Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Misir watt (Ethiopian lentils)

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

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

  2. 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! :)

  3. 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! :)

  4. Um, next time you come to Dallas, we should meet up!! :)

  5. 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)

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

  7. 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 :)

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

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

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

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

  14. Hillary—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.

    McKella & Aimee—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)!

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

    Aussie-Hannah—This is indeed very dal-like AND budget-friendly!

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

    Fit&40—Woot for winos! If you’ve never had Ethiopian food, I’d say you need to hurry up and get you some :]

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

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

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

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

    Linda—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.

    Bittersweet-Hannah—I did not know that, but I love you back for being obsessed! :P