Shewa's Tumtumo lentil curry

  • Heat 1tbsp sunflower oil in a pan and soften the onions

  • Once softened, add the garlic and berbere (or cayenne) and stir into the now translucent onions

  • Add the red lentils and stir into the onions

  • Add boiling water, enough to cover the lentils and then the same again

  • Bring to the boil and then turn the heat down to a simmer

  • Simmer on low heat for around 15 mins, keep stirring to avoid sticking to the pan

  • If you haven't already prepared your spice mix, now is the moment. Add one tsp of nigella seeds, 1 tsp cardamom, 1 tsp cloves and 1tsp ajwain seeds to a blender and whizz quickly

  • Add the spice blend and 2 tsp salt, stir and serve

Shewa served the tumtumo with kale steamed with garlic and bay leaves and another dish of mustard leaves and spinach boiled with pumpkin. These sat atop the Injera, the sour pancake-like flatbread Eritreans use as baseplate and cutlery in one.

The four of us ate with our fingers, gathered around one large Injera, spooning blobs of curry onto it's airy surface, ripping and gathering as much as possible in one pinch.

Tumtumo is best made with Berbere, an intense terracotta-coloured spice blend that Ethiopian and Eritrean recipes use for big flavour. Shewa has great bags of it in the kitchen and says that if you can't find it in ethnic stores, it can happily be replaced by cayenne pepper. Shewa also uses a spice blend she makes by throwing an equal measure of nigella seeds, cardamom, cloves and ajwain seeds into a blender for a quick blast.

Serves 4 - 6


4 tbsp berbere (can substitute with cayenne pepper)

1 large onion (red or white) finely diced  

3 cloves garlic

2 cups red lentils

2 tsp salt

1 tbsp Spice mix (nigella seeds, cardamom, cloves and ajwain seeds, mixed in equal measure and ground).


Read Shewa’s interview here