Berbere Chicken with Ethiopian Lentils

The world turns on our every action, and our every omission, whether we know it or not.
 Cutting for Stone
I have come to the end of a very good book. It’s always a little bittersweet. During the last month, it has been a good companion, taking me to far away lands of Ethiopia, stretching me in the most unexpected ways. It’s called Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese. Beautifully crafted, it’s a deeply felt story about love, loss, and forgiveness, interspersed with nuggets of wisdom.
As a way to celebrate this moving book, I am making one of our favorite Ethiopian dishes tonight,  called Crispy Berbere Chicken over Ethiopian Lentils.  Berbere is an Ethiopian spice mix, made with a combination of spices grown in the region.  It’s similar to curry, in that it’s a blend of spices, but different than curry, in that it is made with different spices.  My favorite way to use Berbere is to use it as a rub for chicken, lamb or tofu, and to flavor lentils or stews.  However you use it, it will transport you to foreign lands.  Flavors are deep and exotic and warming, perfect for the cold of fall and winter.

I think a copy of this book along with some homemade Berbere Spice Mix (see recipe below) would make a really nice gift. It would be especially appropriate for people in the medical profession who like to cook. Just a thought…

It starts with the spices.  You can use pre-ground spices, but using whole seeds will intensify and deepen the flavors of the Berbere.  I use a mix of both. You can purchase Berbere at select stores, but truthfully where we live it’s a challenge to find. In Spokane, it is available at the Kitchen Engine, in the Flour Mill. The good thing is, it’s easy enough to make, and it’s fun.

 This recipe for Crispy Skinned Berbere Chicken with Ethiopian Lentils is hearty and flavorful.  The Berbere spice mix is rubbed all over the chicken thighs, and pan-seared in a skillet and placed in a hot oven to finish. The skin becomes crackly and crispy with flavor,  while the meat remains tender and moist. I often make this with whole roasted chickens as well, and both are so tasty. Over a bed of Ethiopian spiced lentils, it’s filling, healthy and deeply satisfying.
Toast the seeds for a few minutes to bring out their flavor.

Use a mortar and pestle, or even a coffee grinder, to grind the seeds. 
Once the Berbere spice mix is done,  start on the lentils.

When the lentils are simmering, rub chicken thighs on all sides with kosher salt, pepper and Berbere Spice Mix.

Heat a skillet with oil on medium high heat and place thighs skin side down, searing until golden and crispy, about 6-8 minutes. Turn over and sear a few more minutes. Place in a hot oven until internal temp reaches 165F.  Serve over the Ethiopian Lentils and sprinkle with Italian parsley.

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5 from 1 reviews
Berbere Chicken with Ethiopian Lentils
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Ethiopian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
Berbere Chicken with Ethiopian Lentils and a recipe for Berbere Spice mix
  • 1 Cup French Green, Indigo or Beluga Caviar lentils (do not use a split lentil)
  • 3 C water
  • 2 cups diced onions
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T  fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 cup diced carrot
  • 1 cup diced tomato
  • 2-3 T Berbere Spice Mix...see below
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 T olive oil
  • Fresh Italian parsley for garnish
  • 6 chicken thighs ( skin-on)
  • 2-3 T Berbere Spice Mix
  • olive oil
  • Kosher Salt
  • Berbere Spice Mix
  • 3 T sweet paprika
  • 1 T red pepper flakes, ground plus more for extra spicy
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds or powdered cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander seed (or powder)
  • 1 tsp cardamom powder or 1 tsp cardamom seeds (shell off)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds (or powder)
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns or freshly ground peppercorn
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ½ tsp allspice
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F
  2. In a heavy bottom pot, or dutch oven, saute diced onion, carrots, garlic and ginger in 2 T olive oil, until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Add 2-3 Tablespoons Berbere Spice mix and sauté 2-3 minutes. Add 1 cup lentils, 1 cup diced tomatoes, 1 tsp salt and 3 cups water, bring to a boil, cover, turn heat to low and let cook until al dente, about 30 minutes.
  3. Pat Dry Chicken
  4. Salt all sides of chicken with salt and pepper
  5. Generously rub each piece with some Berbere Spice Mix.
  6. Heat 1 T oil in a heavy bottom skillet, on medium high heat, place chicken skin side down and sear until it is crispy and golden, about 6- 8 minutes. Turn over, and turn heat down to medium, searing for 2-3 minutes. Place in a 400 F oven until internal temperature reaches 165F ( 10-15 minutes)
  7. Serve over a bed of the Ethiopian lentils, and garnish with fresh Italian parsley.
  8. Berbere Spice Mix:
  9. If using whole seeds, lightly toast them on the stove top in a skillet for 2-3 minutes.
  10. Grind them using a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle. Remember to crush or grind the chili flakes.
thanks for sharing!
thanks for sharing!


  1. says

    I just finished Cutting for Stone a month or so ago – it’s the first book that has made me cry in years. So wonderful, I’m trying to get everyone I know to read it. And I had the same reaction as you, to crave Ethiopian food! This looks comforting and delicious.

  2. says

    I could not put Cutting for Stone down. And I can’t wait to make this recipe for dinner. I have Berbere in my spice cupboard and it’s been a new favorite seasoning-whether in soups, vegetable salads or on protein.
    I have discovered World Spice Merchants on Western Ave. in Seattle below the Pike Street Market. They have spices from around the world-and they are ground to order so quite fresh. It’s a place I visit every time I am in Seattle. Love your blog-thanks for this recipe.

  3. Anonymous says

    I made this dish over the weekend and I was amazed at how tasty the lentils were and how crispy yet juicy the chicken turned out. Quick question though — does the berbere call for 2 tsp of turmeric, or is it a typo where you include it twice at 1 tsp? Thanks!

  4. says

    I’m Indian and was looking at the ingredients in the berbere, those are the exact spices that go into Indian masala mix. (Masala is often mistakenly called curry powder. Curry is a plant used in the Caribbean and southern India. The curry plant is not included the masala that people refer to as curry powder)

    The dish looks über tasty. I think I’m going to make it tonight!

  5. says

    I have just come back from a fabulous trip to Ethiopia yesterday and of course had read ‘Cutting with Stone’ before I left. And of course I brought back some excellent local Berbere from Addis Ababa. I found your blog when I googled for recipes using Berbere, thanks much for this one. Making it for dinner tonight!

  6. says

    I have just returned from a fabulous trip to Ethiopia yesterday and of course I had read ‘Cutting with Stone’ before I left. And of course I brought back a couple of packets of excellent Berbere from Addis Ababa. I found your blog when I googled for some recipes using Berbere, thanks much for this one, am making it for dinner this evening!

  7. says

    As an Ethiopian I can tell you we never mix lentils and chicken, but I am open for new adventures. I have read “Cutting with Stone” with the exceptions of way too many medical terms, I liked the book. I will let you know after I try your recipe.

    Good job!

  8. Anonymous says

    Sylvia, I made this last night and the aroma actually woke my husband up from a hard-earned nap. We couldn’t wait to try the dish and were so pleased when it all came together. Absolutely delicious, wonderful heat, healthy, not heavy….will make on a regular basis to get us through this Chicago winter!

  9. says

    What a beautiful post. Not only because this recipe looks amazing but also because of great book review which is now no my amazon list. It was a pleasure to come across your blog.

  10. says

    Hey,I have made this twice now and it is great! Works just as well with lemon by the way. The first time I did this I made a lot of extra marinade and once the chicken was all cooked I condenced the marinade down and poured it over the chicken and rice.Thank you!!!
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