13 August 2009


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.


Anonymous said...

I don't know about yogurt not being too traditional. Maybe not original to the recipe, but my Lebanese dad and all the people in my Lebanese church always serve mujadara with lebne and COVER it. :) Happy to see my childhood favorite recipe on here! Love the blog. ;)

Poorni Pillai said...

A simple dish, but I know how much flavor lentils impart, so I'm guessing this is wonderful! :)

I Heart Kale said...

Oh, my Syrian grandmother always serves this with yogurt--I assumed it was traditional! It's so interesting to see the variations across the region (we don't do cardamom, cinnamon or cumin but that sounds delicious). I love your blog!

Mark Scarbrough said...

Sheer simplicity. Frankly, I can't imagine anything better. I'm wondering about it with a little pomegranate molasses as well. Hmmm. Sounds absolutely divine.

Allie said...

I love love love mujadarra. Yum!

Jill said...

Thank you so much for posting this. I made it tonight and it was delicious! Very inexpensive, tasty and healthy. I added raisins hoping to coax my kids into eating it...

Dad said...

What can I say after seeing a much awaited recipe for mujadara?

Shukeran Mercedes, shukeran.

It's good to hear from you!

(no relation)

adele said...

Simple, perhaps, but it sounds delicious. This is going on my to-do list.

Amy said...

This sounds wonderful! I can't wait to try it. Now where to put it so that I don't lose it...

Dori said...

Mmmmm, I love to have this at the restaurants, nice recipe :)

Anonymous said...

I found this dish in a Deborah Madison book and it has become a favorite dish. I will try your recipe with the spices and other variations next time. Love your blog.

Boracay hotel said...

It looks delicious and easy to prepare. You just have to mix this one and that one and you're all set. I think this dish is great.

Unknown said...

I just had this for the first time a couple days ago at a Lebanese restaurant and fell in love. How much simpler can it get? And the idea of the yogurt is great. I usually make Turkish pilaf dishes and serve with yogurt. Yum!

Anonymous said...

Well, just made it. Excellent. Was trying to replicate what I just had at a Lebanese restaurant. Increased onions to 3 - love onions - didn't have cardamom pods so used ground. Otherwise pretty much stuck to the recipe (I did a bad thing - used half red lentils but it was all I had).

Thank you very much for an excellent recipe.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this recipe. I made it and it was terrific! Though I wasn't able to impart the rich dark brown color on my carmelized onions as well as you, it was still delicious! I blogged about this recipe today!

Shondratasha said...

Thank you, I had this at a middle eastern restaurant and wanted to find a similar recipe. I could taste cardamom in it and most the recipes I found online did not include cardamom.

Lori said...

Is the cardamom black or green? Thanks!