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.

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Ethiopian Lentils (Mesir Wat)


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

Description

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


Ingredients

Scale
  • 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
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • A few pinches (or more) cayenne

Instructions

  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

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you'll want to make again and again.

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41 Comments

  1. 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!

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

  4. 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)

  5. 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 http://www.fassica.com. It’s been a great experience. I’d say my favorite food is now spicy Misir wot.

    1. 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!

  6. 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 :)

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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

  12. I did not have cardamom on hand. I used masala and coriander, but it didn’t quite have the flavor I was hoping for. I also used brown lentils, which remain al dente and aren’t quite as pretty. Overall not great, but still good. Will have to get some cardamom to add!

  13. Hmm, made this and even added some Berber mix of spice after an initial taste test , but still came out very bland tasting and disappointing :(
    Not sure what happened.

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