As I mentioned in the past, several kinds of vegetables were unwelcome in my house. Like orange vegetables, legumes and peas were also considered to be the foods of devil. They were deemed too fussy to prepare, and, frankly, entirely too flatulence-inducing for our family. I grew up thinking they were disgusting, and would have never dreamed of tasting an orange puree, or even a bowl of chili.
Then, one cold autumn day in Grade 1, everyone in my homework club sat down to dinner. At the time, I felt mostly like a polite outsider, sitting beside Ethiopian and Moroccan children who spoke fluent Hebrew and seemed so comfortable in that small, crowded room. I was one of a few Russian immigrants who stayed for language lessons in the evening, and who were graciously allowed to join the homework club kids for their meals. For some of us, that was to be the only warm meal of the day.
That autumn evening, with our coats hanging messily off the hooks and the rain clattering against the window, I happily stood in a not-so-orderly line, anxious for my portion of food. When my hands clasped that chipped, white ceramic bowl, and the steam enveloped my face, I couldn’t wait to get back into my chair and sink my spoon into the warm food. But when I saw the rice and brown lentils in my bowl, it was my heart that sank.
I was far too polite and anxious to say anything, so, fighting back tears, I closed my eyes and put a small spoonful in my mouth… And was immediately transported by the flavour, texture and warmth of that bite. The noises of the room faded away, and it was just me, alone with that spiced, comforting bowl of majadra (or majadra, or mujaddara – the spelling differs according to the different traditions that make this dish, which are a great many) – the Middle Eastern take on beans and rice.
Since that cold, rainy evening, I have made more than my fair share of lentils, beans, and orange veggies, served over rice. This is my take on the Middle Eastern mujadara: punctuated with Indian spices, laced throughout with bright green herbs and topped with glistening, browned onions. I like to make it in a nice, big cast-iron dutch oven, and eat it for days to come. Perhaps this bowl of rice and lentils will warm up your day as well.
Oh, and thanks to the holidays and a certain someone, I am now the proud owner of a Canon EOS Rebel T3 camera! So now I can no longer use the excuse that my camera sucks.
Middle Eastern mujadara
- 1 cup of brown or green lentils
- 1.5 cups of rice if using whole grain, adjust rice cooking time to longer, about 40-45 minutes, and you may need to double cumin and garlic as whole grain rice has a more pronounced taste
- 1 tablespoon cumin ground
- 1 tablespoon coriander ground
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon ground
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder optional
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 1 onion chopped finely
- 2 tsps salt or more - to taste
- 4 tablespoon oil
- 1 onion sliced into half-moons (optional but highly recommended)
- 1/2 bunch of chopped cilantro or parsley for serving (parsley is traditional, but I love the taste of cilantro)
- Lemon wedges for serving
- Labaneh or Greek yogurt fort serving (optional)
Rinse lentils and soak them in 4 cups of water for 20 minutes (If you don't have time to soak your lentils, that's ok - they'll just need longer to cook).
Mince garlic finely. Chop onion finely.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add cumin, coriander, cinnamon, garlic and chili, if using, and toast lightly, for about a minute. Add onions to the spices, stir until coated, and saute until golden, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
If lentils were soaking, drain the water. To the pot with onions and spices, add 1 cup of lentils and enough water to coat them, plus one more cup of water and 1 teaspoon of salt. Raise heat to medium-high and cook lentils for 20 minutes if the lentils were soaked (25-30 if they weren't soaked), testing for doneness (lentils should be cooked through but not mushy).
While lentils are cooking, rinse your rice 3-5 times in cold water, until water comes out clean. Let rice soak in 4 cups of water while lentils are cooking.
When lentils are cooked through but not mushy, to the same pot as the lentils add rice, 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 cups of water (if using whole-grain rice, you'll want more water, about 2.5 cups). Cover with a lid, raise heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Once water is boiling, lower heat to very low and let cook for about 25 minutes, until most of the water has evaporated and rice is cooked through. Fluff rice through gently with a fork, cover with lid and let rest for another 10 minutes.
Optional: While rice is cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan. When oil has heated through, add slivered onions. Let cook on low-medium heat until onions have browned and caramelised.
Chop cilantro or parsley finely.
When rice is cooked through, pour contents of pot into big serving platter. Mix rice and lentils gently. Top with chopped herbs and caramelized onions. Taste and adjust flavours - dish may need more salt, as for your liking.
Serve with more herbs on the side, individual lemon wedges and, if you're eating dairy, labaneh. It will be a magical dish!