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Overhead shot of misir wot in a black bowl with cilantro garnish.
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5 from 6 votes

Misir Wot (Ethiopian Red Lentils)

The aroma of this Misir Wot teases and tantalizes your tastebuds as it cooks, and it lingers in the house long after, reminding you that there's something wonderful on hand you can feast upon when you have a mind to. It is hearty enough to please an ominvore. It is also quite easy enough to make at home. This is a gluten-free, soy-free and nut-free recipe and it is, of course, vegan.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 15 mins
Course: Main Course/Stew
Cuisine: Ethiopian
Diet: Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Servings: 8 servings
Calories: 166kcal


  • 1 Small skillet (if making spice blends from scratch)
  • Spice grinder (if making spice blends from scratch)
  • 1 large pot or pan or Dutch oven with lid


For mekelesha spice blend (skip if using storebought. This recipe makes enough for 3-4 uses)

For berbere spice blend (skip if using storebought. This recipe makes enough for 2-3 uses)

Other ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion (finely chopped)
  • 1 inch knob ginger (grated)
  • 4 cloves garlic (crushed with a garlic press or minced)
  • 1 teaspoon nigella seeds (kalonji. Coarsely crushed in a mortar and pestle)
  • cups red lentils
  • 1 tablespoon paprika (optional, only for color)
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoon cilantro (for garnish)


Make the mekelesha spice mix (skip if using storebought)

  • Peel the green and brown cardamom pods--I put them in a mortar and smack them with the pestle. The skins pop off easily. Collect the seeds and discard the skins.
  • Place the cardamom seeds and all other mekelesha spices in a dry skillet over medium heat. Toast for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the spices are very fragrant and the cumin is a couple of shades darker.
  • Remove to a plate, cool, and transfer to a blender or spice grinder. Blend into a powder. Set aside. After using the mekelesha in this recipe store the leftover spice in an airtight jar in a cool spot.

Make the berbere (skip if using storebought)

  • Place all ingredients for berbere in a blender or spice grinder and blend into a powder. Like the mekelesha, store any leftover spice in an airtight jar in a cool spot.

Make the misir wot

  • Place the lentils in a bowl and wash them in several changes of water until the water is not as cloudy. I did this about five times. Drain the water and set the lentils aside.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium low heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt. Saute, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes or until the onions are soft and translucent.
  • Add the ginger and garlic to the pot and mix. Saute for a minute, then stir in a heaping tablespoon of berbere and coarsely powdered nigella seeds. Add ¼ cup water, mix well, cover the pot and let the onions cook 20 more minutes or until they are really brown and reduced almost to a paste. Stir several times during cooking and if the onions are sticking to the pot add a tablespoon or two of water.
  • Add the washed lentils to the pot along with 2 ½ cups water. Add the paprika, if using, at this time. Mix well and bring it to a boil. Cover and cook over medium heat another 10 minutes. If you want a soupy misir wat you can retain some of the liquid in the pot, but if you want it fairly dry, let most of the liquid evaporate. Stir frequently. This should take another 10 minutes or so.
  • Season with salt to taste and add a teaspoon or two of the mekelesha spice blend. Taste and add more if needed. Turn off heat.
  • Garnish with cilantro before serving.


  • Wash the lentils thoroughly.
  • Take your time to slow-cook the onions at the beginning of this dish, and the lentils at the end. This helps them both develop the maximum flavor, and you'll be rewarded with the perfect misir wot.
  • Misir Wot is typically served with injera, the spongy Ethiopian flatbread made with teff flour. You can also serve this with white or brown rice--it tastes amazing.
  • I serve this with a vegetable side. This time I made atkilt wat, a cabbage-potato-carrot side that is amazing and that I will share with you someday. But any vegetable side, including Indian sabzis, would be great.
  • Like most stews, misir wot actually tastes better the next day, so if you can make it a day ahead. It will keep in the fridge for up to four days. For longer storage freeze in a freezer safe container for up to three months. Thaw and reheat before eating.


Calories: 166kcal | Carbohydrates: 24g | Protein: 9g | Fat: 4g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Sodium: 5mg | Potassium: 392mg | Fiber: 11g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 456IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 34mg | Iron: 3mg