Lentil stew with rice {Arroz con menestra de lentejas}

 Lentil stew or 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 served with rice and thin grilled steaks or carne asada. 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.

En español

Lentil stew with rice - Arroz con menestra de lentejas
Rate this recipe
12 ratings

Yield: For 6-8 people

Lentil stew with rice - Arroz con 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.



  1. Heat the oil on medium heat in a large sauce pan or cooking pot.
  2. Add the onion, bell pepper, tomato, garlic, cumin, salt, achiote and 2 tablespoons of the cilantro to make a refrito for the stew.
  3. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all the ingredients have softened, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the water and increase heat to bring water to boil.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.


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

This post was last modified: August 17th, 2016 by Layla Pujol


  1. 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.

    • 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.

  2. Jason Williams says:


    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?


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

  3. 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!

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

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. Loved this recipe, it certainly passed the test at home, including my harshest critic, my 3-year old son! I first tried menestra de lentejas in Ecuador over 10 years ago, but this one is even better.

  8. Cristina says:

    Querida Layita,
    Soy ecuatoriana y extrano mucho la comida, en los 8 anos que he vivido en USA nunca encontre mejores recetas, son tan bien explicadas que incluso siendo principiante en la cocina las he podido seguir y hasta ahora todos los platos que he preparado tienen el sabor que tanto recuerdo.
    Muchas gracias que Dios te bendiga y premie tu generosidad por compartir tus conocimientos culinarios con los amantes de la comida Ecuatoriana.

  9. Claudia says:

    I made this for my Ecuadorian husband and he loved it. My mother inlaw always adds a little bit of milk and cheese so I did as well it turned out really good!! Thank you Laylita for taking the time to add these recipes. I love Ecuadorian food.

  10. laylita, thank you so much for posting this recipe! im really excited to try it out to remind me of ecuador. When i lived there, they always served the carne asada with a creme sauce that added to the flavor. I was wondering if you knew how to make that creme. thank you so much, you have just made my week that much better for having this recipe posted.

  11. I just got back from a month in Ecuador and miss it immensely. Food had helped me with the transition back home. This recipe in particular is wonderful. Thank you so much!

  12. ingridquartermaine says:

    I love this recipe. I made Shepard’s pie the other day and i only had a pound of beef and i needed more so i added my leftover lentil stew from this recipe and mixed it into the beef mixture and it was amazing and best of all the kids did not even know it was their. I also think if you wanted a complete veggie meal you can top this recipe with potatoes and its “Gardeners pie” so good so versatile. thanks.

  13. Layla: Yo le lpongo a la menestra medio platano verde picadito, para que espese. Para dar c olor uso el Tumery. Mi hija recien casada esta facinada con tus recetas. Gracias

  14. I used to have menestra with diced chunks of queso fresco mixed into it just before serving. That makes a nice addition. However the best additive is ají.

  15. Guayaco Puro says:

    Thank you, Thank you, ¡mil Gracias! My wife and I made the arroz con manestra last night and it turned out perfect. I lived in Ecuador for back in 2000. I have been looking for Ecuadorian recipes and your site drew me in with all of your pictures. I thought, “It looks right, so it better taste right.” It tasted just like my mamita, Eva, used to make. We are making empanadas con quezo as we speak. I look forward to making more of your wonderful recipes.

  16. My DH spent two years in Ecuador. He has been begging me to make this for him. I loved it, said it was just like what he was served in Ecuador. Thank you for posting this !!! We are going to Ecuador in April. I am looking forward to all the great food! :)

  17. Layla,

    I love your recipes.

    I lived in Ecuador for several years in my early 20’s (Loja, Machala and Guayaquil). I’ve been back in the US for about 10 years now and one thing I have missed, besides the great people and culture, is the food, especially arroz con menestra. I’d love to go back, and hopefully one day I will, but in the mean time this is the next best thing.

    Thank you taking the time to post these recipes.

  18. Ma. Augusta says:

    Thank you so much for the recipe =) I am going to give it a try today. My mom makes this so good and wanted to surprise her with it. I am also Ecuadorian and i love my food……. if i only knew how to cook =) teehee
    Thank again girl

  19. Stumbled across your site doing a search for lentils. This looks like it could be very similar to my Gram’s Lentil recipe that she would make for us during Lent. She has been gone a year and no one knows how to make her recipe. After reading the ingredient list, I think this may be it – Thank you so much!

  20. Hi Laylita!
    Your site is amazing. My boyfriend is Equadorian, and I wanted to surprise him with a dish that his mom used to make for him. I’ve had it before and was so eager to duplicate it. I came across your recipe and immediately became excited. Thank you so much for posting your blog. Can’t wait to get started!

    Hi Michele – Thank you for your comments! I hope you find the recipes helpful.

  21. HI! this sounds great! If I am just cooking for two or three people, what are the portion sizes? I don’t want to make too much. Thank you!

    Hi Nani – For 2-3 people I would use half of the quantities above.

  22. layla y tu no remojas la lenteja lanoche anterior? donde puedo cmprar achiote aca en usa

    No, las lentejas no hay que remojarlas (solo los porotos). Por lo general se puede encontrar el achiote en los supermercados latinos o mexicanos, o si no tambien hay algunos sitios en internet donde lo puedes comprar; por ultimo cuando recien vine aca y no sabia donde encontrar achiote usaba un poco de paprika o pimenton en lugar del achiote, pero no es lo mismo – tiene un sabor diferente y aunque le da color no es tan eficaz como el achiote.

  23. I’m new to Ecuadorian food, so I’m finding your site very interesting. I love lentils and would quite happily eat it as is, without meat.

  24. Hi Christa,
    I’m working an adding the basic recipe for white rice cooked Ecuadorian style, but here’s a quick summary until I get around to posting it:
    – 2 cups uncooked white rice (I use long grain rice, if you are buying the rice in Ecuador you probably want to sort though it to remove any pieces of rock, etc and rinse it well before using)
    – 2 1/2 cups of water (since you live in Cuenca you should use 3 – 3 1/2 cups of water, I lived in Loja which is at a similar altitude as Cuenca and we would cook the rice with slightly less than the double the amount of water to rice, in general I keep about 1/4 cup of water on hand and add it towards the end if it seems like the rice is too dry)
    – 2 tbs of canola or sunflower oil or 2 tbs of butter
    – 2tbs minced white onion
    – 1 garlic clove, minced (optional)
    – Salt to taste (add the salt when you add the water and just taste the water as you would a broth, for a lightly salted rice I add 1/4 teaspoon of salt)
    Heat the oil or butter on medium temp, add the minced onions and garlic, cook until the onions are translucent or soft (about 2 minutes), add the rice and stir it in so that it is well coated by the oil, add the water, bring to a boil, let the water reduce until it barely covers the rice, cover with a lid and reduce the temp to low, cook for about 20-25 min.
    Hope this helps.

  25. Hola!

    This is a great recipe for a gringo girl, who just retired in Ecuador. Born in Germany to a German Mom and French Dad, I love to cook an having lived all over the world, I always attempt to copy the local recipes. I have been trying to imitate the flavor of the lentil dishes here, but never succeeded. Well, this time it tasted like it should. Problem I’m having is with the rice. It never seems to turn out right, perhaps the altitude (Cuenca)? With so many varieties of rice available, what kind should I use, what proportions of water and rice, and how long should it cook. I would appreciate any pointers.


  26. Layla,

    This is wonderful! Thank you for sharing with those of us who enjoy the culinary culture of Ecuador. Our favorite dinner place is Ecuadorian and I was looking thru my shelves today and found some lentils and was wishing I knew how they made lentils so I could give it a try. Which is how I stumbled upon your blog. Thank you again and I look forward to testing several of your recipes.

Leave a Reply