Red Lentils in a Spicy Tomato Sauce (Ye'misser Wot Be'timatim)

Red Lentils in a Spicy Tomato Sauce

A "wot" — or "wat" — is a traditional Ethiopian stew made with meat or vegetables and seasoned oil and served with injera, a spongy fermented flatbread made from the small Ethiopian grain called teff that has a nutty and somewhat sour taste. In this wot, ideally suited to vegetarians, the meat is replaced with cooked lentils, and the usually pre-prepared seasoned oil is replaced with olive oil in which onion and various spices are cooked briefly before adding the remaining ingredients for a quick version of the "ye’qimem zeyet" seasoned oil that is a staple of Ethiopian cooking.

This recipe is slightly adapted from Kittee Burns' most informative and excellent book Teff Love: Adventures in Vegan Ethiopian Cooking, which is all about Ethiopian cooking and from a vegan perspective too. Though I have yet to explore Ethiopian cuisine in greater detail, from my so far brief research and experience making a few Ethiopian dishes — including also berbere, an essential spice that is the backbone of so many Ethiopian creations — and also from my visits to Ethiopian restaurants, I can say this book is well researched and yields stunning results.

Ye'misser Wot Be'timatim

While I basically followed the instructions, I took a few liberties, but this dish came out pretty much exactly as I had hoped. It's fiery hot, which is the result of adding berbere, a spice blend featuring chili peppers, and it came out delectably creamy, making it ideal to serve with injera. I hadn't planned my meal far enough ahead of time to make more authentic injera, but Kittee's book thankfully also features a recipe for quick teff crêpes that were easy and fast to make, and proved to be a fine solution.

Wot and Kulet

*A note about berbere. If you have never used berbere before, or even if you have, the blends that you can purchase or make yourself can range from relatively mild to hot, so be careful to know what you are working with before adding it to the dish. It's easy enough to add a bit more, but not so easy to correct the dish if you add more than you think you can handle in terms of heat.

Red Lentils in a Spicy Tomato Sauce (Ye'misser Wot Be'timatim)Red Lentils in a Spicy Tomato Sauce (Ye'misser Wot Be'timatim)
Recipe by
Adapted from Teff Love: Adventures in Vegan Ethiopian Cooking
Cuisine: Ethiopian
Published on July 16, 2020

Thick and creamy red lentils simmered in a spicy Ethiopian tomato and berbere sauce

Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 35 to 40 minutes

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  • 1 cup dried red lentils, rinsed
  • 5 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1-inch fresh ginger, grated or minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamon
  • 4 tablespoons ground berbere, or to taste
  • 1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 2 cups reserved lentil cooking liquid, or more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
  • In a large saucepan, bring the lentils and water to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender but not falling apart — 10 minutes. Drain and reserve the cooking liquid.

  • Rinse and wipe the saucepan. Return to the stove and heat the oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened and begins to brown — about 8 to 10 minutes. Reduce the heat slightly, stir in the garlic, ginger, coriander, turmeric, cumin and cardamon, and cook for 1 minute.

  • Stir in the berbere, paprika and 2 tablespoons of the tomato paste. Cook for 1 minute. Stir in the tomato, and 2 cups of the reserved lentil cooking liquid. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer, stirring often, until the sauce has thickened — 5 minutes. Stir in the lentils and another 1/2 cup or so of the reserved cooking liquid to reach your desired consistency.

  • Cover the pan and simmer on medium-low heat, stirring often, until the mixture is creamy and thick — about 5 to 10 minutes. Add more tomato paste if the lentils appear too thin. Stir in the salt to finish and serve hot.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Ethiopian Lentil Wot

Other lentil dishes to enjoy from Lisa's Kitchen:
Ethiopian-Style Red Lentil and Okra in a Spicy Tomato Sauce
Ethiopian Lentil & Mustard Salad (Azefa)
Lentil Pomegranate Stew with Beets and Spinach
Bisi Bele Bhath (Rice with Lentils and Spices)

Audio accompaniment: Robert Fripp - Music for Quiet Moments 4 - Requiem (Norwich 16 Jun 2006)

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