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Ecuadorian lentil stew {Menestra de lentejas}

Menestra de lentejas is a traditional Ecuadorian lentil stew simmered with onion, pepper, tomato, garlic, cumin, and cilantro. Menestra is served with rice and thin grilled steaks or carne asada.

Lentil stew or menestra de lentejas

Arroz con menestra or simply menestra is a very popular dish in Ecuador, and you can find it almost everywhere, though the Coastal region has the strongest claim on this dish. A menestra is usually made with lentils, but there are also versions made with bean or porotos. The lentils are simmered in a broth with onion, pepper, tomato, garlic, cumin and cilantro.

Even though there is a lot of flavor in the broth, sometimes you can give it a boost of flavor by preparing an additional refrito/sofrito and mixing it back into the dish at the end. In the coast, it is also common to add plantains to this menestra dish. I’ve had it both with slices of ripe plantains and thinly grated green plantains.

The ripe plantains give a sweet contrast to the dish. The thinly grated green plantain adds a bit of additional flavor, but also acts as a natural thickener for the lentil menestra. If adding plantains, you can do so during the last 20 minutes of cooking.

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Ecuadorian lentil stew {Menestra de lentejas}

Arroz con menestra de lentejas is a traditional Ecuadorian lentil stew simmered with onion, pepper, tomato, garlic, cumin, and cilantro. Menestra is usually served with rice and thin grilled steaks or carne asada.
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Course: Main dish, Side Dish
Cuisine: Ecuadorian, Latin
Keyword: Ecuadorian menestra, Lentil stew, Menestra de lentejas
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes
Servings: 6 to 8 people

Ingredients

  • 2-3 tbs oil
  • 1 red onion diced
  • 1 bell pepper diced
  • 3 tomatoes diced
  • 6 garlic cloves minced
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp achiote powder or ground achiote
  • 4 tbs chopped cilantro
  • ~7 cups of water
  • 1 lb lentils rinsed
  • Salt to taste
  • Green or ripe plantain - optional see notes at the end

Instructions

  • Heat the oil on medium heat in a large sauce pan or cooking pot.
  • Add the onion, bell pepper, tomato, garlic, cumin, salt, achiote and 2 tablespoons of the cilantro to make a refrito for the stew.
  • Cook, stirring occasionally, until all the ingredients have softened, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the water and increase heat to bring water to boil.
  • Add the lentils and reduce the heat to medium low, cover partially and cook until the lentils are tender. Taste and add salt if needed, stir in the remaining 2 tbs of cilantro, and remove from the heat.
  • Serve with Ecuadorian style cooked rice, carne asada o carne frita (fried thin beef steaks), fried ripe plantains or fried green plantains, and a small salad or avocado slices.

Notes

For an extra boost of flavor, prepare a quick refrito or sofrito by sauteeing about 1/2 onion with a few cloves of crushed garlic, a couple of diced tomatoes, and ground cumin/achiote powder/salt to taste until the ingredients are softened and you have a flavorful sauce. Stir in the sauce to the main menestra when the lentils are done cooking.
To add a green plantain, peel a green plantain and grate it using a fine grater, stir the grated plantain into the menestra during the last ~15-20 minutes of cooking, mix it well so that it integrates into the stew - you will notice how it thickens the dish and adds a slight plantain flavor.
To add a sweet plantain, peel and cut a plantain into 1/2 to 1 inch slices and add them to the menestra during the last 20-25 minutes of cooking, they should be fully cooked by the time the dish is ready.

While this lentil stew or menestra is usually served with grilled or fried meat, you can also ask for it to be served with chicken and if you’re near the coast, then also fish or seafood. I remember my mom, during a period when she was trying to be vegetarian and make us vegetarians, would always ask for a fried egg instead of the meat.

Even though I wasn’t too happy about that at the time, and was very jealous of the people around us that got the meat,  I now love arroz con menestra with a fried egg. To adapt this recipe for a vegetarian diet replace the meat with a fried egg. Other side dishes, in addition to the must-have rice and protein, include avocado slices, ripe fried plantains or patacones (green fried plantains), and a small salad or curtido.

To serve with menestra de lentejas or Ecuadorian lentil stew:

Recipe for Ecuadorian style rice

Recipe for carne asada

Recipe for fried ripe plantains

Recipe for patacones or tostones

Recipe for tomato and onion curtido

Lentil stew with rice Lentil stew with rice

Ecuadorian arroz con menestra or lentil stew recipe

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37 Comments

  1. Thank you for posting this delicious Ecuadorian recipe. I ate this many times in Guayaquil. Love it with an egg for breakfast. Muchas gracias!

  2. Hi! I would like to try this recipe this week. One question-how long (give or take) do the lentils need to cook until they are “tender”? Like 30 minutes or more like 2 hours . Thanks!

    1. It’s about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the type of lentils and the age of the lentils (lentils can be kept for a while, but the closer they are to their “best by” date, the longer they take to cook).

  3. Hi! I’m really excited to try this recipe. One question: how long do you cook after you add your lentils? I want to time the “last 15-20 minutes of cooking” to add the green plantains but every lentil recipe I’m coming across says that’s how long lentils take to make. Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Lauren – This usually takes around 45-50 minutes total to cook, so I would add the grated green plantains after 25-30 minutes. The lentils should be softer than if you were boiling them for a salad or dish where they’re firmer.

  4. My husband is from Ecuador. I made him the chicken and rice and he loved it. I’ll make this next. One question: I have achiote paste instead of powder, how much paste would you substitute for the powder? Thanks, all your recipes look delicious.

    1. Hi Laurel – It depends, not all pastes are the same, are there other ingredients in the paste? I would probably start with 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp of the paste and then add more if needed – same for any other ingredients that might be in the paste (cumin/garlic) and that also in the recipe. Taste the refrito and see if the flavors are good (they flavor of the spices/salt) will be more concentrated since it will be mixed with the lentils, but it should still be an indicator of the flavor. Achiote by itself doesn’t have a lot of flavor, it should be very subtle.

  5. Layla,

    Thanks for the great recipe!! I served a mission in Ecuador 20 years ago and I have been missing the food ever since I got back. One quick question I had, when you say 1 tsp achiote, does that mean achoite oil? Or is there actually an achiote powder?

    Jason

    Hi Jason – It means achiote powder or ground achiote. I’ll update the recipe ingredients for it to be clearer.

  6. Thanks for all your recipes!!! My husband is Ecuadorian and he missed his mother’s cooking so I thought I would do some research and I found you!! I’m Puerto Rican and Cuban so I understand what its like to miss home cooking. Last night we had Ceviche de Camaron con Chifles y aroz blanco and it was a success!! Tonight I’m making him Menestra. So once again thank you so much for sharing this!

  7. Love viewing your site. It motivates me to cook more and learn more of my cultural food. I even mentioned my parents. hehehe..

  8. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Crecí en Ecuador, y mi vecina fue de la costa, ella siempre cocinaba para nosotros. All of your recipes remind me of her food and home!

  9. Hi, does it matter what color pepper that I use? I have some exchange students from Manta with us and I’m trying to prepare a traditional coastal dinner for their farewell party. Thanks!

    Any color is fine, the red ones are the sweetest and the green ones the least sweet, so some people prefer the sweeter ones, but for this recipe any bell pepper will be fine.

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