Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mesir Wat - Ethiopian Lentil Stew

Aeons ago, on a crisp autumn evening, the husband and I treated ourselves to a soul-pleasing and delicious Ethiopian dinner. We went along with a friend who was a strict vegetarian and was super kicked at the idea of trying a new cuisine. I was all excited because I'd heard so much about Ethiopian cuisine and adding to the fact that the food is spicy just like Indian cuisine. Luckily, the husband had tried the cuisine before, so we knew what to expect.

For Appetizers, we ordered Sambusa, sort of an Ethiopian spin on the Indian snack - Samosa. A delicate pastry shell filled with spiced vegetables of different varieties and Fitfit, which is pasty and spiced split peas mash served with Injera - a spongy, soft and lacey pancake folded like a roll made out of Teff flour. We got a plateful of Injera rolls stacked over one another. The first time I tasted Injera, I felt it bore a significant resemblance to my humble Indian staple - Dosa. We willingly used our hands to devour our food, the friend waited ruefully for his silverware. "You are supposed to eat with your hands," the husband said. He chimed in and enjoyed his all vegetarian fare.

Our Main Course platter was a gigantic one with Injera lining it from end to end. On the Injera were three different types of curries dunked along with a Collard Greens vegetable known as Gomen. The curries were Doro Wat - a spicy Chicken stew cooked with onions and tomatoes and the famous Berbere spice mix, Mesir Wat - a lentil stew cooked with Berbere spice mix and Shiro Wat - a curry made of Chickpeas and spices. The striking thing about their eating style is the food is meant to be shared in a for-the-table way and not eaten alone which explains the large platter brimming with food. By the end of the meal, we were full and satiated. 

We discussed at length, of the possible similarity between Indian and Ethiopian cuisine and somewhere I felt they were similar yet different. Indian food has a bold flavor with practices from different region adding to the diversity of dishes. In Ethiopian food, there was a stark complexity and layering of flavors which undoubtedly, has me hooked completely and I plan to cook more to enhance my repertoire of Ethiopian inspired dishes.

It took me a while to replicate the flavors in my kitchen, but better late than never. Wat (pronounced as Wot) is a curry in Ethiopian parlance. I used Butter instead of Oil to create the base as is the case in most Ethiopian dishes. This recipe does not make use of Berbere spice mix but I made use of whatever I had in my pantry. I stole the idea of pairing Mesir Wat with Dosa as Nupur did. Thank you for the idea Nupur - it was a unique combination!

~ Mesir Wat ~
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes
Recipe Source: Minimally adapted from Whats4Eats 

Red Lentils (Masoor Dal, split variety) - 1 cup

Garam Masala powder - 1 heaping tsp
Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
Red Chilli powder - 1/3 tsp
Paprika - 1/2 tsp
Onion paste - 3/4 cup
Ginger paste - 1 tsp
Garlic paste - 1 tsp
Sea Salt
Canola/ Veg. Oil

Rinse the lentils till the water is clear. Make a paste of Onions, keep it aside. Mince Ginger and Garlic and keep it aside. In a sauce pan, heat a pat of butter and add just a tsp of oil to prevent butter form burning away. Once the butter-oil melts and meshes together, add the Garam Masala followed by Turmeric powder and Red Chilli powder. Reduce the flame else you risk burning the spice mix. Mix it well for couple of minutes till it becomes an even consistency. 
Add the Ginger and Garlic paste now and saute till the raw flavor goes off. Add the Onion paste now and saute for good 10-12 minutes. The paste needs to be completely cooked before you move ahead. Once done, add the rinsed Lentils now and adjust salt as per taste. Add little water to add bulk. Bring to a boil and simmer away for 8-10 minutes. Once completely cooked, turn off the flame. Serve hot with Injera or Dosa.

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