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Yemisir wat: Ethiopian lentil stew

Yemisir wat (a.k.a., misir we’t, mesir wot, and so on, because I’m poorly transliterating it from another alphabet) is my go-to dish at any Ethiopian restaurant I visit. I’ve always wanted to make it at home, mainly to control the amount of fat that goes in, but most importantly, to consume it without having to drive far each time. 🙂

I’m still trying to find the Best Spice Proportions, so if you have a favorite recipe for this dish, I’d love to hear about it. But I think this one is a good start.

Yemesir wat, or wot.

Before I had the nitr qibe, I used ghee. You could instead use canola oil, too, but the dish —at least when I used ghee; I haven’t tried oil— will lack depth. I was also unsure what particular lentil I needed: Turns out it’s masoor dal, which are the reddish-orange split lentils that’ve also been hulled (skins removed).

This can be easily doubled, tripled, etc., but make sure you have a large enough pot.


  • 1 large onion (nearly 1 pound), chopped finely
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons nitr qibe
  • 5 to 7 cloves of garlic (nearly 1/2 cup), minced
  • 1 inch of ginger root, grated
  • 1 tablespoon berbere; increase or decrease according to your chili-heat tolerance.
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika powder
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom seeds
  • 1 whole black cardamom pod
  • 2 1/2 to 3 cups water
  • 1/2 cup split red lentils (masoor dal), rinsed
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste


  1. In a large pot, melt the nitr qibe and sauté the onions over medium-high heat until soft and golden, about 20 to 30 minutes. You’ll need to stir this frequently, and it may seem tedious, but you really want the onions to caramelize for this dish.
  2. Add the garlic and ginger, and stir for a minute or two. Don’t let the garlic go brown; pale golden is okay, though.
  3. Add the spices (berbere, paprika, turmeric, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, non-black cardamom, and black cardamom), and stir until fragrant, another minute or two.
  4. Stir in the water, lentils, tomato paste and salt, and bring to a simmer. Set the heat to low, cover and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. During the last 30 minutes or so you should stir every 5 to 10 minutes, so that the stew doesn’t stick and burn. When done, some but not all of the lentils will have dissolved.
  5. Serve with basmati rice, injera, or other flatbreads.

So many spices...So many spices! Photo by Simon F.


  1. gloria wrote:

    is that lentil to water to garlic ratio correct? a recipe i have now for mesir wat has 2 cups lentils, 4 cups water and only 2 garlic cloves.. mainly i’m concerned your lentil to water ratio may be off in the recipe. can you confirm?

    Friday, 4 October 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink
  2. sairuh wrote:

    Hi Gloria,

    Hmm, that is a big difference! Perhaps your recipe aims for a more thick version? I’ve also noticed vast differences in water to lentil ratios in other lentil stew recipes. I wonder if this might be because legumes, even dried, could contain a wide range of moisture. I don’t cook legumes as often as I cook rice, but I know that different batches of rice could use different amounts of water (kinda annoying!).

    As for the garlic: Heh, I do love loads of garlic, but the cooking mellows its flavor.

    Friday, 4 October 2013 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

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