Misir wot (Ethiopian lentil stew) transforms red lentils into an unbelievably fragrant and flavorful plant-based eating experience.
There are so many ways to cook red lentils. If you follow a plant-based diet, even occasionally, you probably eat a lot of them.
Today, let’s shake things up and give our favs a rocket launch of flavor. Take our quick-cooking red lentils to the next level with Ethiopian spices, including Berbere spice mix.
Not familiar with Berbere?
What garam masala is to Indian cooking or chili powder is to Americans (like me), berbere is to Ethiopian cuisine. It’s a unique spice blend that is spicy, sweet, and complex without being overly complicated.
What is Berbere spice?
Berbere is a traditional spice blend. Although the term 'barbare’ in Amharic, Ethiopia’s state language, means ‘pepper’ or ‘hot’, there is more to berbere than spicy chilis. Along with the heat are warm spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and fenugreek, and earthy turmeric, cumin, cardamom, and coriander.
It is accepted that berbere came along in the 5th century. The Ethiopians, having control of key spice trading routes from China, introduced local markets to new spices. Over time, households developed their own signature berbere mixes.
For this reason, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are a lot of variations when it comes to the berbere you make or buy. I’ve got my own homemade berbere mix, and I wouldn't consider changing. You can also find berbere spice mix in many larger supermarkets, specialty shops, or online.
Along with the Berbere, we’ll be highlighting a few more traditional spices as well as all the goodies to put together a red lentil feast.
Red lentils – Use split red lentils if you can. They are quicker to cook with a creamier texture.
Onions – Aim for a large onion or 2 medium onions. Anything around 2 cups of diced onions will do.
Garlic – 6 cloves of garlic means grab your garlic press. Anything over 2 cloves, and that’s how I end it.
Ginger – Fresh ginger is going to deliver the very best flavor. If you have the ginger that comes in a jar, use a tablespoon of it.
Tomatoes – I’ve only ever made this recipe with fresh tomatoes. You could try using 1 can of tomatoes. If you do this, you may need to adjust the water.
Berbere spice mix
Water – yes, water is an ingredient and an important one. You’ll use water to deglaze the pan after you add the garlic, ginger, and spices. Then, you’ll add more water to cook the lentils.
How to make this recipe
You’ll discover that this is an incredibly uncomplicated recipe to make. It’s also an honest 30 minutes if you have your spices handy. You can even grab all the spices and mix them up early and just have them handy.
Ethiopian cuisine takes on many forms and varieties. My version of Ethiopian lentils incorporates making Wat. This is a process of dry frying onions, ginger, garlic, and spices and then using water to deglaze the pan. Although the highlight of this recipe is the spices, browning the onions adds a lot to the flavor.
Take your time with the onions. Start with the pan hot, then add the onions. That helps keep them from sticking (especially when you are using no oil). Be sure to keep them moving so they can’t think about sinking into the bottom of the pan. Add a tablespoon of water if you need to.
This recipe goes quickly, so gather all your ingredients, including the spices, before you begin cooking. There is a small break of about 10 minutes once you add the tomatoes, so you can rinse the lentils, grab your Berbere spice, and more water.
You want to be sure that you are prepared to add the garlic, ginger, and first 4 spices in short order and then deglaze with ½ a cup of water. This keeps the garlic from scorching and getting bitter.
Expert Tips and FAQs
Red lentils can be purchased whole or split. Generally, they have the skins removed, making them orangish in appearance. Split red lentils take less time to cook and result in a creamier texture; however, split and whole can be used interchangeably.
The best substitute is yellow lentils (moong dal). They will take longer to cook and may require more liquid. You can use green lentils, but they will hold their shape and won’t be as creamy or ‘mushy’ as red lentils.
The best option? Make your own. There just isn’t anything like it. If you follow our recipe, we will guide you on a few ingredient substitutions.
Your homemade berbere is as fresh as the oldest ingredient. If you make your own, pay attention to the 'best by' date for each spice. Mark that as the 'best by' for your berbere blend.
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My final spicy thoughts
Spices and spice blends are enticing, fat-free weapons for keeping you on the plant-based track. We don’t do boredom well, and that goes for eating. Here’s my spicy tip of the day.
Have a monthly spice roundup. Inspect each bottle. Look for the date and then shake the bottle. Is it all clumpy? Has moisture seeped in somehow? Is there an indiscernible amount left? Look in the back of the cupboard. Decide what's too ancient to be recognized and needs to be replaced or added to your spice war chest? Have a spice blend bonanza day. Make chili powder, Berbere, Baharat, or Za’atar. It might sound obsessive but running out is no fun. How often do you even have a close spice substitution on hand? Me? Not so often. Peace.Print
Misir Wot (Ethiopian lentil stew)
Misir wot (Ethiopian lentil stew) transforms red lentils into an unbelievably fragrant and a flavorful plant-based eating experience.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 30 minutes
- Total Time: 50 minutes
- Yield: 4 servings 1x
- Category: Main Courses
- Cuisine: Ethiopian
- 1 large or 2 medium onions diced (about 2 cups)
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, minced
- 1 tsp. turmeric
- ¼ tsp. ground cardamom
- ⅓ tsp. cinnamon
- ⅛ tsp. nutmeg
- ½ cup water
- 2 medium tomatoes, diced (about 2 cups)
- 2 -3 Tbsp. Berbere spice blend
- 2 cups red lentils, rinsed and sorted (I prefer split lentils, but you can use whole)
- 4 cups water
- Preheat a pot to medium, then add the onions. Cook the onions until they start to become translucent and brown. If the onions begin to stick, add water a tablespoon at a time.
- Add the garlic, ginger, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir to coat everything in the spices for about 30 seconds to a minute.
- Immediately, add ½ cup of water to deglaze the pan.
- Add the tomatoes and allow them to cook and break down for another 10 minutes.
- Add 2 cups of lentils, 4 cups of water, and 2-3 Tbsp. of the Berbere spice blend. Mix everything, cover the pot, and allow the lentils to simmer until they are tender (15-20 minutes). Add more water ½ cup at-a-time if the lentils are not tender after the liquid is absorbed.
- Season with salt and pepper if desired.
- Once the lentils are tender, remove them from the heat and serve in bowls. Serve the lentils with rice if you prefer.
- Garnish with lemon slices.
- This recipe calls for split red lentils. They cook faster and have a creamier texture than whole red lentils. If you use whole lentils, allow an additional 10-15 minutes (or more) of cooking time. Monitor the water and add more if needed. Cook until the lentils are tender.
- Look for Berbere spice blend in the specialty section of larger supermarkets and shops that have African foods. The best substitute for Berbere is to make your own.
Keywords: misir wot