Melkam Gena, everybody! Today Christmas is celebrated in Ethiopia, so this seemed like the right day to do a recipe on how to make Misr Wot (also written as Misir Wot or Misir Wat).
First, a warning: This recipe might frustrate you beyond belief if you are someone who needs to have everything spelled out exactly. I’ll admit that this was my reaction when I first tried to make Misr Wot. You really have to rely on your own palate, and that can be frightening.
- 1 cup red lentils
- 4 tbsp. niter kibbeh, or unsalted butter, or vegetable oil if you want to keep things vegan
- 1 small-to-medium yellow onion, very finely chopped (a food processor will work nicely for this — you are going for a few slight levels above mushy in terms of fineness)
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped (you might want to chop another clove or two so you can add more if you want)
- 2 tbsp. berbere (you can buy it through Penzey’s spices or at Ethiopian stores if you’re in an area with a large Ethiopian population) at a minimum
- 1 small tomato, cored and chopped (you can also use tomato paste, but it will make it sweeter and you’ll need to compensate with more spices)
- Kosher salt
- Fresh ginger, grated, or pre-minced ginger is fine, too
Notes About Ingredients
- First, a note about berbere. You might not be able to find it locally, or you might not want to purchase it online. If that’s the case, I suggest you look at the different spice combinations recommended online. I haven’t tried any because I have access to berbere. (Insert smugness here.) I’ve seen recipes that look good on Ethiopian Restaurant.
- Then, on to the niter kibbeh. I’m not going to lie — it makes a huge difference to use spiced butter. Make a bunch of it the day before and store it for future recipes. Again, Ethiopian Restaurant is a good source.
- Rinse the lentils in cold water and put aside. I beseech you not to soak the lentils. Just rinse them under the cold water and drain them.
- Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. If the onions start to dry out, add a few drops of water at a time. You don’t want to add too much water to the onions. Why? I’m not sure. I was warned about this by the Ethiopian women who first showed me how to make this, so I’m taking it as gospel.
- Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add the reserved lentils, 1 tbsp. of the berbere, tomato, and 4 cups water to the saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick and the lentils are tender, 45–50 minutes.
- Here’s where the imprecision reaches its apex: You are going to want to taste this stuff, a LOT, while it is cooking, and add spices accordingly. If you want to mute the berbere, you might consider a teaspoon of finely chopped fresh ginger. If you want to add dimension, you should cook some more garlic in the butter and throw it in. You should also be adding berbere until you get it to the taste you want. As a final step, add salt to taste.
Ideally, this would be served with injera, a spongy Ethiopian bread, but you can eat it alone or with rice.
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