Red Lentils with Paprika and Ajwain Recipe

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Both Indian and Ethiopian cooks use ajwain when making lentils; this recipe is something of a hodgepodge of those two traditions. Ajwain's thymol content provides an aromatic lift while its other flavors create a distinctive curry-like background. When combined with rich, full-bodied paprika, it elevates the humble lentil to a warm, earthy, and complex bowl of comfort food. You can alter the proportion of sweet to hot paprika according to your tastes and heat tolerance, but all sweet paprika may be too bland. The amount of paprika may also seem pretty high, but lentils can take plenty of spice, and it is the main flavor- and color-component of this recipe. If you don't have any niter kibbeh lying around, a few dashes of garam masala, or dare I say it—curry powder—will do in a pinch.

Recipe Details

Red Lentils with Paprika and Ajwain Recipe

Cook 90 mins
Total 90 mins
Serves 4 servings


  • 6 tablespoons niter kibbeh, ghee, butter, or oil, divided

  • 2 medium-large onions, roughly chopped

  • One 3-inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled

  • 1 teaspoon ajwain

  • 2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika, divided

  • 2 tablespoons hot or semi-sweet paprika, divided

  • 1 pound (2 cups) red lentils

  • Salt


  1. Melt 4 tablespoons of niter kibbeh in a large pot over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, combine the onions, ginger, and garlic in a food processor into a loose paste. When the fat is hot and shimmering, add the paste. Stir to prevent sticking, but let the paste develop a deep, rich brown color.

  2. Add the ajwain and half of each of the paprikas. Stir so the fat coats the spices, and cook for about a minute, till the now-red paste darkens in color.

  3. Add the lentils and five cups of water. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Let the lentils stew, covered, for about an hour, or until they’ve completely fallen apart. When about 3/4 of the way through, salt them well. Stir occasionally and add water if needed to prevent sticking.

  4. When the lentils are completely tender, add the rest of the niter kibbeh and the paprika, and stir to combine. This will refresh some of the aromatics lost in the long stewing; the ajwain won’t need any refreshing. Serve with rice or flatbread.

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
372 Calories
21g Fat
39g Carbs
12g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 372
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 21g 27%
Saturated Fat 12g 61%
Cholesterol 49mg 16%
Sodium 683mg 30%
Total Carbohydrate 39g 14%
Dietary Fiber 12g 44%
Total Sugars 9g
Protein 12g
Vitamin C 10mg 50%
Calcium 76mg 6%
Iron 5mg 29%
Potassium 797mg 17%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)