Ethiopian recipes have become a favorite in our house. Even my American born son loves them as much as my Ethiopian born daughter. The first time I ever had Ethiopian food was when we were anxiously awaiting for our adoption to be completed. We visited a little Ethiopian restaurant in Boston and we loved everything about it. The food was delicious, the people were warm and gracious and I’ve been making Ethiopian recipes at home ever since.
Our favorite is this spicy red lentil dish called Mesir Wat. The lentils melt in your mouth and the warming, bold spices are like heaven. Ethiopians make a lot of these stew-like dishes with vegetables and legumes and they are served on huge sour-dough flatbread called injera. Made from teff flour which grows predominantly in Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea, the whole grain teff is incredibly nutritious.
I’ve tried making injera with pure teff and it came out nothing like what I get in an Ethiopian restaurant, so I can only assume they use some wheat flour here in America or have some magical super powers I don’t know about. Maybe someday I’ll try to make it again, but when you’ve got a restaurant that’s 10 minutes from home, it’s just too easy to buy it there!
Do you see that smile on my son’s face? It took about 5 years for him to learn to like Ethiopian food, but now he’ll tell you it ranks right at the top of his favorite food list. His words during dinner last night as he scarfed down injera and mesir wat – “mmmmmm, this is exactly what I needed!” Makes a mom happy I tell you.
I’ve eaten this dish in Ethiopia and here in America at several Ethiopian restaurants and gatherings where it was brought by Ethiopian friends. I have to say, while not exact, mine some pretty darned close. As long as you can get your hands on berbere (a spice mixture used widely in Ethiopian recipes), it’s a really simple and healthy recipe. You can usually purchase some from a local restaurant or order from Amazon.com. Sometimes you can find it in Whole Foods too. There are even recipes like this one to make your own.
Traditional Ethiopian recipes have a good deal of fat in them because they use a spiced clarified butter call niter kibbeh in everything. While it is delicious, I prefer to cut the fat and keep things much more healthy. So in my recipes I usually don’t use any butter or oil or maybe mix in a bit of Earth Balance to the whole pot at the end. My body thanks me for it. 🙂
I love to serve this mesir wat with stewed collards and a green salad with a vinegary dressing. The injera is used to scoop up the food – yup – this is a hands on meal! Feel free to decrease the amount of berbere if heat is not your thing. It can be pretty spicy. My daughter usually mixes some up with water and dumps it on her food so it’s so spicy that her nose runs. She also loves just eat injera dipped in this berbere/water mixture. Whoa! Too hot for me!
- 1 cup finely minced or pureed onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 T grated fresh ginger
- ½ lb red lentils
- 3 cups water
- 1 T berbere more or less to taste
- ½ T cumin
- 1 T paprika
- 2 cups crushed tomatoes
- 1 tsp salt or to taste
- 1 T Earth Balance (optional)
- Cook onion, ginger and garlic in a heated pot until soft. Use a bit of water to keep from sticking.
- Add lentils, water, and spices (excluding salt). Bring to a boil and immediately lower the heat as low as possible. Simmer, covered, just until lentils are soft, about 20-25 minutes.
- Add tomatoes, salt and Earth Balance if using.
- Taste for salt and spice. Adjust to your liking.
If you don’t have injera, this is still wonderful served over some brown rice or millet. The grains could be seasoned with some of the berbere, onion, garlic and ginger if you’d like.
If you’ve never eaten Ethiopian food, find a restaurant and give it a try or make this recipe at home. You’re in for a treat especially in a restaurant where it’s okay to eat with your hands off a big communal platter. So fun!
Spreadin’ the veggie love,