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Elisa Batista's picture

Both my husband and I work full-time and we have two small children in the home. My husband and 11-year-old son are vegetarians, which means I have to get creative with what I make for dinner. The meals must be quick due to our time crunch, and at the same time hearty enough for vegetarians and meat eaters alike.

Over the years, I’ve become adept at making Indian and Ethiopian food. There are plenty of vegetarian options in both cuisines, and their rich spices make them savory and hearty. Key to regularly churning out quick – no more than 30-minute meals – is to create base sauces that I then freeze and use as needed for lentils, rice and soup.

Recipe #1: Niter Kibbeh or Ethiopian Spiced Butter (VIDEO and alternative vegan recipe below)


1 pound unsalted butter

1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

1 teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon turmeric

6 black cardamom pods, crushed lightly with a knife blade

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 small yellow onion, chopped


Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in the ginger, allspice, fenugreek, oregano, turmeric, cardamom, garlic and onions and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and use right away or freeze for future use – should last you for months! I use two tablespoons of the spiced butter per one cup of red lentils or one cup of yellow split peas.


Alternative VEGAN Yellow Split Pea Stew:

*Should be able to feed a family of four for two meals. Serve with rice or bread and salad.


2 tablespoons olive oil

½ small onion, small dice

1 garlic clove, small dice

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

½ teaspoon turmeric

1 cup dried yellow split peas (soak for at least a few hours in 3 cups of water)

Sea salt to taste


Boil yellow split peas.

In a medium-sized pot, heat oil. Add the onion and garlic, and cook for a few minutes. Add ginger and turmeric and cook 1 more minute. Add mixture to boiling pot of split peas. Lower heat and cover pot. Cook until peas are soft, usually half hour. Continuously check to make sure that peas have enough water to soften.

Recipe #2: Berbere or Ethiopian Spice Mix (VIDEO below directions)


1/3 cup New Mexico chile powder

1/4 cup paprika

2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (hold if you don’t want it to be spicy!)

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon onion powder

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 teaspoons cardamom seeds

2 teaspoons coriander seeds

2 teaspoons fenugreek seeds

1 teaspoon ground allspice

4 cloves

1 small cinnamon stick


Grind all ingredients in spice grinder, or mix and smash to the best of your ability by hand. My Puerto Rican mom would use a pilon to smash garlic or spices.


Store bebere in a container and pull out when you cook red lentils. Use two tablespoons of bebere mix per one cup of red lentils. Combine with two tablespoons of spiced butter – see recipe above – 1 diced medium onion, 2 teaspoons of grated fresh ginger, 1 diced garlic clove and 1 teaspoon of salt to create the Ethiopian red lentils.


For Indian dal soup, simply combine the red lentils, the bebere mix, and diced potatoes and carrots. Make sure soup is watery. Add salt to taste.

More on How to Eat Ethiopian Food:

Typically, Ethiopian food is eaten with a spongy bread called injera. I usually buy injera from a local Ethiopian restaurant, but it is also available in many ethnic stores and Whole Foods. If unavailable, brown rice is a good substitute as a side dish.


I also make this Ethiopian Simple Salad – really, it’s become my go-to salad for all meals!  Do try it, and let me know what you think:

Ethiopian Simple Salad


Cherry tomatoes

Cucumber, small dice

½ small yellow onion, small dice

½ green bell pepper, small dice

romaine lettuce, cut into ribbons

optional: 1 jalapeño or other hot pepper, small dice


Juice from 1 lemon

Red wine vinegar

Olive oil


Toss ingredients. Mix dressing and into salad so that it is evenly distributed. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper. Yum! 

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