Ethiopian Lentils (Mesir Wat)

These Ethiopian lentils are full of flavor, spiced with cardamom and ginger! Serve over rice for an easy dinner.

Ethiopian Lentils (Red lentil curry)

We have a special treat for you today. As you may know, we love travel and cuisines from around the world. This red lentil curry recipe comes to us straight from Ethiopia—via Indianapolis! Exodus Refugee Immigration is a well-known organization in our city that welcomes refugees to Indiana and offers them a place to call home. Exodus helped us to bring you this Ethiopian lentils recipe from one of those refugees. Her name is Dibora, and she’s originally from Ethiopia. Keep reading for her story and the recipe!

Related: 15 Best Lentil Recipes

Ethiopian lentils…and a story

So, about this Ethiopian lentils recipe, it is incredible! The texture is similar to an Indian red lentil curry, but the flavor is unique, spiced with cardamom and ginger. We adapted the recipe slightly from Dibora’s original to make is ergonomic for the American home kitchen, but stayed true to the flavors. You can feel free to make the red lentil curry as spicy as you’d like with cayenne. We only added a few pinches of cayenne, but the original dish is quite spicy. It’s been a hit each time we’ve made it, even for some people with pickier palates!

Alex and I can’t imagine what it would be like to flee your home country and settle thousands of miles away in a new culture. Having spent some time in Cambodia, we have a better understanding of the plight of the Burmese refugees who have formed a community in our city (with the help of Exodus). But with such significant cultural barriers, it’s hard to know how best to support refugees who have settled here. We’re happy to host a little cultural exchange in the form of food—a special way to connect and build friendships across cultures.

Ethiopian lentils | Red lentils

The story behind this red lentil curry

Dibora never expected to be in Indianapolis, nearly eight thousand miles from home, sharing the recipe for Ethiopian lentils with a cooking blog.

She arrived in the U.S. with her 2-year-old daughter to meet her husband who is a refugee from Eritrea. Eritreans have been facing strict control and persecution from an authoritarian regime since the country’s independence from Ethiopia in 1993. This includes persecution based on religion, and Dibora’s family is of a Christian denomination that the government doesn’t recognize.

After Dibora’s husband fled to Ethiopia, the two met at an international call center where Dibora was working. He was resettled in Indianapolis through Exodus Refugee Immigration almost three years ago. This left Dibora waiting, pregnant and alone, for her chance to follow. Now that she has arrived, she misses her family—and the food in her country. But she is happy for the freedom, equality, and educational opportunities that the U.S. has to offer.

Cooking Ethiopian food is something Dibora has done for nearly her whole life. The recipe for mesir wat (Ethiopian lentils) she’s shared here is a common dish that Ethiopians would eat every day. Dibora learned how to make it from her mother when she was 16. The red lentil curry is somewhat spicy. And like many Ethiopian dishes, and it’s vegetarian. Most dishes are made with plenty of vegetables in Ethiopia, saving meat for special occasions.

Ethiopian dishes take a while to cook, but despite the time, Dibora still cooks mostly traditional meals since being in the U.S. She said she makes pasta and pizza sometimes because they are easy, which is how she views most American food. But she doesn’t like how many American dishes contain a lot of fat and sugar. Here in Indianapolis, Dibora would like to find work cooking Ethiopian food, to share the cuisine of her country with her new home.

(Compiled by Heather Watts, AmeriCorps VISTA)

More About Exodus

Every day, millions of courageous persons flee their homelands due to unimaginable persecution. They seek refuge and human rights in other places around the world, including Indianapolis. Exodus Refugee Immigration welcomes refugees to Indiana and offers them a place to call home. They work to arrange housing, food and clothing, case management, as well as education, employment and health services for individuals and families starting out in their new lives.

More on red lentils

Red lentils named for their beautiful orange-pink color. Of any of the lentil varieties, the texture of red lentils breaks down the quickest. This makes it perfect for creamy soups and curries.

If you buy a bag of red lentils for this recipe, there are so many other great recipes you can make! A few other great recipes with red lentils? This Masoor Dal (Indian Red Lentils). Masoor dal translates as “red lentils” in Hindi. It comes out cozy and nuanced, with just the right amount of gentle flavoring. Or try our Creamy Red Lentil Soup, cozy spiced with cumin and paprika and topped with a squeeze of lemon.

Looking for more easy lentil recipes? 

Outside of this Ethiopian lentils dish, here are some of our favorite lentil recipes:

This Ethiopian lentils recipe is…

Vegetarian, gluten-free, vegan, plant-based, and dairy-free.

clock clock iconcutlery cutlery iconflag flag iconfolder folder iconinstagram instagram iconpinterest pinterest iconfacebook facebook iconprint print iconsquares squares iconheart heart iconheart solid heart solid icon

Ethiopian Lentils (Mesir Wat)

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (183 votes, average: 3.96 out of 5)

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 35 minutes
  • Total Time: 50 minutes
  • Yield: 6 1x


These Ethiopian lentils are full of flavor, spiced with cardamom and ginger! Serve over rice for an easy dinner.


  • 2 cups uncooked rice
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 ½ tablespoons minced ginger root
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • A few pinches (or more) cayenne


  1. Prepare the rice according to the package instructions or use our Instant Pot method.
  2. Dice the onion. Mince the garlic. Mince the ginger.
  3. In a large saucepan or pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and cook the onion until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the garlic, ginger, paprika, turmeric, and ground cardamom. Cook for about 3 minutes until fragrant. Stir in the tomatoes with their juices and cook for another minute.
  5. Add the red lentils and water. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer. Cook covered until the lentils are fully pureed, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. Add the kosher salt and black pepper. For additional heat, add several pinches of cayenne.
  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Ethiopian

Keywords: red lentil curry, mesir wat

Subscribe for free weekly recipes & more!

About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.


  • Reply
    Tieghan Gerard
    February 18, 2014 at 11:33 pm

    What an amazing post and a great read to accompany my late night snack. Love the lentils!

  • Reply
    Lily (A Rhubarb Rhapsody)
    February 19, 2014 at 4:16 am

    Thanks to you and to Dibora for what looks and sounds like a wonderful recipe!

  • Reply
    Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar
    February 19, 2014 at 8:05 am

    Lentils make me a happier person – I LOVE THEM! And these look fabulous!

  • Reply
    February 19, 2014 at 9:08 am

    What a stunning photo! The blue trim on the plate and the beautifully crisp blue linen napkin really make the photo pop. Really, really beautiful – and not easy to make something like a lentil curry look beautiful!

  • Reply
    February 19, 2014 at 11:29 am

    This post and recipe are amazing in so many ways. Love what you two do here. xo

  • Reply
    February 19, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    Tell your friend that St. Yared is looking to hire an Ethiopian cook. It is a fabulous Ethiopian restaurant near Geist. Love spicy red lentils. My little sister from Ethiopia makes them all the time!

  • Reply
    February 20, 2014 at 5:12 am

    This is one of my absolute favourite posts. Thank you for sharing it and the recipe with us. I can’t wait to give Ethiopian cuisine a try.

  • Reply
    February 20, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    What an incredible story. I’m a big fan of lentils. Amazing recipe!

  • Reply
    Tom Hlas
    February 20, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    Looks wonderful. I’m making it for dinner tonight. Lentils are simmering now. – Tom

  • Reply
    Tammy D
    February 21, 2014 at 9:28 am

    I have this recipe saved in my Evernote file and passed it on to my daughter. Lentils and rice = happiness!

  • Reply
    February 24, 2014 at 11:29 pm

    Made this tonight, quick and easy, and delicious! Thank you for sharing the story!

  • Reply
    February 26, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    I made this last night for my family, and it was wonderful. This is the first time that I have ever tried red lentils, and I prefer them over the other colors. I added diced jalapeños, and I served it with naan and rice. Everyone loved it! Thanks for sharing this amazing recipe!

  • Reply
    April 27, 2014 at 8:27 am

    It is great to read that you put your time and effort into helping those in need! I think the story touched me so much as I am half Ethiopian although no such hardship in my mother’s background. Ethiopian food really is wonderfully tasty! Lentil Wat really is a great easy (and low effort) dish to familiarize yourself with the cuisine. Although I tend to use authentic berbere (a paprika spice blend) for mine. Give it a try if you can get our hands on it (on-line)

  • Reply
    Megan Bradford
    March 17, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    I’m making this right now and my house smells amazing!! So excited to try it out!

  • Reply
    July 4, 2015 at 3:24 pm

    Great recipe! Just tried it. I didn’t have cardamom so I used garam masala. Thank you

  • Reply
    August 28, 2015 at 10:42 pm

    Needs berbere

  • Reply
    Barbara J
    December 1, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    Great Recipe. I always loved Ethiopian food and recently started cooking it myself. I found lots of recipes online that were really helpful and Ethiopian spices such as berbere and shiro from It’s been a great experience. I’d say my favorite food is now spicy Misir wot.

  • Reply
    Chef Minolta
    June 5, 2018 at 12:47 pm

    All love but unfortunately without Berber there is nothing Ethiopian about this dish. You are literally missing the main ingredient.

    • Reply
      June 5, 2018 at 12:50 pm

      Thanks for your comment! This recipe came straight from the Ethiopian refugee we referenced in the story above, so we did not create this ourselves. Perhaps she left out berbere here since it’s harder to find in the states? Thanks for letting us know!

  • Reply
    November 23, 2019 at 3:56 am

    Hi! I made the lentils! :)
    I loved the idea of the unique spice combo, but in the end, the lentils were very mild. I would recommend either only using 1 cup of lentils, or doubling the spices and aromatics. I ended up tampering with it a bit, adding some tomato paste, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and tamari, and some sriracha. Lol I’ve obviously morphed it from an Ethiopian dish! But next time I’ll try doubling the spice!
    Thanks for the idea though :)

  • Reply
    Dave Henning
    January 21, 2020 at 4:05 pm

    I agree with the poster above that the spice combo was interesting, but it was a little too mild. The next day I added jalapenos, toasted cumin seeds and lemon juice and it was way better. I know it might not have been authentic, but I didn’t want to waste the lentils.

  • Reply
    February 18, 2020 at 8:23 am

    Wow what a delicious, easy to make recipe! Tumeric was sold out so I used cumin seeds instead, and substituted water for some homemade stock made out of veggie scraps. Awesome flavour!

  • Reply
    March 17, 2020 at 7:13 pm

    Delicious! Quick question- does this freeze well?

    • Reply
      Alex Overhiser
      March 17, 2020 at 7:53 pm

      Yes, this freezes well. Just thaw in refrigerator before warming.

  • Reply
    March 21, 2020 at 2:50 pm

    Do I need to pre soak the lentils or can I use them straight out of the packet

    • Reply
      Alex Overhiser
      March 21, 2020 at 5:30 pm

      No need to soak!

  • Reply
    June 8, 2020 at 1:21 am

    This was absolutely wonderful, and so easy. I have very little confidence in my cooking skills, so I really appreciated this recipe! It is fragrant and flavorful.

    • Reply
      Alex Overhiser
      June 8, 2020 at 8:48 am

      So glad you enjoyed it!

  • Reply
    June 16, 2020 at 9:00 am

    Want to try today. How much is a cup?

    • Reply
      Alex Overhiser
      June 16, 2020 at 9:40 am

      I’m sorry, I’m don’t understand your question.

  • Reply
    July 19, 2020 at 10:30 am

    Can I use green lentils

    • Reply
      Alex Overhiser
      July 20, 2020 at 2:26 pm

      Green or brown lentils won’t give you the right consistency for this recipe, sorry!

  • Reply
    August 5, 2020 at 1:47 pm

    This is the second time I have made this dish and I am crazy about it. I am a novice cook and it’s great for beginners. Thank you and God bless.

    • Reply
      Alex Overhiser
      August 6, 2020 at 10:54 am

      So glad to hear that! Happy cooking :)

  • Reply
    August 27, 2020 at 8:50 pm

    Great recipe! I made it with yellow lentils, and used smoked paprika! Very easy, served it over brown rice

  • Reply
    January 29, 2021 at 4:32 pm

    This is one of our go-to recipes. We love this! Thank you!

    • Reply
      Alex Overhiser
      January 30, 2021 at 1:10 pm

      So glad you enjoyed!

  • Reply
    February 21, 2021 at 2:50 pm

    Do you cook them covered or uncovered?

    • Reply
      Sonja Overhiser
      February 23, 2021 at 5:14 pm

      Covered! We’ve updated the recipe with a clarification. Thanks!

    Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.