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 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.
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.
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.
More Recipes for Spice-oholics:
Ethiopian Mushroom Saute ~ Veggie Belly
Spicy Vietnamese Lemongrass Tofu ~ Kohler Created
Spicy Lamb and Lentil Stew ~ Simply Delicious
Ethiopian Recipes - Mesir Wat Red Lentil Stew with Ayib
Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time:15 minutes
Cook Time:40 minutes
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
- 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.
- Next add the spices and tomato paste along with 2 teapoons of salt. Mix well, then add the lentils and 6 cups of water.
- Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Making this recipe? Why not take a quick shot and share it on Instagram! Make sure to tag it #ASpicyPerspective so we can see what you're cooking!