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Misir watt (Ethiopian lentils)

June 1, 2010

Happy June, everyone! How was your Memorial Day? I just got back from a wonderful weekend getaway to Dallas, Texas with Matt. Dallas is my favorite city to road-trip to (as you may recall), so I can hardly wait to write about it.

Remember the Ethiopian cooking class I took with my friend Hillary? Today I’m fulfilling my promise to show you my home-cooked misir watt (stewed red lentils). This is my very favorite Ethiopian dish, and I was pleasantly surprised at how simple it is to prepare. Since I don’t think I’ll ever make injera at home (and Blue Nile Café is too far from my house for me to easily run by and pick some up), I served this with cooked quinoa, but it would be great with brown rice or couscous as well.

One quick note about the seasoning: you can easily use cayenne pepper or something similar in place of the mekelesha, but there is NO substitute for berbere. It’s absolutely worth a trip to a specialty spice store.

2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1-inch chunk gingerroot, peeled
3 Tbsp canola oil, divided
1 lb. dry red lentils
3 Tbsp berbere
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp mekelesha (or cayenne)
Salt to taste

(Clockwise from top, that’s berbere, mekelesha, and cardamom.)
Combine the onions, garlic, ginger, and 1 Tbsp of the canola oil in a blender or food processor.

Process or pulse into a very rough purée, adding a splash of water if necessary. Heat the remaining 2 Tbsp oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion mixture and cook, stirring, until softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add water (about 1/4 cup at a time) if the mixture gets dry or cooks too quickly.

Add the berbere and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes, again adding water as needed. The mixture should look pretty soupy; by this point I’d probably added nearly a cup of water.

Add the lentils…

…and 4 more cups of water.

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, uncovered, for about 25 minutes, stirring often. Keep adding water, 1/4 cup at a time, to keep the texture loose, but don’t add so much that it gets liquidy. You’re looking for a goopy, spoonable consistency (that’s meant to sound appealing!).

This is a good time to cook your quinoa, if that’s what you’re serving it with.

When the lentils are done, they’ll be partially broken down, but still retain some of their shape. Remove from the heat and stir in the cardamom, mekelesha or cayenne, and salt to taste. (If you’re using mekelesha, I urge you exercise caution here! Had I been using cayenne, I would probably have put in a good teaspoon, but I added just a scant 1/2 teaspoon of the mekelesha and it was flaming hot! I have a high tolerance for spice, but this was fiery even to me. So be conservative!)

Serve over quinoa or, if you’re lucky enough to have an Ethiopian restaurant nearby, pick up some injera to eat it with.

This is so incredibly good, I made it twice in two weeks. It’s filling, nutritious, and satisfying in every way. The depth and complexity of the berbere seasoning is indescribable—you really just have to try it for yourself. If you’ve never had Ethiopian food, this is a great gateway dish. The leftovers are even delicious eaten cold!

Yield: 6-8 servings.
Per serving (6): 345 calories, 8.9g fat (1g sat), 49.7g carbs, 10g fiber, 19.7g protein.
Per serving (8): 259 calories, 6.7g fat (.5g sat), 37.3g carbs, 7g fiber, 14.7g protein.

If you like this, you might also like…
A vegan taste of Ethiopia
Spiced red lentil soup
Indian curried lentils

36 Comments leave one →
  1. June 1, 2010 1:28 pm

    Yum!! Did you find lentils that you were happy with? This looks absolutely delicious.

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 7, 2010 10:16 am

      I found that cooking the lentils for only 25 minutes (instead of the 30-40 they suggested) creates the proper, pleasantly toothsome texture. I think they use UNsplit red lentils in the restaurant, which I never see in stores, so it’s safe to assume any red lentils you buy are pre-split.

  2. June 1, 2010 2:07 pm

    That looks yummy! I’ve never heard of berbere, but I’ll look around and see if I can find it. Utah isn’t exactly a gourmet cook’s playground.

    Also, I promise I’ll blog a batch of almond milk as soon as I finish the carton in the fridge! 🙂

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 7, 2010 10:16 am

      I’m sure there’s an online source, though I couldn’t tell you where. I can’t wait to see your nut milk(s)!

  3. June 1, 2010 4:23 pm

    That looks so good! I’m going to have to try and find that spice somewhere so I can make this dish! Yum!

    Oh, and my nut bag came in the mail! Hooray! I can’t wait to try it out! 🙂

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 7, 2010 10:17 am

      Like I told McKella above, berbere should be fairly easy to find online. And I can’t wait for your nut milk post either!

  4. June 1, 2010 6:49 pm

    Um, next time you come to Dallas, we should meet up!! 🙂

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 7, 2010 10:17 am

      Um, YEAH! I’m thinking you’re right :]

  5. June 1, 2010 8:21 pm

    Oh, yum. Yum. I’m such a fan of dahl, and this looks like its spicier cousin. Time for a trip to The Essentil Ingredient for some Herbie’s Spices, I think. (Plus, this fits right into my current ‘collecting recipes for budget student living’ plan. Ta :D)

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 7, 2010 10:18 am

      This is indeed very dal-like AND budget-friendly!

  6. June 2, 2010 12:54 am

    What a wonderful dish – thankyou for sharing! I bet it made your house smell divine too!!!

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 7, 2010 10:18 am

      Oh, it DID! Berbere is a delightfully fragrant spice.

  7. June 2, 2010 12:27 pm

    oh how interesting! i have never tried ethiopian food……thanks for the heads up on the spice….and i love your answer to my wine question! love a fellow wino 🙂

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 7, 2010 10:18 am

      Woot for winos! If you’ve never had Ethiopian food, I’d say you need to hurry up and get you some :]

  8. June 2, 2010 3:30 pm

    That does sound quite splendid Amber. I love all African foods and will be hopefully be going on a course soon.

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 7, 2010 10:19 am

      I love African food too, and I think culinary interest in it should be more widespread than it is.

  9. June 2, 2010 4:47 pm

    ehtio food is something i never make but i need to try my hand at it!

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 7, 2010 10:19 am

      It’s too easy and tasty NOT to try :]

  10. June 2, 2010 10:58 pm

    Much better than I thought it would be. And I don’t live that far from Blue Nile. All you have to do is ask nicely (by making more blondies!) and I’d go get you some injera.

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 7, 2010 10:19 am

      Thank you for the comment, baby! This was a nice surprise :] So you want blondies soon? You got it.

  11. June 3, 2010 6:01 pm

    I love this dish! I have had a couple of meals at Ethiopian restaurants in Dallas and I liked it a lot; it is spicy and full of flavor. Glad to hear you enjoyed your weekend in Dallas!

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 7, 2010 10:19 am

      I’ll have to pick your brain on Dallas-area ethnic restaurants before my next trip…

  12. June 4, 2010 9:44 am

    This looks amazing! I’ve never attempted anything like this on my own before, but definitely something I want to try. I’m a huge fan of African foods.

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 7, 2010 10:19 am

      Like I told Helen, I think more people ought to try African foods. Stuff like this is just so easy to make AND easy to fall in love with.

  13. June 5, 2010 1:35 pm

    Okay, how did you know I’ve recently become obsessed with Ethiopian food? I love you for posting this recipe!

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 7, 2010 10:19 am

      I did not know that, but I love you back for being obsessed! 😛

  14. July 7, 2010 12:33 am

    I just went to Blue Nile for the first time and had this, and thought “Huh…How does one make this?” Thank you for the recipe. I’ll certainly be trying it! I think they sell berbere at Blue Nile. Dang, I should have bought some! Glad to know I’m not the only KC vegan. Vegan peeps are sparse around here. Have you been to FUD yet?

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 7, 2010 9:38 am

      Tara—No problem! That’s awesome that you went to Blue Nile. (Don’t miss my post about the vegan cooking class I took there.) I love meeting and hearing from new local foodies and vegans. More of us need to come out of the woodwork, I think!

      I just went to FüD for the first time the week before last. It’s tiny, and a wee bit disorganized, but I’m not judging—I’m not sure I could do what Heidi does! My bf and I ordered tostadas and then, after seeing how small they were, we shared some nachos. Both had the wild rice “meat,” which blew me away. I’d love to have/find/learn that recipe! The goji cheeze was delicious (and fascinating) too, and the raw chocolate cake and cashew ice cream we shared for dessert were stupendous. I’ll be posting about that meal in a week or two!

  15. July 7, 2010 9:58 am

    I kind of liked that it was random, or as you say a bit disorganized. I think I kind of expected it. The portions were smaller than most restaurants, but as I started eating realized that it was probably all I “should” eat. My hubbie ordered the wild rice meat chalupa, and I totally agree about how awesome it was and how much I need the recipe! I’ve been dreaming about that cashew cream. We went back a second time, and they didn’t have any because the machine was being repaired, but I’m sure we will head back again. I want to take my kids. My oldest is fascinated with my new diet and tries to catch me eating animal products, so having him try that ice cream will be fun. He says he’s kind of vegan and kind of a meat eater ha ha! I’m going to Blue Nile to get the spices I need to make the lentils for sure this week, and would love to take one of the classes they offer. None are up currently, but I’ll keep looking 🙂

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      July 7, 2010 10:26 am

      Yeah, it felt homey and friendly. After ordering the nachos, I too thought “Well, I could be ‘full enough’ after just the tostada,” but I wasn’t sorry for getting the extra, heh. That’s too bad you didn’t get to try the ice cream! It’s worth a trip back, and definitely try that raw chocolate cake too!
      That’s so great that your kids are interested in your diet. The cashew ice cream is a dead ringer for real, full-fat, premium dairy (soft-serve-ish) ice cream, so I bet your son will love it (especially with chocolate & caramel sauce!).

      You can get berbere elsewhere for less, I’m sure, but to me it was worth the convenience (and supporting the restaurant) to just buy it there. It was a few bucks for the bag. I took the class through UMKC’s Communiversity program, so keep an eye out there!

  16. October 14, 2010 1:33 pm

    Um hello! This looks amazing! I’m making this tonight! or… tomorrow! lol
    Looks fantastic! Thank you so much for the link!

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      October 14, 2010 1:34 pm

      You are most welcome! I hope you try it and love it 😀

  17. October 19, 2010 1:57 pm

    What ingredients are in the berbere you use? I looked up the mix and, according to Wikipedia, it is composed of some items that I couldn’t get easily, so I ordered some online. I received it the other day only to find that this particular mix is all items that I had in my spice cabinet! Thanks in advance!

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      October 20, 2010 2:25 pm

      Aw, I’m sorry to hear that! I’ve never ordered berbere online, so I’m not sure I can recommend a particular site. Nor can I actually tell you what’s in my berbere, incidentally—I buy mine from a local Ethiopian restaurant. They make it in-house from a family recipe, and sell it in little unlabeled plastic bags. If you have access to an Ethiopian restaurant in your area, I’d go in and ask them if you can purchase some of their berbere. (And pick up some injera while you’re at it! :P)

  18. Connie Berggren permalink
    December 28, 2010 4:17 pm

    Oh my goodness! My kids bought me some spices from our new favorite restaurant (aka the Blue Nile) for Christmas & I am totally trying this tonight. My honey is stopping by Blue Nile to bring us a package of Injera to eat with it! Thank you – thank you – thank you! I’ll let you know how it goes! 🙂

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      December 28, 2010 7:34 pm

      Connie, that’s wonderful! What a thoughtful gift from your children and kind favor from your husband. You can be sure that you’re returning the favor, big-time, by making these amazing lentils 🙂 Please let me know how your family enjoys them!

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