Recipe Image

Messer Wot (Spiced Lentils)

  • 1 h
  • 1 h
Fetlework Tefferi
“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


  • 1 Rinse lentils in hot water until the water is clear. Transfer to a bowl, cover with water and let soak for 20 minutes. Drain well.
  • 2 Meanwhile, 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.
  • 3 Stir 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.
  • 4 Stir 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.
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