Monday, May 31, 2010

Restaurant Envy: Mesir Wat

A few weeks ago, a dear friend and I found ourselves in a quiet Ethiopian restaurant in Washington DC, home to the largest community of Ethiopian immigrants in the United States. We were sighing with relief that we were finally indoors getting a respite from the unseasonal heat wave, and giggling with anticipation of the tasty meal. It was my friend's very first time tasting Ethiopian cuisine and I was eager to introduce her to something I love. She has come to love Indian food over the years and enjoys cooking with spices, so I had an inkling that she would like the meal.

A few minutes after we settled down, a lovely server brought us the vegetarian combo, a large communal platter covered edge to edge with a pancake-like spongy bread called injera. Dotted on this edible platter were dollops of curries and stews in brown, red, yellow and green hues. Folded packets of extra injera were arranged in a small basket on the side. My friend and I did not hesitate- we each reached for some injera and used our hands to hungrily tear bite size chunks, scoop up the stews and exclaim over which one was our favorite. There was one with collard greens cooked to perfection, another with buttery cabbage and carrots, one with yellow lentils, and one with red lentils, and so on. We agreed that the earthy yet silky mesir wat was our very favorite. There was something about this stew that really made one ignore good table manners and lick one's fingers. When all the stews and vegetables disappeared, we ate the spice and butter-soaked injera underneath and sighed with happy satisfaction.

See photographs of Ethiopian cuisine here, here and here

Leaving the restaurant, I declared, quite predictably, that I wanted to try copying that mesir wat in my own kitchen. I started with this recipe and what follows is my short-cut adaptation of it. The good news is that if you have a well-stocked Indian pantry, you already have everything to need to try this dish from a completely different cuisine. The only extra spice that may not be in all Indian kitchens in paprika.

Mesir Wat
{Ethiopian Lentil Stew}

(adapted from What4Eats, serves 4-6)
  1. Make a fine spice powder with 12 inch cinnamon stick, 12 tsp cardamom seeds,  3 cloves and 14 tsp. fenugreek seeds
  2. Chop 2 medium onions coarsely and puree them to a fine, thick paste. You can make this paste in the same grinder used for the spices; one less thing to wash.
  3. In a heavy pot, heat 2 tbsp. oil and 2 tbsp. butter. On low heat, saute the spice powder for several minutes to infuse the fats with spice flavors. Spices can burn easily so watch the pot like a hawk. Burnt spices taste horrible.
  4. Add 12 tsp turmeric powder, 1 tsp. cayenne pepper (red chilli powder) and 1 tbsp. paprika and stir for a few seconds.
  5. Add onion puree and 1 heaped tsp. ginger-garlic paste and stir on medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes or until the paste is cooked, browned and fragrant.
  6. Add 34 cup rinsed red lentils (masoor dal) and 4 cups water. Stir, bring to a boil and simmer until the lentils are tender and falling apart. Season with salt to taste.
This is one tasty and complex stew, even if it is not much of a looker. V commented that it has a very "meaty" taste and I think that could be because it is made with onion paste and spices that are similar to those used in meat curries.

In a gesture of Indo-African solidarity, I served the mesir wat with dosa, and we really enjoyed the combination. Now that I have found a mesir wat recipe that I like, I'll try to make injera with fermented teff flour to make a real proper Ethiopian meal.

This flavorful lentil stew is going to Susan @ The Well-Seasoned Cook for the 23rd edition of My Legume Love Affair.

Have you tasted Ethiopian food and do you like it? Does anyone have a good recipe for making injera at home?

* * *
And now for the winner of the Adaptation Edition of Blog Bite. There was a tie between Kanchan's biscuit pudding and Preeti's cheese koftas, so I flipped a coin virtually, and...

...the winner is Preeti of Relishing Recipes!

But all together, there were less than a dozen votes so I can only conclude that people are not interested in this kind of a contest (which is not a big deal; you never know what works or what readers like until you try it). There will be no voting in the subsequent round-ups. I hope you will participate in BB4 and eat down the food lurking in your kitchen- some awesome entries are already trickling in!


  1. Oh goody! I hadn't decided what to make for dinner yet, but now I have! I don't have any dosa or injera, but I think a bit of toast will do in a pinch. You must have really nailed it if V. called it "meaty" for that is exactly how I remember it. Thank you Nupur!!

  2. Hey, thanks a million! And big thanks to prema and priya for voting fore me. Mesir wat looks yummy nupur!

  3. Wow this looks soo new to me. But sounds totally delciious. I've tried ethiopian food quite a few times. Love to try it sometime.

  4. What a coincidence- I have been looking for a good Ethiopian Stew recipe. I recently found a vegan Ethiopian restaurant and really enjoyed the food there. My favorite was a red lentil stew which was so simple yet sooo tasty!!!!

    I have been recently feeling pretty jaded cooking-wise(mostly because I have been so busy with grad school work that I have been making food that I don't need to think about) so I am looking forward to trying this recipe (something new). Will let you know how it turns out!

    The contest is such a great idea- don't scrap it!! (I haven't been voting but only due to complete lack of time..:()

  5. actually- this just might have been the stew that I liked best too (just realised that this is also made with red lentils)

  6. I love Ethiopian food! It's so similar to indian food. Like you said, the best part is that soaked injeera like you said! Great recipe... It's always nice to try new cuisines at home.

  7. Amazing coincidence! I just made a nice big Ethiopian meal this weekend with Misir Wot, ye-misir ferfere and gomen.. its my go to meal atleast once in a couple of months when Ethiopian cravings get the better of me. Your misir wot looks delicious!

  8. Hi Nupur, looks like I've been missing out on alot! The mesir wat looks great, esp with perfect dosa.

    There are several Ethiopian restaurants in this area that I am anxious to try. Thanks for the recipe to try-ahead :)

  9. Had this for dinner this evening - awesome!!

  10. Toronto has great Ethiopian restaurants, so I'm lucky. My fave dishes are Mesir Wat and Silsi...thanks for this recipe!

  11. Aww.. Noo.. Apan ka Badluckach Kharab hain :P !!

    But that’s fine .. thanks to Meera and Johanna for voting for me … both of u really made my day !!
    I had been too busy for last couple of weeks so when you mentioned my name at the end of the post it was pleasant surprise... I just went back to your roundup and voting post and checked out just now … feeling quite blissful now :D

  12. Congrats Preeti !!! I love those cheese koftas and bookmarked it :)

    Nupur, lovely looking recipe, never tried ethiopian cuisine before.

  13. Love Ethiopian food. Glad you joined MLLA w/ this, Nupur. Wats are amazing. Thank you!

    (P.S. - If you have the teff, I have the injera recipe, unless you've since found one.)

  14. Hi Nupur,

    The collard greens dish really makes me curious. Do you know what its called?

    Also maybe you could find Ethiopian recipes in Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian.

  15. Hi Nupur! What a wonderful re-do of the dish you had! Of course this is a new dish to me, but you make it seem very accessible and try-worthy!

  16. will try htis,,looks so good,...

  17. I love Ethiopian food in DC! Did you go to Adam's Morgan? I can't remember where I ate but I loved it.

  18. I abslutely love Ethiopian food...tho Rajiv is not a big fan of it. This recipe is bookmarked....
    I have also bookmarked an injera recipe...if i am up to it..i will try that it out and let you know. I am sure with your resourcefulness and zest, you will beat me to it!

  19. Hi Nupur,
    Is the red lentil which you get in american grocery stores the same as "masoor" ehich you get in indian stores?

  20. Lovely recipe. I crave Ethiopian food once in a while but never have tried this at home.

  21. Cathy- Yes, it would go well with toast or even with rice. So glad you were able to try it so quickly :)

    Preeti Kashyap- Yay, hope you like your little surprise gift.

    shriya- I was glad it was easy to replicate this at home, do give it a try.

    Lavanya- Oh, I know, when life gets busy you just stick to the basics, but I hope your workload eases up soon and you get more time to slow down and take it easy.

    The Housewife- Yes, I love how similar it is to Indian food but still a unique cuisine.

    PJ- I get Ethiopian craving every few months too, luckily there is a good restaurant here in St. Louis!

    Linda- So glad to see you posting again :)

    Niranjana- I'm trying to think if I have tasted silsi, the unfamiliar names elude me :)

    Kanchan- Next time I come to Bombay (in a couple of yrs) will bring you a real special gift, how about that? :D

    Priya (Yallapantula) Mitharwal- You might have an Ethiopian restaurant nearby, it is a really tasty cuisine IMHO.

    Susan- I'm buying teff only in a couple of months (am in the process of eating down my pantry and have put a halt on new ingredients) but will contact you then for the injera recipe. Thanks so much for sharing!

  22. Garden Dreamer- According to several websites, the collard greens are called abesha gomen. World Vegetarian has a couple of recipes, for the flavored butter (niter kibbeh) and a lentil salad.

    Kelly- It is really tasty and so satisfying- give it a try :)

    notyet100- Thanks

    Sharan- I'm forgetting the name of both the restaurant and the street; but it had great reviews which is why we went there.

    Rajitha- Oh, do try it and let me know how it works :) I am buying teff only in a few months, because there's too many other grains I need to finish off first.

    Aditi- I'm not sure.

    Rajee- Thanks!

  23. We love Ethopian food and especially this dish. Just last night I was explaining what injera is to my parents. We want to take them to an Ethiopian restaurant.
    Their spiced butter is fantastic- the owner of the restaurant shared some with me along with the spice mixture to make this dish at home. When we were at the restaurant, one table requested silverware that they did not have and the server tried to show them how to eat, the guests got upset and walked sad that they did not want to experience something new

  24. Sounds lovely. We have no Ethiopian restaurants here in Helsinki, so I've only got to really indulge in it once, in Amsterdam.

    As for injeera, this may sound weird, but these Canadian pancakes are somewhat injeera-like in my opinion: At least much more authentic than the "graham toast" that a Finnish cookbook suggested as an injeera substitute(!)

  25. Love Ethiopian cuisine a lot' ingera is my fav':) Loved ur recipe too, wanna give it a try soon.:)

  26. Ethipian is one of my favorite cuisines. So mild and delicious.

  27. Nupur, I have bookmarked that whats4eats recipe for very long but never tried. Now I have to try. My natural choice would be serving it with dosa too ;)

  28. Hi Nupur - You can make injera with various kinds of flours - I love the recipes from this website: She cooks Ethiopian regularly.

  29. shankari- Oh, I think your parents will like Ethiopian food, with the culture of eating a communal meal gracefully with one's hands, and the familiar spices.
    How awesome that you got some authentic spiced butter and spice mix to try at home.
    I am sad about the incident where the guests were not open to eating with their hands, but also surprised that they had no silverware at all in the restaurant to offer to those who absolutely need it.

    Maija Haavisto- Oh yes pancakes of so many types (either savory or bland ones) can stand in for injera in a pinch. Helsinki must be such a beautiful place to live in!

    Malar Gandhi- I hope you get a chance to try it.

    Divya Vikram- I agree- mild yet flavorful!

    Mints!- It is a great recipe although the version I made is a highly adapted one, the original calls for a great deal of simmering time :)

    Sue- I know, Sheela (who writes the blog you linked to) does make fantastic Ethiopian food. I did try her buckwheat injera recipe once but it failed for me that first time and I've been too lazy to try again.

  30. How did I miss this!!! Thanks for posting - I have heard so much about Ethiopian cuisine , now I can try this out.

  31. My husband and I love Ethioppian food. I have made this wat as well. I love it but am still willing to try other recipes, trying different berbere spice mixes. I have not made teff yet.

    We are going to Washington this summer and and would love to know where you ate. Thank you.

  32. Thanks for posting this recipe. Really complex and wonderful flavour! I made it today, took a shortcut (chopped onions, ginger, garlic) though to save time. How did you decide upon the spice mix for it? I noticed that the original doesn't use any ground spices.

  33. Hi Nupur,
    Naomi Duguid's book - Flat Breads and Flavors has a good Injera recipe. One of the tips I received from the local ethiopian restaurant here was to use a sourdough starter to ferment the dough. Good Luck!

  34. Nupur, thanks to your post my husband and I went out with a couple of friends to try Ethiopian cuisine. We loved it, especially the injera and the mesir wat. Good recommendation, it had never occurred to me to try Ethiopian cuisine before this.

  35. Miri- Hope you try it :)

    Lori- I think the restaurant we ate at was called Etete. DC has a lot of great Ethiopian restaurants so you're sure to find a good one.

    mi.p- The original calls for spiced butter and I used the spices that the spiced butter contains.

    Tibik- I'll have to look for that book, thanks! Sourdough starter is a brilliant idea, thanks for sharing that.

    jk- How fun! So glad you were able to try something new :) Thanks for taking the time to let me know.

  36. Can you explain the garlic ginger paste please. Thanks!


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