Mujadarra is a classic Middle Eastern dish of rice, lentils and caramelized onions, and it is the definition of comfort food as far as I am concerned. Affiliate links have been used in this post to items I am linking to.
Guys! Cook, Eat, Tweet was so much fun! Not to mention delicious! If you missed the fun, here is the original announcement. In a nutshell, those of us involved in the Cookbook Tour for An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair threw a live cooking twitter party, where we all cooked the same dish from Faith’s cookbook (see the original announcement for her exact recipe). We fielded questions, shared experiences and photos, and just had fun.
My experience was made all the more, ahem, exciting, by cooking in my mom’s kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, her kitchen, recently renovated, is a work of art. But it is still not my kitchen. For example, when slicing the onions, there were no onion goggles to reach for and sunglasses had to suffice. Because this recipe calls for a lot of onions.
I also managed to burn a pan, because it was not as heavy duty as the ones I am used to. But c’est la vie–that’s how cooking in other people’s kitchens goes. And the dish still turned out fantastically.
We (and Faith, in her book) encouraged people to adapt as needed or inspired. For example, my mom does not keep bulgur in her pantry and I had not had any time to get any. So I made my mujadarra with long grain rice. Similarly, brown lentils would be used traditionally, but any lentil that holds its shape can be used, and so I used French lentils du puy, a type of green lentil which holds its shape really well. My mom did not have any green cardamom pods, and I grabbed my cardamom seeds, not pods, in my rush to get out the door to Columbus (where my parents live). The seeds definitely made a difference, as you encountered occasional bursts of fragrant cardamom. It did not bother me, but the pods are probably better for a less agressive, more blended cardamom flavor.
I have written the recipe below as I made it. I got some attention during the event because I used the pasta method for my rice. Those of you familiar with my blog, or more specifically my Indian rice dishes, may already be familiar with this method. Normally, the pasta method means you boil the rice, just like pasta, in salted water until it is quite al dente–but definitely not crunchy at all. Then you drain the rice, return it to the pan, and cover the pan and let the rice steam in its own steam for 20 minutes. At the end you have perfect, fluffy rice.
I have adapted this method to making pilafs and other rice dishes. In the past I have found cooking rice with meat and/or vegetables to be quite unreliable. Sometimes it works out perfectly, but half the time there is too much water in the dish (from the liquid in the veggies most likely) and the pilaf is mushy. I have also had the opposite happen, where the top layer of rice is crunchy. There is no way to be certain just how much water is in your meat and vegetables. I have no idea how people get it perfect every time and I stopped banging my head against that particular wall a long time ago. Instead, I boil the rice, just as I would any time I make Basmati, but instead of letting it steam alone, I then mix it into the (mostly) cooked dish and let it steam in a warm oven. I have never had this method fail.
I do want to clarify, however, for you Asian food aficionados or rice lovers, that if I am making Japanese rice or Jasmine rice or any rice where stickiness is desirable, I use a completely different method.
Check out everyone else’s mujadarra from Cook, Eat, Tweet!
- 1/3 cup dried brown or green lentils
- 2 T olive oil
- 3 T butter, divided
- 2-3 large onions, thinly sliced
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 pods cardamom, cracked open
- 2 cloves
- 2 t ground cumin
- ½ t cinnamon
- ¼ t freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup long grain rice, for dishes like this I prefer Basmati
- Greek yogurt, plain
- Lemon wedges
- fried eggs
Preheat the oven to 275 F.
First set 2 pots of water on to boil, one for rice and one for the lentils. Salt the rice pot generously. Prepare your onions. Pretty much everyone who loves Mujadarra loves the onions--I made a double recipe with 4 onions. I would have liked even more onion, and if you think you would too, prepare 3, not 2.
When the water for the lentils starts to boil, add the lentils and reduce to a simmer. Cook until tender but not mushy, and add a hefty pinch of salt toward the end. Drain the lentils and set aside.
When the rice pot comes to a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer. It is too soon to put the rice in.
Heat a large Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
Cook the onions, tossing and stirring occasionally, until lightly golden. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt a second time. Remove 2/3 of the onions to a large skillet and set aside.
Bring the rice pot of water to a boil. Add the rice. After about 5-6 minutes, taste the rice--it should be firm, not yet tender, but not at all crunchy. Let it boil, testing every minute, until no longer crunchy.
While the rice is cooking, add the whole and ground spices to the onions left in the Dutch oven. Stir them in over medium heat and let cook for 1-2 minutes. When the rice has achieved its slightly underdone but not crunchy state, drain it and add it to the onions with spices. Add the cooked lentils also. Mix together.
Cover the Dutch oven with a heavy lid or foil and place in the oven for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, add one tablespoon of butter to the pan with the remaining onions and place on medium high heat. Stir occasionally--if the onions start to scorch, add about 1/4 cup of water. You can do this repeatedly--the onions will cook down and become quite dark and soft. Sprinkle with salt several times, to taste. Toward the end, you may need to reduce the heat to medium low.
When the 20 minutes are up, remove the pot from the oven. Spread the caramelized onions over the top of the dish. Serve with Greek yogurt and lemon wedges. For main dish, also serve topped with a fried egg.