After undergoing phase two of what will hopefully be my only root canal ever, I wanted something comforting, delicious and easy to chew for dinner. And, as you can imagine, after such a long day, it wouldn’t hurt if that something was simple to make. Enter mujadarrah.
If you aren’t familiar with this middle eastern staple, I urge you to get to know it. It is, at its core, a very simple dish: lentils, rice and onions. Of course, with this said, there are endless variations. Brown mujadarrah is made with green lentils, yellow with red lentils. Some recipes call for more or less olive oil than others. Some for cumin. Some for more salt. (Never for less salt; it’s amazing how the lentils and rice can just suck it up.)
Given the popularity of Deborah Madison‘s recipe, I sometimes wonder if the vast majority of Americans (or at least vegetarian Americans) weren’t introduced to the dish with the publication of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. However, I prefer varieties such as the one published by Three Tarts that include garlic and cumin. I also think it’s essential to serve this dish with a generous dollup of tangy Greek-style yogurt on top. As much as the caramelized onions add the rich flavor to this simple profile, the piquant flavor of the yogurt provides a needed contrast and creaminess that really makes this peasant food sing.
If you haven’t had it before, the other thing I think you’ll immediately notice about mujadarrah is how delightfully satisfying it is. I’ve found that it can easily satiate the cravings of an enthusiastic meat eater and I find the protein/starch combination gratifying in the same way as mac & cheese (or any other savory southern comfort food dish).
Brown Mujadarrah with Tangy Yogurt
Mujadarrah can stand alone as a one-pot wonder meal, though I often serve it with something colorful on the side. Not infrequently that “something” will be any endless number of variations on a cucumber, tomato salad. (Maybe with onions, maybe not. Depends on what I have handy). On this particular night, I also happened to have a little leftover grilled zucchini with fresh mozzarella on hand.
If you’ve never caramelized onions before, or don’t do it often, you might consider reading Simply Recipe’s primer (complete with pictures). I walk through the steps below, but remember, here, patience is most definitely a virtue.
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 yellow onions
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 1/2 tablespoons cumin
- 1 1/2 teaspoons allspice
- 3 cups vegetable stock
- 3/4 cups green lentils
- 3/4 cups white rice
- salt and pepper to taste
- Heat a thick bottomed saute pan (or large skillet) over medium high heat and a medium-sized sauce pan over medium heat. While you wait for the pans to heat, finely slice two of the onions (to caramelize) and dice the third (to cook with the lentils), wash and pick through lentils and discard any irregular ones and dice garlic.
- When the pan is heated, add approximately 2 tablespoons of olive oil. It will immediately thin and shimmer. Reduce heat to medium and tilt the pan to coat the bottom before adding the sliced onions. Spread the onions in an even layer over the bottom of the pan, stirring every few minutes to keep from sticking to the pan. As onions start to wilt and brown, reduce heat to medium low and continue to cook until onions are dark, dark brown and unbelievably delicious. This will take 35 – 45 minutes total.
- After adding sliced onions to sautee pan, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the sauce pan; tilt to coat the pan and add diced onion. Saute, stirring frequently until just starting to become transparent. Add garlic, cumin and allspice and saute 2 minutes more. Add broth and lentils and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add white rice to lentil mixture in sauce pan and continue to simmer for an additional 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and rice is soft to the tooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Serve lentil and rice mix in a bowl topped with caramelized onions and a large dollup of tangy Greek-style yogurt.
Yield: 4+ servings
Leftovers may be reheated in the microwave or served cold.