It is 2020 and yet Africa is referenced as a country by many, poverty is the first thing that comes to mind and corruption hits a high note. Malnourished children, half naked people with sad eyes and flies buzzing around them. This is the constant image that has been fed into many televisions and such impressions have remained strong. When asked about vacation plans (prior to COVID) I'd hear of adventurous trips to Europe and some parts of Asia and the Americas but rarely, if ever, to any African country.
Africa to this date seems to be this mysterious continent almost always overlooked and undermined. Named the dark continent not only for the color of its people but the stain of post colonial wars, unrest, famine and drought. Even today as news floods in even as far as New Zealand about COVID, unless specifically searched for no one is reporting about the countries in Africa. I'll go ahead and admit my frustration and perhaps sadness that the continent I once called home isn't being seen as I've seen it. No doubt as all countries, African countries have their fair share of issues and problems. There is massive, blatant corruption and poverty. I'm not denying the existence of these maladies but we aren't discussing the rich cultures, the incredibly friendly people, the insane amount of languages spoken, where the origins of the human race began and of course, the food!
There is so much to say about Africa but today I wanted to highlight a specific country in Africa: Ethiopia. A country found on the Horn of Africa, on the east and completely land locked. If you walk away with ANY knowledge from reading this post let it be that Ethiopia is where the coffee bean originated (think of that when you're having your morning cuppa Joe). Being landlocked their diets predominantly consists of vegetables, lentils and meats served on top of a fermented millet bread called Injera. Meals are shared with family and friends hence is served on communal platters.
What fascinated me the most and won my heart (and stomach) over is their use of spices (no surprises there!). While I've had Ethiopian food in Kenya, it wasn't until on a date night dinner in Florida that my love for the cuisine really blossomed. I just couldn't stop eating. The different stews, meats and lentils like colored jewels filled the platter. Each bite was a different flavor, texture and spice. I was so enamored I've been back several times taking friends with me in hopes of exciting their palates as mine have been.
It was fated I make a Berbere spice blend. I mean how else was I going to get my Ethiopian food fix? This blend is everything from earthy, bitter, sweet and savory. The king of all blends coming out of Ethiopia. It is so highly versatile it can be used in it's traditional way in stews and meats or you can experiment with it. Constantly trying ways to incorporate different flavors into our world we use it liberally. It has made simple scrambled eggs into a meal, hummus into a treat and humble soups into real show stoppers.
Here I made a simple easy Berbere spiced lentil-almond dip which is deceivingly good. It is perfect as a dip, spread or even as a salad dressing. The red lentils can be substituted for other lentils, chickpeas or even beans. Personally I prefer to work with dry lentils (rehydrating accordingly) but if canned are an easier option then drain the liquid they come in and give them a quick rinse off.
Berbere Spiced Lentil Dip
makes approximately 2 cups
1/2 cup red lentils (soaked overnight and cooked*) or 1 can lentils (drained)
1/2 cup almonds, soaked for at least 2 hours or overnight (optional skins taken off*)
3 tablespoons avocado oil
1/2 red onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon One Good Knife Berbere Spice Blend
1/2-3/4 cups water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
In a saute pan on medium heat, add the avocado oil. Once heated add the onions. Saute till soft and translucent.
Add in the garlic and saute for 30 seconds.
Sprinkle with One Good Knife Berbere Spice Blend
Add in the lentils and salt. Mix all ingredients together till combined.
Take off the heat and let cool.
In a blender, puree the lentil mix with almonds, lemon juice and water.
Puree till smooth.
Serve with pita chips, crudités or crackers.
*If you're starting with dry lentils soak them in ample amounts of water overnight. Change the water at least twice during the soak time. This helps rid of anti-nutrients found on the skins of most lentils and beans.
*after soaking almonds the skins slip right off when squeezed