rice: Bring a 2-quart pot of water to a boil. Salt the water generously and add the rice. Reduce the heat to a simmer for about 25 to 30 minutes. Drain the rice in a fine sieve or colander and return to pot to stay warm if it finishes before your lentils.

  4. Heat half your oil over medium heat in a large frying pan or saucepan (you want a lot of surface area so the bigger the better). Add onion and saute for 4-5 minutes or until it starts to soften. Add your spice blend and lentils. Sautee for 2 minutes, stirring often to prevent spices burning onto bottom of pan.

  5. Add water. Stir to remove any seasoning from bottom of pan. Cover and reduce heat to a very low simmer (only a few bubbles).

  6. Cook the lentil mixture 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, check on your rice and zest and juice your lemon. Zest is best used frozen in tablespoon portions for future recipes.

  7. Squeeze excess water out of your spinach. Heat remaining oil in your almond pan over medium heat and saute spinach with a pinch of salt, dried garlic and ginger for 3-4 minutes. When lentils are cooked, add spinach, salt to taste and juice of lemon.

  8. Use your spinach pan to toast your almonds over low heat, constantly shaking the pan to prevent burning. They should deepen in color but will become very hot so use caution when tasting. Set aside to cool.

  9. Serve with rice, topped with almonds and a sprinkle of lemon zest or lemon pepper salt if desired.

Notes & Variations:

    • To make your lemon pepper salt: 1-2 Tablespoons Fresh Citrus Zest, 1 Tbsp Kosher Salt, 1/2 Tbsp Black Pepper, & 1/4 Tsp Garlic Powder/Granules. Mix in a small bag or jar and shake thoroughly. Keep the mixture in your fridge for best results.
      • Other uses for berbere spice include sprinkling on fruit, roasting with vegetables, using on blackened meats or fish, or for a different take on guacamole or for a deeply flavored vinaigrette or marinade.