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Messer Wot (Spiced Lentils)
“Red lentils get plenty of heat from berbere spice in this Ethiopian recipe. You can balance the heat by stirring in some chopped tomato before serving. Serve as a satisfying vegan side dish along with other traditional recipes, such as kinche (cracked wheat) and fossolia (Ethiopian-style green beans). And don't forget injera, a traditional crêpe-like bread common in Ethiopia. Look for berbere in specialty grocery stores or online.”
1 cup red lentils
1¼ cups minced shallots or red onion
3 cups water, divided
2 tablespoons berbere spice blend (see Tips) or hot chili powder
½ teaspoon makulaya wot spice blend (see Tips) or equal parts ground cardamom and fenugreek
2 tablespoons minced garlic
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon mekelesha finishing spice mix (see Tips) or equal parts ground pepper and cinnamon
½ teaspoon sea salt
1Rinse lentils in hot water until the water is clear. Transfer to a bowl, cover with water and let soak for 20 minutes. Drain well.
2Meanwhile, cook shallots (or onion) in a large pot, covered, until starting to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in ⅓ cup water, cover and cook until the water evaporates, about 5 minutes. Add another ⅓ cup water and cook, uncovered and stirring often, until the shallots are soft and translucent, 5 to 10 minutes more.
3Stir in berbere (or chili powder) and cook, stirring, until it looks like a thick paste, about 1 minute. Stir in makulaya wot (or cardamom and fenugreek) and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. If the sauce is too dry, add additional warm water by the ¼ cup.
4Stir in the lentils. Thoroughly stir in oil and cook for 2 minutes. Pour in the remaining 2⅓ cups warm water and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring frequently, until the lentils are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in mekelesha (or pepper and cinnamon) and salt.
To make ahead: Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
Tips: Berbere, the main spice blend used in Ethiopian cooking, gets its fiery color and flavor from chile peppers.
Rich, smoky makulaya wot spice blend is made with toasted fenugreek and roasted shallots.
Cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper and long pepper make up mekelesha finishing spice mix.