One of my favourite restaurants in Birmingham is Savannah, an Ethiopian place with an excellent selection of vegetarian (and most of it vegan) food. Not a fancy place at all, but affordable, open late, and deliciously filling food, it quickly became our go-to after-bouldering 9-10 pm meal. But that was before — you know — the pandemic. We gave their promise of pre-ordered delivery a few tries but to no avail (I hope they still exist!).
I missed Savannah food, so I set out to try and make my personal favourite — the red lentils (Misir Wat?) — at home. Although I will in no way claim that my adaptation of online recipes[*], missing (key?) traditional ingredients and probably making unforgivable mistakes in the method as well, is anywhere near as good as “proper” Misir Wat, I really like it. And so did my colleagues, after we made it together over zoom. And my mum, who has been asking for the written down recipe since the first time I made it for her. So this post is titled for the response I expect when I send her the link later.
(Enough for 3-4 portions)
for the spice mix (Berbere):
2 tbsp(!) paprika (optional make one of these smoked paprika)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp onion powder
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground nutmeg (or less if freshly grating it)
¼ tsp garlic powder
pinch of ground cloves (or 3 whole ones, then cut them really fine)
pinch of ground cinnamon
optional ½ tsp ground fenugreek seeds
200 g red lentils, dried
1 large brown/white onion, or 2 small ones
3-4 garlic cloves
some chili flakes (adjust for desired spiciness, or leave them out entirely)
1-2 tomatoes OR 1 small (~200g) tin of diced tomatoes
~2 tbsp tomato puree
vegetable stock cube
~2 tbsp coconut oil (or other oil for cooking)
optional a bit of vegan butter (like flora) or margarine, or more coconut oil
If you have the option to plan, I recommend soaking your lentils for 3-24 hours. This reduces the cooking time, which also makes it more likely you will end up with fully cooked lentils. It also makes them more digestible (if you don’t know why that’s something you might want, count your blessings and move on). Drain your lentils before using, do not cook with the soaking water.
Either way, wash the lentils (before soaking if you’re doing that). Just add water and move your hand through, you will quickly see all the dust that comes off. Drain the water and repeat a few times, until the water comes out relatively clear.
Mix all the spices from the list together and set aside. Finely dice the onion, garlic, and tomatoes (if using fresh ones).
Heat up a large pot, then put the heat on medium and add your cooking oil. Add the onions and sauté for about 5 minutes until the onions are soft. Lower the heat if needed, we want to cook the onions but mostly avoid browning. Then add the garlic and chili flakes, and sauté for another minute. Add ⅔ of the Berbere (spice mix), the tomatoes and tomato puree. Stir and cook this sauce for 5-10 minutes. If it threatens to burn, lower the heat and/or add a splash of water.
Crumble in the stock cube, add the lentils, and add water until the lentils are mostly covered. Turn up the heat until this starts to simmer, then lower and put the lid on. Cook until the lentils are soft all the way through, which may take anywhere between 20 to 40 minutes. Occasionally stir and add more water if it starts to get too dry (or if you just like it soupy-er). When the lentils are (almost) done, mix in the last ⅓ of the Berbere and optionally, your fat-for-flavour, and give it another 5 minutes or so.
Like all Ethiopian food, Misir Wat is traditionally eaten with Injera, a sort of huge, soft, sourdough-based pancake made from teff flour. Maybe you can find them at a specialist shop or order them from a restaurant? I like to make not-at-all-like-Injera pancakes from sourdough discard. Otherwise, I think rice or bread — especially sourdough — work really well too.
Back at Savannah, the bouldering club had a standard order of four dishes (plus Injera, of course): red lentils, foul (made from broad beans), something yellow I forgot the name of and “vegetable alicha”. The first three are quite filling curries, the last one is a nice side dish of somewhat sour, soft veggies. This inspired me to try out sauerkraut as an addition, and wow, that is an amazing combination! If you don’t like sauerkraut, maybe a bit of sour from a gherkin or other pickle would be nice. Either way, you could add other veggies (e.g. some stir fried spinach). Last time, my plate ended up looking like this:
But, any plate with red lentils is a good plate! Here are some from my colleagues…
[*] Red lentil recipe adapted from here, and Berbere from here.
 tsp = teaspoon, but in this recipe, an actual small spoon and not a (US) teaspoon measure, because I think that would be too much. Don’t make too big of a heap on your teaspoon.
 The reason this is optional is because it’s in the recipe for the spice mix I’ve used, but I have never bothered to buy fenugreek myself. Try it out! To be frank, I think you can leave out pretty much any (but not all) spices, except for the paprika.
 Traditionally, the recipe uses niter kibbeh, clarified butter infused with herbs and spices. Adding a knob of flora instead is the cop-out “I don’t have time for this” method, which is presumably what you’ve come here for.
 I would err on the side of less water, since you can always add a bit more while cooking, but it’s difficult to get excess water out.
 The cooking time varies for the type of lentil (longer for whole, shorter for split) and whether you soaked them or not, and how long (more soaking is less cooking).
 You kind of have to be a home sourdough baker to have this.