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Ethiopian lentil soup

(Yemisir Shorba)

Ethiopia--source of the Blue Nile--ancient land founded by the progeny of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba around 1000 BC--reputedly the fabulous land of Prester John--and departure point for Rasselas, the Prince of Abyssinia, in Samuel Johnson's powerful and pessimistic philosophical novel of the same name. It is no wonder that Ethiopia's foods are spicy, subtle, and deceptively simple.

This everyday soup is aromatic, light, and nutty--not at all the thick mush you would suppose. It should be served with injera (a large fermented sour and spongy pancake), the traditional bread of Ethiopia which also serves as plate and eating utensils in most dishes. And it is wonderful served with t'ej, Ethiopia's wonderful honey wine. Failing these, serve with pita or other bread--and with beer. Serve hot to 4 as a first course or, breaking injera into it, as a light lunch.

Wash lentils thoroughly and let drain. Heat the oil to low in a large saucepan and add the onion. Saute at a low heat, stirring constantly, so that the onion doesn't turn color, but rather becomes transparent. This takes some time--10 minutes or so. Add the mashed garlic and ginger and continue cooking on low for about 5 minutes. Then add the lentils, turn the heat up just a little bit, and cook, stirring, for 5 more minutes. Add 7 cups of warm water, bring to a boil, then boil on medium heat for 20-25 minutes. Season to taste with salt.