We have a special treat for you today. As you may know, we love travel and cuisines from around the world. This recipe comes to us straight from Ethiopia — via Indianapolis! Exodus Refugee Immigration is a well-known organization in our city that welcomes refugees to Indiana and offers them a place to call home. We’ve partnered with Exodus to bring you a recipe from one of those refugees — Diborah, who is originally from Ethiopia.
We can’t imagine what it would be like to flee your home country and settle thousands of miles away in a new culture. Having spent some time in Cambodia, we have somewhat of a better understanding the plight of the Burmese refugees that have formed a community in our city (with the help of Exodus). But with such significant cultural barriers, it’s hard to know how best to support refugees who have settled here. We’re happy to host a little cultural exchange in the form of food — a special way to connect and build friendships across cultures.
And as for the recipe, we thoroughly enjoyed it! Its texture is similar to an Indian lentil curry, the flavor is unique, spiked with cardamom and ginger. We adapted the recipe slightly from Dibora’s original, but stayed true to the major flavors. You can feel free to make the lentils as spicy as you’d like with cayenne; we only added a few pinches, but the original dish is quite spicy. It’s been a hit each time we’ve made it, even for some pickier palates!
Thank you so much, Dibora, for sharing your story and this recipe with us!
Dibora never expected to be in Indianapolis, nearly eight thousand miles from home, sharing the recipe for a traditional Ethiopian dish with a cooking blog.
She arrived in the U.S. just seven months ago with her 2-year-old daughter to meet her husband who is a refugee from Eritrea. Eritreans have been facing strict control and persecution from an authoritarian regime since the country’s independence from Ethiopia in 1993. This includes persecution based on religion, and Dibora’s family is of a Christian denomination that the government doesn’t recognize.
After Dibora’s husband fled to Ethiopia, the two met at an international call center where Dibora was working. He was resettled in Indianapolis through Exodus Refugee Immigration almost three years ago, leaving Dibora waiting, pregnant and alone, for her chance to follow. Now that she has arrived, she misses her family—and the food—in her country but that she is happy for the freedom, equality, and educational opportunities that the U.S. has to offer.
Cooking Ethiopian food is something Dibora has done for nearly her whole life. The recipe for mesir wat she’s shared here is a common dish that Ethiopians would eat every day; she learned how to make it from her mother when she was 16. Mesir wat is somewhat spicy, like many Ethiopian dishes, and vegetarian. Most dishes are made with plenty of vegetables in Ethiopia, saving meat for special occasions.
Ethiopian dishes take a while to cook, but despite the time, Dibora still cooks mostly traditional meals since being in the U.S. She said she makes pasta and pizza sometimes because they are easy, which is how she views most American food, but she doesn’t like how many American dishes contain a lot of fat and sugar. Here in Indianapolis, Diborah would like to find work cooking Ethiopian food, to share the cuisine of her country with her new home.
(Compiled by Heather Watts, AmeriCorps VISTA)
More About Exodus
Every day, millions of courageous persons flee their homelands due to unimaginable persecution. They seek refuge and human rights in other places around the world, including Indianapolis. Exodus Refugee Immigration welcomes refugees to Indiana and offers them a place to call home. They work to arrange housing, food and clothing, case management, as well as education, employment and health services for individuals and families starting out in their new lives.
- 2 cups uncooked rice
- 1 red onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 ½ tablespoons fresh ginger
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 2 cups red lentils
- 5 cups water
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- A few pinches (or more) cayenne
- Prepare the rice according to the package instructions.
- Dice 1 red onion. Mince 2 cloves garlic. Peel and finely mince 1 ½ tablespoons fresh ginger.
- In a large saucepan or pot, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat and cook the onion until translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic, ginger, 2 tablespoons paprika, 1 teaspoon turmeric, and ½ teaspoon ground cardamom. Cook for about 3 minutes until fragrant. Stir in the tomatoes with their juices and cook for another minute.
- Add 2 cups red lentils and 5 cups water. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer. Cook until the lentils are fully pureed, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper to taste. For additional heat, add several pinches of cayenne.