The Washington Post

Misir Wot

Misir Wot 4.000

Scott Suchman for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post

Apr 21, 2021

This richly flavored and colored dish of spicy red lentils is a staple in Ethiopian homes and restaurants. Cooking the onions low and slow with the berbere spice blend is the key to achieving true depth -- and so is refrigerating the finished lentils overnight.

The perception of spiciness in the berbere can vary by person as well as by particular blend. We've settled on 4 teaspoons, though if you're concerned about heat, you can drop it to 2 teaspoons, as the original recipe from Yohanis Gebreyesus had. If you want it spicier, increase the amount on your next batch (don't stir it in at the end). We also tried as much as 2 tablespoons, which packed a significant punch.

Gebreyesus made the mekelesha spice blend optional, but we highly recommend using it for its aromatic quality.

Total time: 1 hour 40 mins

Make Ahead: While misir wot can be served right away, it's best after a one-day rest in the refrigerator.

Storage Notes: Misir wot can be refrigerated for up to 4 days. Reheat in the microwave on full power (covered) or on the stove top over medium-low to medium heat, stirring occasionally. Leftover mekelesha spice blend can be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to 2 months.

Where to Buy: Berbere and nigella (also known as black cumin, black caraway, kalonji and charnuska) are available at Ethiopian markets and online from retailers such as Penzeys and Kalustyan's. If you want to make your own, see the related recipe.


When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 4 servings; makes 4 cups

  • For the mekelesha spice blend
  • About 30 green cardamom pods (may substitute 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • For the lentils
  • About 1 1/2 cups (8 3/4 ounces) dried split red lentils
  • 1/4 cup sunflower, canola or other neutral vegetable oil
  • 1 medium (8 3/4 ounces) yellow or red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, grated or finely chopped
  • 1-inch piece peeled fresh ginger, grated or finely chopped
  • 4 teaspoons berbere (see headnote)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nigella seeds (buy pre-ground or grind yourself; see headnote)
  • 3 cups water, plus more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon mekelesha spice blend

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Make the mekelesha spice blend: In a dry skillet over medium-low heat, toast the cardamom pods until fragrant. Crack open the pods with the back of a knife, the bottom of a solid glass, a mortar and pestle or just your fingers and remove the seeds. Grind the cardamom seeds in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. You will need 1/2 teaspoon of the ground spice.

In a small bowl, blend the cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper. You'll only need 1/2 teaspoon for this recipe. (Store the rest in a cool, dry place for future misir wot batches or other stews and curries.)

Make the lentils: Place the lentils in a large bowl or colander, and pick over and discard any debris. Rinse the lentils until the water runs mostly clear (a little cloudy is okay, but you'll see it turn from almost white to much more transparent as you go).

In a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat, warm the oil. You may see a little rippling, but not much since the pan won't get too hot. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring constantly, until aromatic, about 1 minute. Stir in the berbere and nigella along with a splash of water. Cover the skillet, reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes. Uncover, stir, add another splash of water and cook for 5 minutes. Repeat the process every 5 minutes until the onions have cooked for a total of 25 to 30 minutes (no need to add more water at the end unless it's looking very dry). Don't rush the process or crank up the heat: The goal is to get the onions very soft and cooked down to almost a paste, as well as rounding out the berbere flavor and darkening its color.

Stir in the lentils, 2 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of salt. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture just to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, or as needed, to maintain a gentle simmer. Stir occasionally, adding water as you go along to ensure the lentils cook through and the dish doesn't dry out. You should use about 3 cups of water total. If you prefer a soupier stew, use more. Cook until the lentils are tender but not mushy, with just a bit of bite, 10 to 12 minutes, stirring in the 1/2 teaspoon of the mekelesha when they're almost done. You can choose to cook the lentils longer, or gently mash them, if you want them broken down more. Taste, and season with more salt, if desired.

Remove from the heat. The misir wot is ready to serve, but will be better if refrigerated overnight, then reheated (see headnote).

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Recipe Source

Adapted from "Ethiopia: Recipes and Traditions from the Horn of Africa," by Yohanis Gebreyesus with Jeff Koehler (Kyle Books, 2018).

Tested by Becky Krystal.

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Nutritional Facts

Calories per 1-cup serving: 415

% Daily Values*

Total Fat: 15g 23%

Saturated Fat: 1g 8%

Cholesterol: 0mg 0%

Sodium: 513mg 21%

Total Carbohydrates: 51g 17%

Dietary Fiber: 25g 100%

Sugar: 4g

Protein: 20g

*Percent Daily Value based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Total Fat: Less than 65g

Saturated Fat: Less than 20g

Cholesterol: Less than 300mg

Sodium: Less than 2,400mg

Total Carbohydrates: 300g

Dietary Fiber: 25g

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