Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Fine Mess - Mesir Wat (Ethiopian Lentil Stew) with Silver Dollar Injera

Mesir Wat on Silver Dollar Injera

Though reminiscent of oatmeal in texture and eye appeal, mesir wat, the tempestuously spiced, yet nuanced, lentil stew which hails from Ethiopia, is far from the tame, comforting European porridge staple. It's chief ingredient, split red lentils, transform into a golden bowl of ridges and pockets glistening with niter kibbeh, a slowly simmered butter infused with cardamom pods and cinnamon stick, among other whole spices. Flecks of gritty berberé powder in a base of puréed aromatic allium balance the flavors, especially when mounded on injera, a sour teff-flour pancake which acts as an eating utensil in lieu of fork or spoon. Although injera is traditionally prepared as thin, large crepes, I have grilled them as small and sturdy as blini. However you eat them, expect to get your hands happily mussed up. And pass the cold beer, please.

Mesir Wat (Ethiopian Lentil Stew)

Mesir Wat with Silver Dollar Injera - Adapted from various recipe sources below. Recipes are arranged in order needed for preparation. It's best to grill injera right before serving, although leftovers reheated briefly in a microwave will restore them.

Injera (batter prepared 24 hours in advance) - Adapted from several Ethiopian Recipes


1 1/2 cups teff flour (or buckwheat flour, a relative, if you cannot find teff)
1 teaspoon granulated active dry baker's yeast (make sure yeast is not beyond expiration date.)
2 cups warm water (110 - 115 degrees F), warm enough to activate yeast, but not too hot to kill it.
1/2 - 1 cup additional warm water


Combine all ingredients in a large plastic bowl, beating until smooth with a wooden or plastic spoon. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot for 24 hours. The batter will become thick and sludgy, with a distinctively yeasty-tangy odor. This is normal. Incrementally add enough additional water to create a moderately thin batter.

Heat a large, greased skillet over medium heat. Drop batter by tablespoon onto hot surface. Do not spread. Cook until tops of pancakes are dry and covered with small holes. Pancakes are ready when surface is fully dry to the touch. You can also flip them over to briefly brown on other side.

Niter Kibbeh – Adapted from


4 ounces unsalted butter (1 stick)
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled
4 green cardamom pods
4 whole cloves
¼ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon fenugreek seed
1 small cinnamon stick
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced


Melt butter with all ingredients in small saucepan over the lowest heat. Let simmer for at least ½ hour, stirring occasionally. Strain vegetables and spices from butter before use. I did not skim the foam during cooking; the simmer was so low, there was no burning. Leftover niter kibbeh can be refrigerated. It is excellent to fry eggs in.

Mesir Wat - Slightly adapted from what's4eats


1 pound split red lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 large onion, grated over a bowl (It will turn into a very watery purée. You could also use a food processor.)
3 large garlic cloves, grated
1-inch knob fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
3 tablespoons niter kibbeh (recipe above)
1 - 2 tablespoon berberé spice mixture (prepared or homemade)
4 cups unsalted vegetable stock or water (depending on vessel used and level of simmer, you may need up to 6 cups water; I did, using a 12-inch skillet.)
Salt to taste
Ground black pepper to taste
2 cups plain thick yogurt (optional for garnish and to soothe the fiery flavor, especially if use 2 tablespoons of berberé)


In a large, heavy saucepan or skillet, melt niter kibbeh over low heat until thin (about 10 seconds). Stir in berberé and cook for 20 seconds. Stir in onion, garlic, and ginger root. Increase heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until almost all liquid has evaporated. Add lentils and stock/water. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to low to simmer uncovered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not leave unattended. Stew can burn and stick if liquid evaporates to rapidly. Check for consistent mushiness of lentils after 20 minutes. If some are even marginally hard, add another cup of stock/water, then simmer 10 more minutes. Check again for texture. Another cup of water and a final ten minutes of simmering may be necessary. Remove from heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Salt, however little you use, is a necessary flavor enhancer; the spices really pop. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm while you grill the injera.


Mound 2 tablespoons mesir wat on top of each pancake, or serve wat and pancakes separately in bowls or side-by-side on platter so diners can help themselves. Drizzle the communal serving bowl with about two tablespoons melted niter kibbeh.

Injera and Yogurt


This latecomer recipe is for Diana of A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa, who is pulling together the finishing touches for the June MLLA 24 round-up. Siri of Siri's Corner has the reins for the current MLLA 25 through July 31.

I am also sending this to the effervescent Joanne of Eats Well with Others, hosting her monthly Regional Recipes event. July is all about Ethiopia.


Been There, Done That ~
Persian Pomegranate and Lentil Soup
Green Mango Dal

Other People's Eats ~
Mesir Wat from One Hot Stove
Coconut Buckwheat Injera from The Fresh Loaf
Ethiopian Lentil Stew from Saveur Magazine


  1. A wonderful dish! Ethiopian cuisine is very interesting... I'd love to find teff flour here. Superb shots!



  2. lovely clicks susan...detailed and creative recipe....looks awesome...nicely explained...great work susan

  3. Love this Susan,I always love it when something good for you is tasty too:D

  4. Great post, put together so thoughtfully.
    Awesome photos. I do not know at all Ethiopian food, must investigate now.
    Wishing you a lovely Sunday ♥

  5. This is one of my favorite Ethiopian dishes. And I definitely love the teff. They go hand in hand.

    Even though it looks like oatmeal and is so hard to capture, I think you did a perfect job of making it look beautiful.

  6. very very interesting post. I've had some interests in Ethiopian food lately, and this is the most informative post to date yet!

  7. Something new to me, stunning picures!

  8. I have always loved Mesir Wat... brings me back to college days on UW-Madison campus and the African Food Cart. Thank you for bringing me back to one of my favorite foods!

  9. Great post and gorgeous photos. Lentil stew is my favorite section of the plate when I get the combo at the Ethiopian restaurant. And injera is on my to-do list. I like the idea of making pancake-size injera.

  10. Oh wow, I LOVE those little mini injera! I was also surprised at how much punch the mesir wat packs the first time I tasted it! Love Ethiopian food :)

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  12. Looks delicious and interesting.

  13. I love Ethiopian food. I wanted to try Injera but never had courage to use up my buckwheat flour :) Now I will try this.

    Thanks Susan!

  14. Susan,
    I loved the pictures. I don't even know what are the names of the cutlery you have in that picture along with the spoon they are so beautiful. I am referring to second picture.

  15. Susan these are adorable and so delicious looking! Ethiopian food is one of my favs but unfortunately not my bf's. Yet the sweet boy took me to have it for my birthday recently :). Your description (and photos) of the cuisine are perfect. Blinis are an inspired idea.

  16. the second picture is really beautiful. i keep seeing little silver pancakes, though I v well know they are brown :)

  17. Thanks, Torview!

    Rosa - Thanks. Buckwheat is an OK substitute, assuming it's available in Switzerland.

    Thanks so much, Sanyukta!

    Thanks, Val. It happens. ; )

    Hi, Ana. Thank you. One of the best benefits of blogging is that little curiosity around the corner.

    Lori - Thanks. Mine, too. And so easy...the recipe, that is. Making it look beautiful - not so easy, but it's fun to play with your food.

    Thank you, Anh. There are a few sites which specialize in Ethiopian cuisine, but African foods generally are undiscovered countries to the rest of the world.

    Hi, Parita. Thank you. Good to see you. Hope you are well.

    Welcome, Megan! Food and memories. I'm glad you enjoyed this. : }

    Simona - Thank you. Injera is an easy yeast-based batter to prepare. I think you will have good luck with it.

    Hi, Magic of Spice. Welcome! Thanks very much.

    Jeanne - Thanks. These are compact enough to serve as party starters.

    Welcome, RV! Thanks.

    Hello, Mints! Good to see you. I'm glad you will try it. Injera is fun to prepare and interesting to observe as it ferments, not unlike dosa, but w/out the grinding.

    Hi, Champa! Thank you. They are all little miniature spoons, the perfect size to communally scoop up a portion of wat for the small individual pancakes.

    Xialou - Hello! Thanks so much. Your guy is a sweet bf, indeed. : }

    Thanks, Sra. The power of words! : D

  18. waow, what a great post! The pictures are beautiful and the recipes are gorgeous... Very tempting! I've never tried to cook ethiopian at home, might give it a try soon ;-)

  19. Hi Susan - Ooh, how exotic! I love these pancakes. All the flavors (and some ingredients I never heard of) very interesting!

  20. Love your detailed recipe and excellent shots!

  21. This looks so tasty! Yum. Gorgeous photos, too! :)

  22. I stumbled on your blog through 30 days and 30 ways Macaroni and Cheese blog. I really enjoyed reading your blog and have now made it through every post with MANY recipes marked to try. This was one of the first I tried and am so happy I did. The flavor has such complex subtleties and is such a satisfying and comforting dish. Thank you so much for putting it out there!

  23. Vanessa/LL/Adelina/Sara/Ashley - Thank you very much. (Ashley: I do work very hard to kitchen test and tweak recipes. I know that my tastes will not always suit others, but thanks very for your good cheer - so glad that you enjoyed this.) : }