Berbere Chicken with Ethiopian Lentils – a flavorful, healthy Ethiopian recipe that features Berbere Spice. This flavorful meal is vegan adaptable using tofu instead of chicken. 

 A deliciously flavorful recipe for Berbere Chicken over Ethiopian spiced Lentils with an easy recipe for Berbere Spice Blend. |

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 the faraway land 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 Seasoning 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 spice blend, but 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 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.

This recipe for Crispy Skinned Berbere Chicken with Ethiopian Lentils is hearty and flavorful. If you are vegetarian, skip the chicken and try the Berbere with Tofu- just as tasty!
 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.

 A deliciously flavorful recipe for Berbere Chicken over Ethiopian spiced Lentils with an easy recipe for Berbere Spice Blend. |

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

 A deliciously flavorful recipe for Berbere Chicken over Ethiopian spiced Lentils with an easy recipe for Berbere Spice Blend. |

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 the internal temp reaches 165F.  Serve over the Ethiopian Lentils and sprinkle with Italian parsley.

 A deliciously flavorful recipe for Berbere Chicken over Ethiopian spiced Lentils with an easy recipe for Berbere Spice Blend. |
Berebere Chicken and Lentils - a flavorful Ethiopian recipe that features Berebere Spice. #ethiopianfood #ethiopianrecipes #chicken #lenitls #berebere
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Berebere Chicken and Lentils - a flavorful Ethiopian recipe that features Berebere Spice. #ethiopianfood #ethiopianrecipes #chicken #lenitls #berebere

Berbere Chicken with Ethiopian Lentils

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star 4.9 from 42 reviews
  • Author: Sylvia Fountaine
  • Prep Time: 20
  • Cook Time: 40
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 6 1x
  • Category: Main, Chicken
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Ethiopian


Berbere Chicken and Lentils – a flavorful delicious Ethiopian recipe that features Berbere Spice. See notes for a vegan tofu option!


Units Scale
Ethiopian Lentils
  • 1 cup French Green, OR Black lentils, OR Beluga Caviar lentils (do not use a split lentil)
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups diced onions
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 cup diced carrot
  • 1 cup diced tomato
  • 23 tablespoons Berbere Spice Mix (see below)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • Fresh Italian parsley for garnish

Berbere Chicken:

  • 6 chicken thighs (skin-on)
  • 23 tablespoons Berbere Spice Mix
  • olive oil
  • Kosher Salt

Berbere Spice Mix


  1. Preheat oven to 400 F
  2. Make the lentils: In a heavy bottom pot, or dutch oven, saute diced onion, carrots, garlic and ginger in 2 tablespoons 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 teaspoon salt and 3 cups water, and bring to a boil, cover, turn heat to low and let cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Uncover and cook off any extra liquid.
  3. Make the Chicken: Pat dry the chicken and salt all sides with salt and pepper and generously rub each piece with Berbere Spice Mix. The more, the spicier.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon 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)
  5. Serve over a bed of the Ethiopian lentils, and garnish with fresh Italian parsley.

Berbere Spice Mix:

  1. If using whole seeds, lightly toast them on the stovetop in a skillet for 2-3 minutes.
  2. Grind them using a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle. Remember to crush or grind the chili flakes.


If subbing tofu for the chicken: Use extra firm tofu and cut into 1 inch thick slabs or “filets”, pat dry with paper towels, very lightly pressing down. Sprinkle each side generously with salt and pepper then place a few tablespoons of Berber Spice on a plate, spreading it out, and coat each side of the tofu lightly. Pan sear in a well-oiled skillet, over medium heat, allowing the tofu to form a crust thereby, naturally releasing itself from the pan. This will prevent sticking and allow easy flipping. Pan sear each side until crispy, golden and warmed through. Serve over the lentils. I’d use two large blocks for 6 people.


  • Calories: 405

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    1. Hi Nan- I would not brown it in a pan, I would just roast it (uncovered) in the oven with the spices rubbed in. You could also spatchcock it ( type in “Spatchcock” in the search bar for a spatchcocked chicken video)-that would get all parts nice and golden. 🙂

    2. I did it with thighs and breasts tonight for company and it was GREAT. Next time I will spatchcock it. That’s perfect. Thank you!

  1. Made this last night – wow that was good! Everyone loved it. Lentils needed some time to simmer off lots of water at the end; next time I’ll try 2.5 cups of water and not more than 2 tbsp berebere mix – that stuff is amazing but really hot. Used boneless skinless thighs and they cooked up nicely. Frontier Berebere seasoning. Along side it I wanted some rice – made East African Pilau by Immaculate Bites.

  2. Great recipe! I did not have all of the ingredients for the Berbere spice so I substituted coriander, cardamom and fenugreek for garam masala. The finished result was excellent. I will try again with all of the ingredients in the recipe. Thank you for sharing!

  3. If I am using Trader Joe’s prepared lentils, how would I tweak this to use the Berbere spices profile? Any ideas?

    1. Hi PJ- I would prepare the same way, saute onion, garlic, carrots, tomatoes with spices, add a tiny bit of water to soften the carrots (cover), then stir in the cooked lentils to heat through- add in water to loosen as needed.:)

  4. This dish was excellent, with complex flavors and a wonderful texture. I substituted the oil for both the chicken and lentils with homemade niter kibbeh (Ethiopian spiced clarified butter), which complimented the berbere well. I also reduced the amount of red pepper in the berbere in order to tone down the heat.

  5. This is delicious! I didn’t have cardamom, cloves or allspice, but it was very very good. I have made it with spinach and also with celery added. I don’t care for cloves or allspice so it was perfect for methat way.

  6. Loved this recipe! The flavours meld together beautifully (my husband hates tomatoes, but loved these lentils), and it’s quick and easy (as long as you have a coffee grinder to grind all those seeds 😉

  7. This was so good! I reduced the red pepper flakes from 1 tbsp to 1 tsp, to account for kids with less spice tolerance. I was personally happy with that level of spice. Lentils were delicious and chicken was perfect. So flavorful. Will make this again and recommend to culinarily adventurous friends. House smelled amazing while cooking.

  8. This recipe was sooooo delicious. I cut the red pepper flakes down to just 1 teaspoon instead of the tablespoon because my young kids were going to eat this too. It was perfect. So satisfying, full of flavor and filling!

  9. I made this along with the Berbere potatoes and used sweet potatoes. It was delicious! Also, thank you for the quote and book suggestion. I am looking forward to reading it.

  10. Absolutely scrummy, thank you. For any UK folks out there using waitrose Berbere mix, it’s excellent but rather spicy! So if you’re not into spicy+++ then reduced a little. This will definitely go on my faves list

  11. Hello Sylvia,
    Tried this recipe tonight and with all the positive reviews, I must have missed something. As fragrant as this was, the flavors were so subtle as to be almost nonexistent. I’m wondering where I went wrong???
    That many favorable reviews must mean that I went wrong somewhere. Any suggestions??? Thanks.

  12. I enjoy Ethiopian food but had never cooked any at home. I made this and while I do like spicy food, and love the flavour of Berbere found it very, very hot even though I used less than the minimum 2 tbsp recommended for the lentils. I used tofu instead of chicken, and went really light on the Berbere there, just a mere sprinkle on each side. Needed a bite of tofu in each mouthful to tame the heat a tiny bit. Still, it was a bit too hot to enjoy. I will likely try this again, but will use far less Berbere!

    1. Sorry about that. Did you make or buy the Berbere? Each version is different as it is a blend.

  13. This has become one of our staples…we have it approximately every couple of weeks during the winter…absolutely delicious. If the sauce seems too watery, I add a little tomato paste…that thickens it up nicely. yum. yum. yum.

  14. So delicious! I accidentally only got 4 chicken thighs the first time, and after tasting how amazing they were, you can bet I went out and got 4 more! Which was perfect for how many lentils there were. I’ve been looking for another berbere recipe after falling in love with Beef Tibs (Serious Eats) and this really hit the spot! I usually have notes for recipe reviews but no notes here- just good food.
    And also thank you for including the spice mix. Unfortunately I’ve developed a medical condition that has utterly tanked my ability to handle spice at all. So I was happy to be able to make some berbere with a spice level adjusted to my needs.

  15. I probably would decrease the amount of water so all the liquid is soaked up. I did tofu but the spice mix just didn’t stay on. Any advice?

    1. Hey Sandy, you can cook off any extra liquid after the lentils are tender. I usually press the tofu into the Berbere spice mix on the plate and find it usually sticks pretty well?

  16. This was amazing! I used chicken thighs, but am looking forward to trying it with tofu. I served the dish over cauliflower rice.

  17. Question about the lentils. Is it just black lentils or a combination of green and black? One cup total lentils or one cup each?


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