Ethiopian-Inspired Red Lentil Soup

by on November 20, 2006
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Ethiopian-Inspired Red Lentil Soup

I’ve been busy lately, working on several projects at once and preparing for the holidays, and I haven’t had much time to develop new recipes. So this weekend I decided to adapt an old favorite, Berberé Stew, and turn it into a lentil and vegetable soup. I’m a big fan of “meal in a bowl” type dishes that cover all the bases—vegetable, starch, and protein all-in-one—and this one fits the bill. It’s also quick, another plus in these hurried times.

This Ethiopian lentil soup is very complex and aromatic. It gets its distinctive flavor from an equal amount of 11 different spices so that no one flavor predominates. I keep a jar full of the spice mixture, but if you don’t want to mix up a big batch, just start with 1/8 teaspoon of whichever of the spices you have and add more to taste. Try to keep the measurements equal (except perhaps for the cayenne), so that the flavors balance out.

Berbere (Ethiopian Spice Blend)

Ethiopian-Inspired Red Lentil Soup
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 6
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 pound potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1 + 1/4 cup red lentils (picked over and rinsed)
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons berberé spice mixture, below
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 pound green beans, fresh or frozen, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1-2 cups water
  • salt to taste
  • 3-4 cups fresh spinach
Berberé Spice Mixture (mix all together and store in jar):
  • 1 Tbs. ground cardamom
  • 1 Tbs. ground coriander
  • 1 Tbs. fenugreek
  • 1 Tbs. ground nutmeg
  • 1 Tbs. ground cloves (reduce to 1 tsp. for less “clovey” taste)
  • 1 Tbs. ground allspice
  • 1 Tbs. cinnamon
  • 1 Tbs. paprika
  • 1 Tbs. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. cayenne (use more to taste)
  • 1 Tbs. ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbs. ground sea salt (optional)
  1. Sauté the onion in a non-stick pan until it starts to brown. Add the potatoes, lentils, 3 cups water, garlic, and spice mixture. Simmer, covered, over low heat until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes, green beans, and enough additional water to create a thick soup. Check the seasoning, adding salt and more of the spice mixture if needed, and cook for about 15 more minutes.
  3. Just before serving, stir in the spinach. Serve immediately. Makes 6-8 servings.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 1/6 of recipe Calories: 283 Fat: 1.8g Carbohydrates: 56g Sodium: 208mg Fiber: 13g Protein: 16g


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{ 57 comments… read them below or add one }

1 William November 30, 2009 at 4:54 am

Hi, I must admit I goofed up this recipe big-time. I don't know what I was thinking, but I decided to make a double recipe and made a double spice mix and added ALL 20TB of it to my lentils!! Imagine my panic when I realized and desperately tried to save all the precious ingredients and work by adding more tomatoes, water, and rinsing it to finally make it barely edible! So sad because I was really looking forward to it. Anyway, I wondered if Susan would have tried to salvage it (maybe add some fruit or something to neutralize all the bitter taste) or just thrown the whole thing out and started over?

Just one question for next attempt, do you use ground Fenugreek seeds or Fenugreek leaves?



2 Marie June 28, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Try adding yoghurt. It works wonder for Indian dishes!


3 SusanV November 30, 2009 at 8:40 am

Bill, that's really depressing! The only thing I can think to do would be to make a whole new pot of lentils without any seasoning and use some of what you made to flavor it. You could store your extra-strength mixture in the freezer to use in future batches of soup.

The ground fenugreek I have is made from the seeds. It's the only ground fenugreek I've been able to find.


4 William December 3, 2009 at 9:03 am

Hi, Susan.
Good idea–that did the trick! Sorry I didn't think about before rinsing 2/3 of the spices down the drain.
Speaking of seeds, you wouldn't happen to know the name of the black seed used on top of Arab/Afghan style bread (bread that looks like Foccacio)?


5 vanessa November 29, 2010 at 10:35 am

bill, you are probably thinking of black onion seeds. they are also known as kalonji or nigella seeds.


6 Anonymous December 29, 2009 at 4:40 am

Keep working ,great job!


7 Anonymous January 25, 2010 at 4:16 pm

I love your recipes. I will be visiting your blog often for delicious ideas!


8 Anonymous February 27, 2010 at 12:48 pm

I tried it but looks like something went wrong. I put two much water and its like 10 parts water and 1 part the actual lintel stuff.


9 Amy March 18, 2010 at 12:47 pm

I am going to have to try this! My husband loves red lentils and the spice mixture has a lot of the spices I use in the dal dish I make. BTW I found your blog when I was looking for an eggplant recipe and the Koran Barbecue sauce was a huge hit when I made it!


10 Lisa March 22, 2010 at 11:32 am

This was so tasty! It will be lunch for the next week..The cayenne was a bit overwhelming, but I actually enjoy the kick! The only sub I made was crushing fresh tomatoes instead of canned..


11 caronah March 30, 2010 at 2:25 pm

I made it exactly according to the recipe and it is a very flavorful soup. My husband thought it tasted too much of cloves, though, so I will use much less next time.


12 Jessica July 28, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Are they black sesame seeds? The ones that go on the top of the arab bread?


13 Schedule October 29, 2010 at 8:14 pm

You you could make changes to the page subject title Ethiopian-Inspired Red Lentil Soup | recipe from FatFree Vegan Kitchen to more better for your content you write. I enjoyed the blog post nevertheless.


14 Lilliane January 9, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Just made your Ethiopian Inspired Red Lentil Soup. Had all the ingredients on hand except the fenugreek, so it is missing that. It is delicious! I cut down a little on the spice mixture because this is to feed a painting crew at church tomorrow, and some of them don’t much care for exotic spicy foods. Made a double batch, and used 3 TBS, which made it slightly spicy, but full of a really well balanced and intense flavor. Easy too, once the spice mixture is made, and now I have enough for another batch. My kind of recipe : ) Thank you so very much, love your blog!


15 Get Skinny, Go Vegan. February 28, 2011 at 8:02 pm

YUM!!!!! You need a shopfront!!


16 Tim March 29, 2011 at 8:28 pm

Oh man … this is the best recipe in the history of mankind. I can’t really describe how delicious this is.


17 Amira August 20, 2011 at 7:41 am

I love this soup!


18 mzen October 2, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Fantastic! Best lentil dish ever.


19 gfveg October 17, 2011 at 7:04 pm

i love the idea of equal amounts of all these spices. and i love teff too, so i’ll probably end of trying the injera. what a find!! thanks!


20 Wendy Peffercorn November 4, 2011 at 1:06 pm

This looks amazing, I can’t wait to try it. Could you add a “print” button to this page? Thanks!


21 Susan Voisin November 4, 2011 at 1:24 pm

I’ve just added it. Thanks for mentioning it! This is one of my favorite recipes and I didn’t realize there wasn’t a print option.


22 Wendy Peffercorn November 5, 2011 at 11:01 am

Thanks so much! I’m making it today and can’t wait. I’ll let you know how it goes!


23 Robert November 5, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Thank you! I remember reading your post a while back so I dutifully printed off the recipe and made this today. I could not get spinach or green beans so added a bag of mixed frozen vegetables instead. My family (who are normally cautious of anything to rich in spices) loved it! It is now on the meal rotation list.

The only thing I would say is that the cinnamon does come through rather strongly, so when I next blend up the spices I will reduce the cinnamon to maybe 2/3 tablespoon.


24 Wendy Peffercorn November 11, 2011 at 3:48 pm

I really enjoyed this! I replaced some of the potato with sweet potato, which gave it a nice sweetness. I cut the clove down by half in the spice blend, but it still came through really strongly. I think I would cut it back even more in the future. This was a comforting, warm, meal in a bowl and I will definitely make it again, especially now that I have a jar of the berbere spice mixture!


25 Amy November 26, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Thanks for this great recipe! I modified it a little based on what I had on hand and thought I’d share:
subbed sweet potatoes for potatoes
subbed collards for spinach
reduced tomatoes by half
reduced berbere to 1 T and added in 2 T peanutbutter
Served over a bit of red quinoa
Terrific! (Btw, I also LOVED the Ethiopian Pumpkin Soup recipe & so did my guests)


26 Liz January 4, 2012 at 12:10 pm

I made this recipe yesterday and it turned out great! I used 3 Tsp on the spice mix, as I like this very flavorful and spicy. At first, the dish tasted a little bitter so I added some agave nectar, which sweetened it up just enough.

Had tons of leftovers, which is great for work lunches. I’m eating it for lunch right now!


27 Lysa February 1, 2012 at 1:21 am

I just made this soup, It is SOOO GOOD!!! I must admit I was a bit lazy and just went to the local ethiopian store and got pre mixed berber.
I used 3-4 TBP cause I love spicy, and I have a ton of left overs. I love it.Thank you:)


28 Joan November 2, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Susan – I made this soup a few nights ago and it became a favourite instantly. I used a light hand when first adding the Berbere′ spice mixture but ended up adding <3T (plus more cayenne). It was fantastic! And the leftovers morphed into delicious variations over the next few days. Your website has been my go-to for new ideas since I discovered you . And there's always something that tweaks my interest. TUVM for the time and creativity you spend on this website. It's very much appreciated from this WFPS wet-coaster. ….. " diabetes is not a deficiency of metformin" ….


29 Barb December 12, 2012 at 7:03 pm

This is a great dish. The only warning I have is that the spices are very strong & the dish turned out bitter from the turmeric. I am adding more water and lentils as I write this hoping I didn’t botch dinner and a whole pot of soup. I wish I started out with half of the spices and added as a needed


30 Yehudit January 11, 2013 at 9:55 am

I just made this recipe. I found that I needed to add quite a bit more water than the initial first three cups. The spice mix smells wonderful as it cooked and it tastes great now. I haven’t yet added the spinach yet but will add it for each portion as I eat it. It has a nice spicy bite to it.


31 Kylie January 14, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Just made this tonight and it was fantastic. Perfect dish to warm you up!


32 Perry January 17, 2013 at 1:20 am


Does the nutritional information include the optional salt in the berbere mix? I’m on a low sodium diet, and I’m using some berbere mix that I bought at an ethiopian grocery in Portland. I’ve tasted it and it does have some salt in it, I imagine the same amount in your mix (it’s slightly salty, but not at all overpowering).



33 Lilah January 28, 2013 at 10:33 pm

This was sooo gooood! Definitely saving the recipe. Thank you!!


34 Filio June 10, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Susan!!!! You outdid yourself with this one. I love spicy foods, and these spices were a combination I hadn’t tried before. Everyone, including some very picky family members, absolutely loved this. Fantastic flavors, filling and non-fat! What more could a girl hope for? 🙂
Thank you again for all the goodies you post!


35 Katie Rose August 1, 2013 at 8:18 pm

Such a wonderful recipe, Susan! I deviated a bit from your berbere spice mix, as I have a favorite berbere recipe I use, but otherwise stuck to your recommendations. A phenomenal, delicious, healthy meal. I served it with brown basmati rice. I have been vegan for five years now and I regularly cook from your blog because every recipe is a winner.


36 Kelly September 23, 2013 at 7:34 pm

Does using frozen greens beans cut down the cooking time? I’ve had it on the stove for about 45 minutes and my fresh green beans are not cooking quickly..still very crunchy. Thank you!


37 Susan Voisin September 23, 2013 at 8:31 pm

I’ll bet that frozen beans do cook more quickly, but that seems like a long time!


38 Diane November 22, 2013 at 7:38 am

Did you bring your soup back to the boil after adding the frozen beans, Kelly? Before reducing head again? Otherwise they’ll only ‘thaw’ in the simmering mix… a mistake I learned from … made this yesterday with frozen beans and it was perfect at 45min, might have stopped sooner, took it off the heat when the beans were rignt.

For others:
I also had to add extra water, added 2C while lentils were cooking and then again with the tomatoes (per recipe). I did have whole red lentils though, not split, maybe a difference?

Delicious recipe though, Thanks Susan!


39 Vidhya November 12, 2013 at 4:37 am

Thanks for the delicious recipe. Lentils turn out fantastic in clay pots… have you tried it? In fact i found out that most Ethiopian and Indian cuisine were always made in clay pots , up until recently when we started turning to metals, but there seems to be a big comeback now, because it taste so much better. I’ve always cooked mine in them. I use Miriams Earthen Cookware, earthenware for the stove top and they’re made right here. For those of us who miss the flavor of meat (recent converts), you can experience far superior taste in your vegetables, lentils and beans in clay. I had recently made chickpeas, chole (the Indian version and the flavor of the peas was so deep…

Love your blog, keep inspiring…



40 Sandra November 17, 2013 at 5:43 pm

Thank you for this recipe! Will make it for my vegetarian friends next saturday. They’ll love it. I’m guessing I could use ras el hanout for the Berberé spice mixture? I think it’s about the same…


41 Shellie November 17, 2013 at 6:40 pm

I have an already prepared Berbere’ that I got at Whole Foods. That would be okay to use in place, wouldn’t it? I haven’t compared the ingredients.


42 Susan Voisin November 22, 2013 at 7:42 am

Yes, that would be fine. Just add it to taste because its flavor may be weaker or stronger.


43 Lynne November 13, 2014 at 2:02 pm

This recipe is at the top of my favorites list. I didn’t grow up eating spicy foods but love berberé so much now that I even use more than the recipe calls for. I sit down with my bowl filled with Ethiopian-Inspired Red Lentil Soup, a spoon, and a box of tissues. Sheer heaven…..


44 Chery February 15, 2015 at 1:50 pm

Do u think this can be made in a crockpot or will the lentil cook too fast?


45 Beth March 29, 2015 at 10:45 am

I recently made this for the five billionth time and instead of pre-making the spice blend (or using some from last time), I just dumped a teaspoon of each into the pot. Problem is, I left out the cayenne. Who would have thought that a third of a teaspoon of cayenne was what made this dish amazing?!! It was still good and I still ate it, but was surprised at how much less I enjoyed this without the cayenne. Just wanted to share my experience in case anyone considered leaving it out. I will never forget again! 🙂


46 Werner October 12, 2015 at 12:24 pm

This was a complex taste explosion, so delicious. I used 1 TBS of Berbere and also added 1 tsp minced fresh ginger. Cannot believe how rich and aromatic it turned out. I’ve been a bit of a spice weenie, but getting more adventurous is paying off. No more basic, bland red lentil soup for us!


47 clea November 22, 2015 at 5:43 pm

This looks amazing! Have you tried this in a pressure cooker? Wonder about time.


48 Krista December 5, 2015 at 3:41 pm

Wow, this soup is fantastic–so hearty and spicy!


49 Claus November 30, 2016 at 2:25 pm

About the new format. I use the Android app My Recipes this format doesn’t import well. I have had various success with your other web postings.

Other websites follow a format that My Recipes can import completely, some not.


50 Diane Young November 30, 2016 at 2:33 pm

Nice format!


51 Kathy J November 30, 2016 at 5:24 pm

Recipe looks great! And I love that you have the nutritional info. I can’t wait to make this. By the way, Pensey’s Spices has a great Berbere!


52 Krista December 1, 2016 at 2:08 pm

I love this soup! I have made it many times. It is just what I want when warm, comforting food is in order. I keep this spice mix on hand and ready to go because I love it so much. Thanks so much for the recipe!


53 Jessica Huff December 1, 2016 at 3:39 pm

Can’t wait to try this!


54 Judy Sangillo December 2, 2016 at 10:44 am

The Ethiopian-inspired red lentil soup looks awesome! I intend to make it soon. Just one thing: I think at least one part of the Nutrition Facts is incorrect. The protein content of 16 grams is listed as only 6% DV. I’m not sure what the currect DV would be, but I’m certain it’s much higher than that.
Is it possible to make that correction? Thank you!


55 Susan Voisin December 2, 2016 at 10:53 am

I wish I could remove the DV info completely because I don’t think it’s useful even when it’s supposedly accurate. Unfortunately, it’s part of the software that can’t be adjusted. I will point it out to the developers, though, to see if there’s something they can do. Thanks for letting me know!


56 Gloria @ Homemade & Yummy December 2, 2016 at 12:51 pm

I am trying to leave a comment to see if Cookbook is working properly.


57 pegeleg December 30, 2016 at 6:32 pm

Love the recipe, thanks for all the ingredients. I changed to sweet potato and did not have fenugeek, but I am pretty sure I am not missing a whole lot, cause it is wonderful!


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