I often look at a recipe and assume the more spices it contains the better and more interesting the dish will be. Quite often I’m disappointed. Many such recipes turn out to be a disappointment, adding so much of one spice (or salt) that it overpowers every other flavour or asking for minuscule amounts of each spice that no flavour actually emerges from the meal once other ingredients are added.
One dish, however, that is not a let down in the flavour department is Mesir Wat – an Ethiopian lentil stew. We only really tried our first Ethiopian meal when we went to Washington D.C. last year. Our hosts took us out for a meal at a small Ethiopian restaurant. The food ordered was unlike anything we had tried before, tasted so good and was fun to eat. We shared a platter of all these amazing stews like things served on Injera, a plain spongy flat bread that soaked up all the flavours.
One of the first things we did when we got back home was to look at dishes that we could make here in Newfoundland. In particular, we tried to find a recipe for Mesir Wat. We found a couple of which were not really that exciting or tasty. However, we persisted until we found one from Saveur that included Berbere. Berbere is key in this recipe, it’s an Ethiopian spice mix and it adds such an amazing flavour that it’s absolutely worth going out of your way to put together.
The spices mixed together for Berbere are coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, black peppercorn, allspice, cardamon pods, cloves, onion flakes, dried chiles, paprika, salt, nutmeg, ground ginger and cinnamon. So yeah a few spices are needed, however, most of these can be put to use in a good deal of other recipes and don’t really sit on your shelves for years and years yearning to be used. That being said I’d eat this recipe for weeks without getting tired of it, so if I only used these ingredients in this recipe, I’d still buy them. I have to admit though we do leave out the onion flakes. I don’t know why, but we just never had them the first time we made the mix and they were never missed. Once you’ve made the Berbere in the quantities provided by Saveur, the mix will last for two to three meals of Mesir Wat and it will survive in a sealed container in the cupboard for 6 months.
What’s more, once you have the Berbere, Mesir Wat is literally the simplest recipe ever. You melt some butter, cook some onions, then add some garlic and cook a little more. Then you add some lentils, Bberbere, tomatoes and water and simmer. Just before serving, you add some more berbere and season. And that’s that. Seriously good food. Now the recipe does ask for 4 tbsp of nit’r qibe (Ethiopian Spiced Butter) or unsalted butter. We are yet to try the nit’r qibe, but this is definitely on my to-do list. Instead, we use the unsalted butter and quite often not as much as the recipe recommends – we love butter, we love the buttery undertones of butter you get when the meal is served, but our waistlines (already bulging from too much chocolate) don’t need 4 tbsp of butter. Typically I’ll use 2-3 tbsp, though the last time I made this recipe I used less than a tablespoon (we ran out of butter) and used half a tablespoon of oil as well. To be honest the meal was still fantastic. The Berbere gives this dish life and thanks to this spice mix the dish does not hang to life support when it’s served with less butter.
Ethiopian Lentil Stew (Misir Wot). Saveur [Online] Available at http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Ethiopian-Lentil-Stew [Accessed 18/11/2016]
Ethiopian Spice Mix (Berbere). Saveur [Online] Available at http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Ethiopian-Spice-Mix [Accessed 18/11/2016]
Ethiopian Spiced Butter (nit’r qibe). Saveur [Online] Available at http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Ethiopian-Spiced-Butter [Accessed 18/11/2016]