Mesir Wat Lentil Stew with Ayib

Throw open that spice cabinet and give your spice-jar tower a spin; we’re putting them to good use today! Classic Ethiopian Recipes are a celebration of exotic spices and slow-cooked flavor. Mesir Wat, a traditional Red Lentil Stew, is both bold and comforting with a generous dollop of creamy Ayib cheese on top.

Ethiopian Recipes - Mesir Wat Lentil Stew with Ayib

Ethiopian cuisine relies heavily on sophisticated melodies of spice. It elevates simple staple foods, like chicken, lentils and common veggies, to new heights with the proper use of ground spices, chiles, seeds and herbs.

My older brother introduced me to Ethiopian food about 15 years ago. He described it as, “Like Indian food, but better.” Having spent a considerable amount of time in India, this was taken as a slanderous challenge.

After sampling various Ethiopian recipes, I must correct his evaluation. There is no “better” in comparing the two. Ethiopian dishes are just as tasty as my favorite Indian dishes, yet very different.

Ethiopian Recipes - Mesir Wat Lentil Stew with Ayib

Both Indian and Ethiopian recipes use similar spices and ingredients. They both offer numerous slow-cooked curries/stews. It’s the technique, elaborate flavor combinations, and presentation that stand apart, making them both unique in their own right.

This common red lentil stew, is a staple in Ethiopian cuisine. Mesir Wat (pronounced me-sir wot) is loaded with onions, ginger, garlic and, of course, spices galore. Authentic Ethiopian recipes generally call for berbere paste, a hot spice blend made of  chiles, paprika and too many spices to count. As berbere is not commonly found in most grocery stores, I used a combination of Garam Masala (an Indian spice blend), Hot Smoked Paprika, Turmeric and tomato paste to replicate it’s flavor. Although loaded with spice, Mesir Wat is not overly spicy-hot. The rich blend of flavors is a real treat of the senses.

Ethiopian Recipes - Mesir Wat Lentil Stew with Ayib

To top this wonderful stew, I’ve made Ethiopian Cheese called Ayib (sometimes Iab.) This soft crumbly cheese is slightly tart and just moist enough to hold together. It is the perfect calming note to cut through the spice.

Plus, Mesir Wat is both Gluten Free and Vegetarian.

Ethiopian Recipes - Mesir Wat Lentil Stew with Ayib


Yield: 8 servings

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Ethiopian Recipes - Mesir Wat Red Lentil Stew with Ayib


For the Red Lentil Stew:

  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
  • 2 cloves, garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon hot smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon tumeric
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper

For the Ayib (Iab):

  • 3 cups (24 ounces) small curb cottage cheese
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 tablespoons plain greek yogurt
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  1. Place a large sauce pot over medium heat. Add the butter and chopped onions and saute for 3-5 minutes, until soft. Add the ginger and garlic and saute another 2 minutes.
  2. Next add the spices and tomato paste along with 2 teapoons of salt. Mix well, then add the lentils and 6 cups of water.
  3. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Uncover and stir the lentils, then continue to cook uncovered for another 10-15 minutes until a thick porridge-like consistency is reached. Remove from heat and cover until ready to serve.
  5. For the Ayib: Rinse and drain the cottage cheese in cold water until only clean curds are left. Place the curds in a bowl and press them dry with paper towels until most of the moisture in removed and the curds have broken up.
  6. Mix in the yogurt, lemon zest and salt. Refrigerated until ready to serve. To serve: Scoop the Mesir Wat into bowl and place a generous dollop of Ayib on top.

More Recipes for Spice-oholics:

Authentic Indian Chai

Roasted Fish with Creamy Curried Cauliflower

Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwiches

Ethiopian Mushroom Saute ~ Veggie Belly

Spicy Vietnamese Lemongrass Tofu ~ Kohler Created

Spicy Lamb and Lentil Stew ~ Simply Delicious

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54 Responses to “Mesir Wat Lentil Stew with Ayib”

  1. #
    Alison — March 12, 2012 @ 5:39 am

    I’ve been on an Ethiopian binge this week. Brought home some fresh injera and a few bottles of tej from Atlanta, whipped up a batch of berbere and niter kibbeh, then made a bunch of dishes: yemisir wat (lentil stew), doro wat (chicken stew), gomen (greens), and zil zil tibs (beef stew). Love how easy these all are to make once you have the spices and clarified butter. Will have to try the Ayib. I make my dishes very hot and spicy, so we usually serve with yogurt.


  2. #
    Belinda @zomppa — March 12, 2012 @ 5:42 am

    This is one of my favorite dishes – love this version!


  3. #
    Belinda @zomppa — March 12, 2012 @ 5:48 am

    This is one of my favorite dishes – love this version! And the ayib is awwww-some.


  4. #
    Lindsay @ Pinch of Yum — March 12, 2012 @ 7:37 am

    LOVE it! I am on a major lentil kick these days and I love all the spices in this. Great work Sommer!


  5. #
    MIss @ Miss in the Kitchen — March 12, 2012 @ 8:23 am

    We have been eating more lentils and this sounds so full of flavor, amazing!


  6. #
    Robyn Stone | Add a Pinch — March 12, 2012 @ 8:25 am

    This sounds packed full of flavor, Sommer! So beautiful.


  7. #
    Suzi — March 12, 2012 @ 8:30 am

    This sounds fantastic and loaded with delicious spices. How would the borwn lentils work out, it is hard for me to fine the red ones? Hope you have a wonderful day.


    • Sommer — March 12th, 2012 @ 8:39 am

      Brown/Green Lentils would be fine. Although they may be easier to find than you think. I found them in the bulk-bins at my small town grocery store.


  8. #
    The Mistress of Spices — March 12, 2012 @ 8:48 am

    I loooove Ethiopian food! Seeing this post makes me miss Washington DC and the Little Addis over there where Ethiopian restaurants were a dime a dozen. None here in Bangkok I’m afraid, so I’ll have to make my own! I’ll probably start with your recipe :-) And I think it’s pretty easy to make your own berbere, though I’ve never tried. Thanks for sharing!


  9. #
    Aggie — March 12, 2012 @ 9:13 am

    Wow Sommer, this sounds absolutely amazing. I really love trying new spices and cuisines…I have got to make this. Love lentils!


  10. #
    Ambika — March 12, 2012 @ 9:20 am

    This looks lovely! I have never tried Ethiopian food, but have heard so much about it. This may be the perfect recipe to start!


  11. #
    Terese — March 12, 2012 @ 9:24 am

    Leave out the cheese & butter and it is vegan too with oil instead of butter! This looks wonderful!


  12. #
    Cassie — March 12, 2012 @ 9:45 am

    This looks and sounds wonderful, Sommer! I love trying new cuisines. There is an Ethiopian cafe right down the street from our loft and we keep mentioning that we need to try it. After seeing this, I am talking my husband into it this week. Love this!


  13. #
    Christine — March 12, 2012 @ 10:31 am

    Ohhh love it! We have Ethiopian frequently and Yemsir Wot and Kei Wot are two of our favotires. Thanks for the recipe!


  14. #
    Jeanette — March 12, 2012 @ 11:10 am

    I’ve yet to try Ethiopian cuisine, so thanks for sharing this recipe. I love Indian food, so I’m sure I’ll enjoy this just as much.


  15. #
    Tickled Red — March 12, 2012 @ 11:14 am

    DS is going to love this recipe Sommer, he’s a big lentil nut. It looks amazing by the way ;D xoxo


  16. #
    Asiya — March 12, 2012 @ 11:44 am

    I have never had Ethopian food before…Indian food is just about everyday! I never knew the 2 were similar…have to give this a try. Looks very similar to daal and in our home everyone loves daal…Thx for sharing…very excited to try this out!


  17. #
    Judy@Savoring Today — March 12, 2012 @ 12:46 pm

    This sounds delightful, a must try for me. Thanks so much for sharing it and inviting us to give the ol’ spice rack a spin!


  18. #
    Kiri W. — March 12, 2012 @ 1:28 pm

    I love mesir wat! :) Ethiopian food is such a treat, wonderful recipe! Thank you for sharing this, I’ll have to try and make it.


  19. #
    Bev Weidner — March 12, 2012 @ 2:54 pm

    Oh my gosh this has me FAINTING. In a sexy way.


  20. #
    Amber/Sprinkled With Flour — March 12, 2012 @ 3:27 pm

    What an interesting stew and so yummy sounding!


  21. #
    Abby — March 12, 2012 @ 4:01 pm

    You are so adventurous! Love it and this recipe.


  22. #
    Alison @ Ingredients, Inc. — March 12, 2012 @ 4:24 pm

    This looks and sounds amazing!


  23. #
    Brian @ A Thought For Food — March 12, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

    I can only imagine how wonderful your house smelled! Thank you for sharing this wonderful recipe with us. Can’t wait to try it!


  24. #
    Deanna — March 12, 2012 @ 6:59 pm

    I love Ethiopian food, but I don’t really care for the bread they serve it on in restaurants. It fills me up too fast and I want to eat all the stews. I just bought a giant bag of lentils so this will be made very soon.


  25. #
    Russell at Chasing Delicious — March 12, 2012 @ 8:08 pm

    I love dishes like this. The flavor profile sounds incredible! And give me red lentils any day! Yum!


  26. #
    Monet — March 12, 2012 @ 8:47 pm

    Oh this looks delicious. I’ve been lucky enough to eat Ethiopian food, and it is packed with such flavor! These are such pretty pictures to end my day with. Hugs and love from ATX!


  27. #
    Jennifer @ Peanut Butter and Peppers — March 12, 2012 @ 9:17 pm

    What a creative and wonderful recipe! I love all the recipes you post, glad I found you!!


  28. #
    Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen — March 13, 2012 @ 1:43 am

    I just want to dive right in it sounds so good!


  29. #
    carolinaheartstrings — March 13, 2012 @ 10:21 am

    That looks amazingly delicious. Cannot wait to try this out! Come visit us this week. We have some really wonderful Irish treats to share.


  30. #
    Jenna — March 13, 2012 @ 10:39 am

    This looks amazing! We have a number of Ethiopian restaurants in our neighborhood and their food is truly delicious, so I’m excited about this recipe that I can definitely make at home!


  31. #
    Carolyn — March 13, 2012 @ 12:53 pm

    LOVE all the flavours here, Sommer!


  32. #
    Shelly Donahue — March 14, 2012 @ 4:46 am

    I just received a care package that contained red lentils, I know a strange thing to put in a care package….Can’t wait to make this! We don’t have access to cottage cheese here, I’ll have to find a substitute. Thanks for this recipe, I’m looking forward to giving it a try.


  33. #
    Jen at The Three Little Piglets — March 14, 2012 @ 6:16 am

    There used to be a great Ethiopian restaurant in Washington, D.C. I tried to hit when I visited, and I really miss it. It was such simple and comforting food but so full of flavor.


  34. #
    Shaina — March 14, 2012 @ 8:37 am

    My mom used to take care of an Ethiopian family when I was growing up. Their kids were adorable, but I loved when they’d invite us over for dinner. I can close my eyes and imagine how this smells. Looks delicious.


  35. #
    Denise — March 19, 2012 @ 8:16 am

    This sounds wonderful. I have a bunch of red lentils which were going to become an Indian Dal but this sounds like a nice change up. While we do have an ethiopian restaurant we do not have much in the grocery store so I love that you gave us an alternative to berbere paste and the cheese on top! It makes this recipe possible. Thanks, can’t wait to try it!


  36. #
    Nadia — April 1, 2012 @ 10:52 am

    I just made this for dinner. I used 1 tablespoon of olive oil instead of 3 tablespoons of butter. It’s amazing! Thank you so much for sharing :)


  37. #
    simon — June 19, 2012 @ 4:10 pm

    1st time I’ve tried this and couldn’t resist fiddling!

    I added 2tsps of chopped fresh chilli for a bit more heat and 2 big pinches of powdered Chipotle for a smokey flavour.

    Epically tasty :-)


  38. #
    Colette — September 6, 2012 @ 1:57 pm

    Damn, that looks tasty!


  39. #
    mel — November 15, 2012 @ 8:01 am

    this was awesome! one of the most delicious lentil dishes i’ve made. normally i end up adding more spices to recipes, but this one was perfect just as written.


  40. #
    Jay — January 18, 2013 @ 7:55 pm

    May be a dumb question….. but are you using 2 cups dried lentils? Should they be soaked first?


  41. #
    Abby — July 28, 2013 @ 8:07 pm

    Hello! I made this today and it turned out perfectly. I was pointed here from (which is the recipe I used for doro wat). This was my favorite of 5 Ethiopian dishes we made (rated on deliciousness and authenticity from my gringo perspective). I wasn’t a huge fan of the ayib–but that’s because I don’t like the lemon. I would make the ayib next time because other people enjoy it. Thanks for the great recipes, Sommer!


  42. #
    Keri — October 7, 2013 @ 4:56 pm

    Great recipe. I substituted some berbere spice for all the dry spices (
    I just got it online) and it smelled and tasted exactly right!


  43. #
    Olga — January 13, 2014 @ 10:12 am

    Made this last night night and it was PERFECT!!! Tasted just like our favourite Ethiopian resto in the area!!!

    Thanks for the recipe!!!


  44. #
    Dannica — April 9, 2014 @ 9:44 pm

    Do you use whole lentils, or split ones? I used split red lentils tonight and it is very watery and not thickening.



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