Ethiopian-Inspired and Infused Chicken Lentil Soup

Though I’ve prepared this soup in the heart of winter here in Southern California, my east-coast and northern US friends and readers will be quick to point out that the winter I’m experiencing here is barely comparable to the winter experienced elsewhere in the USA, Canada and the rest of the world. Nonetheless, we are experiencing temperatures in the low 40’s ( 4-5 degrees celsius) at night. For the first time in many years I’m experiencing cold or flu symptoms. My head is foggy, I’m sneezing and coughing and my throat is raw and sore.

Old school remedies in these situations call for, typically, classic chicken soup. Though I’ve often resorted to Tom Ka Gai, the Thai version of this healing dish, tonight I decided to fuse my world travels together, and cook a dish that, at once, is traditional and then is also international and inspired by my travels and cultural curiosity.

Whether or not it’s the middle of winter or you’re under the nasty verse of a head cold or worse, this is a hearty dish that can be enjoyed year round. And if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, simply swap out the chicken broth with veggie broth and leave out the chicken—it will still do the trick. Oh, key here is the Ethiopian spice mix known as berbere. You can certainly make your own berbere spice, but you can also find a version at your local Ethiopian Market, like we have here in San Diego (Awash Market & Ethiopian Restaurant 2884 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92104) or you can order online at Amazon.Depending on your ambition, choose as you wish. I used the local market spice for my dish you see here.

Using more of the berbere spice mix will give it a bigger kick. Try and play with this wonderful traditional Ethiopian spice. I also use it for a rub on baked chicken.


1 tablespoon ghee or butter
1 medium brown onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, diced into 1/2 inch pieces
2 stocks of celery, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, julienned
1 cup green lentils, rinsed
2 cups chicken stock, preferably low-sodium and organic
2 cups water, purified
2 teaspoons Ethiopian berbere spice mix (from your local market, Amazon,or make your own)
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano
1/2 teaspoon pepper, freshly ground
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper
2 cups cooked/roasted chicken, shredded (leftovers work great for this soup)
1 medium tomato, cored and diced
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
Crusty bread to serve


  • Place the ghee or butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat. When hot, add the onions and garlic and sauté until onions are translucent and softened, about 2-3 minutes.
  • Add 1/4 cup of the chicken stock, the carrots, celery and red bell pepper, increase the heat slightly, mix and continue to sauté another 5-7 minutes.
  • Stir in the lentils and pour over the remaining stock and water, add Berbere spice, cover and bring to boil.
  • Reduce heat, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally for 25 minutes, or until the lentils and carrots are tender.
  • Stir in oregano, pepper, garlic salt and lemon pepper, simmer uncovered for 25 minutes, stirring in the chicken, tomato and lemon juice in the last 5 minutes.
  • Ladle into soup bowls and serve with crusty bread.

I cooked this with leftover chicken legs and thighs that I’d roasted the night before, trimming the seasoned skin and shredding the chicken from the bone. If you don’t have leftover chicken, simply bake a chicken or individual pieces in the oven ahead of time. Remove the skin and shred with your fingers.

If you like a bigger kick, add another teaspoon of the berbere spice mix.

If you are vegan or vegetarian, as noted above, simply substitute olive oil for the butter or ghee, vegetable broth for the chicken broth and leave out the chicken. It will still be delicious.