There are several Middle Eastern recipes that I have not yet posted here for several reasons: a) I don't particularly like the dish (ahem, sheep's feet), b) I lack the special molds, tools or ingredients to make the dish (ma'amoul, kishik), c) it makes a huge amount and I don't have a crowd to feed it to (whole roasted lamb anyone?). And finally, there is a whole slew of dishes that I haven't posted here simply because they are so common and obvious to me that I forget they might be new to someone else. Heck, it took me two years to get a baba ghanoush recipe on this site.
So, while I realize I've been absent from this site due to recent events, I hope to delve more into the both the basics and the more unusual dishes of Middle Eastern cuisine here in the future. I've got a whole bunch of ideas for postings, it's just getting them written down and uploaded. I hope you'll stay tuned.
One example of those most basic of Levantine staples is mujadara- a simple pilaf of rice, lentils and caramelized onions. I hesitated to post it here because it's been blogged about so many times before.
Like so many rice and legume staples- it relies on a simple but key combination of spices and flavors to elevate it from belly-filler to table-decorator. Every cook should know how to caramelize onions, an essential skill that mainly takes patience. Whenever my pantry is bare, leaving me only with some onions lolling in the vegetable drawer and a bit of old bread, I caramelize the onions and eat them over toast, with cheese melted on top. It's delightful.
So mujadara is just rice and brown lentils (cook them separately so they are both done just right), then cooked together with caramelized onions and spices. A simple cheap Mediterranean staple that I finally got around to sharing with you. Sahtain.
I love this dish with dollops of plain yogurt on top, even though it's not traditional it's very, very good.
2 large sweet white onions, thinly sliced
2 tbl butter
2 tbl vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups brown or green lentils (not red lentils or french lentils!)
2 cups long grain white rice
3-4 cardamom pods
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
splash of good olive oil
optional: plain thick yogurt for serving
1. Melt the butter along with the oil and a pinch of salt in your largest skillet, and add the onions. Set heat on medium-low and stir occasionally until very soft, about 30 minutes. Turn heat to medium high and keep cooking and stirring often until deeply browned and sweet, another 20 minutes or more. Deglaze the pan with a splash of water (or more untraditionally white wine), stir and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, cook the rice and lentils separately according to the package directions. Add the cardamom pods to the rice pot while cooking, then discard when done. The lentils should be tender but not smushy or soupy, they should retain their shape.
3. Combine rice, lentils, half the caramelized onions, cinnamon, cumin, salt and pepper in a large pot. Add about half a cup of water and the olive oil and heat everything together until fragrent, warm and combined.
4. Place mujadara in serving dish. Scatter remaining caramelized onions over top. You can also decorate with some toasted pine nuts or chopped parsley. Serve, with plain thick yogurt on the side if desired.