Mesir Wat Lentil Stew with Ayib

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

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56 comments on “Mesir Wat Lentil Stew with Ayib

  1. Alisonposted March 12, 2012 at 5:39 am Reply

    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 @zomppaposted March 12, 2012 at 5:42 am Reply

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

  3. Belinda @zomppaposted March 12, 2012 at 5:48 am Reply

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

  4. Lindsay @ Pinch of Yumposted March 12, 2012 at 7:37 am Reply

    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 Kitchenposted March 12, 2012 at 8:23 am Reply

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

  6. Robyn Stone | Add a Pinchposted March 12, 2012 at 8:25 am Reply

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

  7. Suziposted March 12, 2012 at 8:30 am Reply

    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.

    • Sommerposted March 12, 2012 at 8:39 am Reply

      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 Spicesposted March 12, 2012 at 8:48 am Reply

    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. Aggieposted March 12, 2012 at 9:13 am Reply

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

  10. Ambikaposted March 12, 2012 at 9:20 am Reply

    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. Tereseposted March 12, 2012 at 9:24 am Reply

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

  12. Cassieposted March 12, 2012 at 9:45 am Reply

    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. Christineposted March 12, 2012 at 10:31 am Reply

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

  14. Jeanetteposted March 12, 2012 at 11:10 am Reply

    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 Redposted March 12, 2012 at 11:14 am Reply

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

  16. Kiri W.posted March 12, 2012 at 1:28 pm Reply

    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.

  17. Asiyaposted March 12, 2012 at 11:44 am Reply

    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!

  18. [email protected] Todayposted March 12, 2012 at 12:46 pm Reply

    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!

  19. Bev Weidnerposted March 12, 2012 at 2:54 pm Reply

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

  20. Amber/Sprinkled With Flourposted March 12, 2012 at 3:27 pm Reply

    What an interesting stew and so yummy sounding!

  21. Abbyposted March 12, 2012 at 4:01 pm Reply

    You are so adventurous! Love it and this recipe.

  22. Alison @ Ingredients, Inc.posted March 12, 2012 at 4:24 pm Reply

    This looks and sounds amazing!

  23. Brian @ A Thought For Foodposted March 12, 2012 at 4:29 pm Reply

    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. Russell at Chasing Deliciousposted March 12, 2012 at 8:08 pm Reply

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

  25. Deannaposted March 12, 2012 at 6:59 pm Reply

    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.

  26. Monetposted March 12, 2012 at 8:47 pm Reply

    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 Peppersposted March 12, 2012 at 9:17 pm Reply

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

  28. Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchenposted March 13, 2012 at 1:43 am Reply

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

  29. carolinaheartstringsposted March 13, 2012 at 10:21 am Reply

    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. Jennaposted March 13, 2012 at 10:39 am Reply

    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. Carolynposted March 13, 2012 at 12:53 pm Reply

    LOVE all the flavours here, Sommer!

  32. Shelly Donahueposted March 14, 2012 at 4:46 am Reply

    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 Pigletsposted March 14, 2012 at 6:16 am Reply

    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. Shainaposted March 14, 2012 at 8:37 am Reply

    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. Deniseposted March 19, 2012 at 8:16 am Reply

    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. Nadiaposted April 1, 2012 at 10:52 am Reply

    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. simonposted June 19, 2012 at 4:10 pm Reply

    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. Pingback: Mesir Wat Lentil Stew recipe, Ethiopian Food Recipes

  39. Coletteposted September 6, 2012 at 1:57 pm Reply

    Damn, that looks tasty!

  40. melposted November 15, 2012 at 8:01 am Reply

    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.

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  43. Jayposted January 18, 2013 at 7:55 pm Reply

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

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  45. Abbyposted July 28, 2013 at 8:07 pm Reply

    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!

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  49. Keriposted October 7, 2013 at 4:56 pm Reply

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

  50. Olgaposted January 13, 2014 at 10:12 am Reply

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

    Thanks for the recipe!!!

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  53. Dannicaposted April 9, 2014 at 9:44 pm Reply

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

  54. Jennaposted January 25, 2016 at 2:50 pm Reply

    I have berbere on hand – how much should I use instead of the spices you listed? Do I omit all of the spices as well?

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