Mesir Wat – Ethiopian Red Lentils – Recipe

Mesir Wat, an Ethiopian red lentil puree
Mesir wat – Ethiopian red lentil puree

I’ve loved Ethiopian food for years. The cuisine is very vegetarian friendly, with many dishes based on lentils, and various vegetable stews, all served with copious quantities of injera – a delicious, slightly sour and spongy flatbread which serves as both plate and eating utensil.

For some reason, while I cook food from all over the world, I’ve never made a lot of Ethiopian food at home. This clearly needed to change, especially given that Seattle has the good fortune to be home to a large Ethiopian community, with excellent restaurants and groceries, many within blocks of my house.

So I’m on a mission to learn this food, and I’ll share it with you along the way. I hope to make some connections in the community here and be able to gain more first hand insight into the ingredients and techniques. (If you live in Seattle and want to teach me, please leave a comment below!)

Today’s dish is mesir wat – a simple and nourishing puree of red lentils with ginger, onions and spices. Red lentils are great because they rapidly puree themselves when simmered. (I also love them in this Syrian soup – shurbat addes). The technique for this dish isn’t so different than for an Indian dal, but made thick enough that it can be picked up directly with injera.

If you have access to an Ethiopian grocery (or restaurant), piles of fresh injera are easy to come by. Or you can make your own, but it is a bit of a project it seems. If you want to try this recipe but don’t have injera, it would still be delicious served with rice, or thinned slightly into soup.

Mesir Wat – Ethiopian Red Lentil Puree
Adapted from whats4eats
Vegetarian, vegan if you use oil instead of butter, and gluten-free
Serves 4 as part of a larger meal

  • 2 cups red lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 big knob of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons butter or oil
  • 1 tablespoon paprika or other mild red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (or to taste)
  • salt
  1. In a medium saucepan, cover the lentils with about 1 inch of water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Stir occasionally to avoid scorching on the bottom, and add more water if it gets low. Start this going and move on to the next step.
  2. Meanwhile, in a blender or mini food processor, puree the onion, garlic and ginger.
  3. Heat the butter or oil over a medium flame in a small skillet. Add the paprika, turmeric and cayene, and fry for 30 seconds. Add the onion mixture and fry for about 10 minutes, until rather dry and lightly browned.
  4. Scrape the mixture from the skillet into the lentil and add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Continue to simmer until the lentils are fully pureed. The total time starting at step 1 will probably be about 40 minutes. Add water if too thick or cook a little longer if too thin. The ideal texture is thick enough to stand up a little on a spoon, but not thick like, say, hummus. A little thicker than applesauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Thursday, February 11th, 2010 in Main Courses, Recipes, Side Dishes.

21 Responses to “Mesir Wat – Ethiopian Red Lentils – Recipe”

  1. Vegetable Matter
    February 11, 2010 at 7:46 am #

    We love red lentils, but I wouldn’t have thought to use them for an Ethiopian dish. Your photo is beautiful — it looks like the perfect vegetarian meal.

  2. February 11, 2010 at 11:33 pm #

    Nice!

  3. eldan
    February 13, 2010 at 9:14 pm #

    Another hit! I’ve also loved Ethiopian food for years (not coincidentally, since shortly after I moved to Seattle), but never had a clue how to make similar dishes at home. I used half green lentils because I was running out of red, and that works reasonably well except that I should have increased the quantities of flavouring ingredients because a cup of dry green lentils translates to that much more cooked food.

  4. February 13, 2010 at 10:42 pm #

    Looks great– what’s the white dish to the side?

  5. February 14, 2010 at 3:34 pm #

    I love love love the look of this meal! I have never had the opportunity to get into Ethiopian food but this looks like a great start! Anything with lentils is a winner for me.

  6. Michael Natkin
    February 15, 2010 at 11:24 pm #

    Nice! I bet it is good with green lentils too. Check out Amy's Merkato on Cherry for a good supply of all the Ethio stuff.

  7. Michael Natkin
    February 15, 2010 at 11:26 pm #

    It was something I just sorta made up on the spot. Injera torn up, mixed with thick yogurt and cucumbers and green onions. AFAIK, not traditional anywhere. I rather liked it, but it could easily be considered too soggy.

  8. January 31, 2011 at 11:29 am #

    Thanks for the recipe – I tried these the other day and they were so good. I loved the technique used with the spices…pulverize them with the onion, garlic, and ginger and then sautee till dry & lightly browned. Delicious! :)

  9. Sarah
    November 6, 2011 at 7:53 pm #

    I’ve made this recipe twice now for my fiance and I, and we really enjoy it. We are OBSESSED with the Ethiopian restaurant in our neighborhood, so I had wanted to try some recipes at home. One question, I feel like the amount of lentils turns out to be too much for the amount of spices and onion, ginger, garlic mixture. I’m used to this dish being very dark in color with a denser (sometimes spicier) flavor. I’m using two cups of dried split red lentils. Does that sound right? Any suggestions of how I could modify it to get the deeper color and taste. I find myself just adding more spice but not necessarily getting the result I want.

  10. Michael Natkin
    November 6, 2011 at 9:14 pm #

    Hey Sarah – thanks for your note! I think if you want it spicier and darker (1) make sure you get a deep, dark color at step 3, (2) increase the paprika, or (3) increase the entire onion/garlic/ginger to lentil ratio. If you try those ideas, let me know if you find a result that you like. Also, may I recommend this recipe for Ethiopian-style ful mudammas – link to herbivoracious.com? Depending on where you live, you might not be able to find it at a restaurant but it is delicious.

  11. January 13, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    Having LEFT Seattle, I now find myself making my own exotic/ethnic foodstuffs and again turn to you.
    (Case in point, banh mi has now been perfected to superior status over any store-bought offerings. However, though my pho has yet to meet Than Bros. standards, it’s a worthy contender.)
    Thanks!

  12. Allison
    April 17, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

    I do live in Seattle, and googled red lentil sauce because I just bought some from an Ethiopian Deli on Rainier (Chicken Express) and didn’t know what to serve with them. Thanks for the ideas!

    If you’re in Seattle, they make a vegan spagetti sauce too that’s a dream, better than Borracchini’s.

  13. Tara O'Dowd
    October 3, 2012 at 11:12 am #

    I’ve been experimenting with Ethiopian recipes for a couple of years now, and I think this one is a little off (although I liked your ful recipe). I recommend using about 1/4 cup of berbere powder instead of paprika and cayenne. I also use a couple tablespoons of tomato paste, red wine, and about 3/4 cup of oil (seems like a lot, but LOTS of oil seems to be the secret to Ethiopian cooking). And I cook this dish for about 90 minutes. A note on the berbere powder – the stuff from Amazon does not taste at all like the stuff sold in Ethiopian markets. It is not even the same color. Also, ginger-garlic paste (found in Indian and Ethiopian markets) will make your Ethiopian cooking experiments much easier.

    • October 3, 2012 at 11:21 am #

      Hey Tara – I totally agree with you; this recipe is quite old. I’ve made a lot more Ethiopian food since then, and it is well worth finding berbere. I get mine locally, so I haven’t had the ones from Amazon to compare, though I don’t see why there shouldn’t be a good one on there. Personally, not a big fan of the pre-made ginger-garlic paste. Garlic has a ton of active enzymes that get to work the moment the cells are broken, so the flavor changes quite a bit. Although it is more work, I prefer to do it as close to cooking as possible.

  14. Mick
    May 24, 2013 at 8:36 pm #

    Hi Michael-

    Firstly, I think its awesome that you are cooking Ethiopian food, most people are unaware of this cuisine, unfortunately. The picture you’ve provided, however, is of the yellow lentil dish called Kik Alicha. If you’d like some authentic Ethiopian recipes please let me know, I was raised on the stuff and don’t mind sharing! :) In any case, keep up the Ethiopian cooking and spreading the good word!

    • May 24, 2013 at 9:23 pm #

      Hi Mick – I appreciate the comment, but that is definitely mesir wat – I made it myself (and took the photo), with red lentils, not yellow split peas. It is just a bit pale because I kept the spice level low for kids.

  15. Tutu
    December 5, 2013 at 9:07 am #

    Hi Michael,

    I am an Ethiopian and landed on this site while searching for Ethiopian recipes online to share it to my coworkers who fancy the food. From the picture it looks like you Misir wat turned out perfect and your kosta too. A friend of mine tried the “key misir wot” with the berbere and it turned out awesome. You should try making “doro wot” – chicken stew and “tikil gomen” cabbage. Let me know if you need tips.

    • December 8, 2013 at 8:45 pm #

      Thanks so much, Tutu! I’d love to hear you tikil gomen recipe if you’d like to share it.

  16. January 4, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

    Great recipe! Question: Can I substitute the fresh ginger with powdered ginger and get the same taste? Thanks!

    • January 4, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

      Hey Yvonne – no, I wouldn’t recommend that – the taste is very different, you might end up with pumpkin-pie flavored lentils :)

  17. Edom
    January 9, 2014 at 10:06 pm #

    Hi everyone, I am also Ethiopian I had a potluck with my American friends. I was trying to get them some Ethiopian recipes. The recipes I mad was Red lentils and cabbage dish also known as Tikil Gomen. I will share the Tikil Gomez one.

    1/2 cup Olive oil
    4 carrots thinly Sliced
    1 onion thinly sliced
    1/2 head cabbage shredded
    3 potatoes peeled and cut into cubes
    1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
    salt as needed
    1/4 teaspoon turmeric
    3 cloves fresh garlic

    Sautee onions and oil over medium heat. Cook the carrots with onions in the hot oil about 5 minutes. Stir in salt, cumin, turmeric and cabbage cook another 15 minutes. Add the potatoes cover and reduce heat to medium low and cook until potatoes are soft. Don’t put any water the cabbage will produce enough.

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