Someone asked me the other day if I was a good cook. I had no idea how to answer. I can cook. I know how to follow a recipe, and I’m good at cooking the ones I’ve made more than once. I am adept at anything that doesn’t require advanced technique: soups, stews, sauces, rudimentary baking. For instance, I could make you a chocolate-hazelnut brioche cake, or oatmeal-breaded chicken with peaches, or pasta with white wine butter sauce and zucchini, but I couldn’t grill you a steak. Roasting is not in my repertoire, let alone making a roux, butchering a pig, or decorating a wedding cake. I think the things that I make taste good, but am I a good cook? Hard to say. So take the following in the spirit that it’s intended, a pair of recipes that are easy to make (because if I can do it, trust me, so can you!) and that are crazy delicious.
1. Mesir Wat – Spicy Ethiopian Red Lentil Stew
On my first trip to Berlin, my friend A. and her then-boyfriend, now-husband C. introduced me to the wonders of Ethiopian food. Traditionally, a few heaping spoonfuls of a variety of stews and salads are scooped onto a platter of injera bread for everyone to share. These can range from milder spinach and onions, to hearty carrot, cabbage, and potato stew, to meats in spicy sauces and, of course, tons of different lentil dishes. If there’s one in your neighborhood, definitely give it a try on your next night out!
When one of my vegetarian friends was coming over for dinner, I wanted to surprise her with something new that we both loved: Ethiopian food. (I might not know advanced techniques, but I can be absurdly ambitious in the kitchen.) That’s how I found this ridiculously easy and low-cal recipe. I usually serve it over basmati rice, since bread-making is beyond my list of culinary abilities (see above). It’s so good I usually make a double batch and eat it for the whole week. I found it on the Cooking Light web site and it’s by Domenica Marchetti.
.2 teaspoons canola oil
2 cups chopped red onion
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 tablespoons Berbere spice blend
3 cups organic vegetable broth
1 cup dried small red lentils
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion to pan; cook 15 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add ginger and garlic; cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in tomato paste and Berbere spice; cook 1 minute, stirring to combine. Gradually add broth, stirring with a whisk until blended. Increase heat to medium-high; bring to a simmer.
2. Rinse lentils in cold water; drain. Add lentils to broth mixture; simmer, partially covered, 35 minutes or until lentils are tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in salt. Sprinkle with cilantro; serve over basmati rice.
Selina’s note: I always omit the salt since the vegetable broth has enough and the spices are strong. Don’t skimp on the cilantro at the end, because it makes the dish! And it’s even better as leftovers.