Onion-lentil rice (mujaddara)
This is pure comfort food. The caramelised onions add a sweetness that works well with the earthy lentils, and the cinammon and cloves. Mujaddara is a childhood favourite across the Middle East — a colleague once raved about how this lentil rice tasted like it was made by a Kuwaiti housewife. I guess I’ll just take that as a compliment.
Mujaddara’s a hearty, fragrant, and satisfying dish on its own, or as a side in a bigger meal. It’s good on the day it’s made, but it always tastes better the next day.
Mujaddara isn’t very difficult to make. You cook lentils, then you add them to rice, with some seasonings, and finish by cooking them all together. But the process has quite a few steps, and, because you’ll need to brown a bunch of onions, it can take a while.
I usually double this recipe (at least), because I’m typically cooking for a lot of people. And the leftovers are great.
– 8oz (400g) of brown or green lentils
– 2 cups (500ml) of rice (basmati or jasmine)
– 6 large onions (or more)
– 2 cups (500 ml) of olive oil (if frying)
– 1/2 cup (100ml) of olive oil
– 2 tsp (10 ml) whole cumin (or ground)
– 1 cinammon stick (or 1 tsp ground)
– 10 whole cloves (or 1/2 tsp ground)
– 2 tsp (10 ml) black pepper, ground
– 2 tsp ground turmeric (or a few pieces of dried root turmeric)
– Wedges of lemon (for serving)
– Chopped parsley (for serving, optional)
– Pomegranate molasses (for serving)
Pick out any rocks from the lentils. Rinse them. Put them in a pot, and add enough water to cover them to a depth of 2cm (1 in). Cover the pot, and cook the lentils till they’re done but not mushy (the green lentils I use take about 20 mins or so). I sometimes need to add a little more water towards the end if they dry out. When they’re done, drain them and put them aside.
I usually brown the onions until they’re dark, then fry them for extra flavour. Slice the onions thinly into rings, or half-rings. Put them in a covered pot at low heat, to sweat. Uncover the pot, and cook off all the water, being careful not to let them stick. Once the onions are dry, cook them to a rich brown — watch closely that they don’t burn.
At this point, you can either add 1/2 cup of oil to onions, and continue pan-frying until they are dark brown or you can be ambitious and shallow fry them. If you shallow fry them, work in small batches, until they’re dark and kind of crispy (follow the instructions under “browning onions“).
Take about half the onions, and put them aside. Take the rest of the onions, and put them in a pot. There should be enough oil in the pan to coat the bottom (be liberal). Add the spices and fry them over low-medium heat until they’re fragrant and the cumin starts to pop. I normally use whole cloves, and whole cumin, because I like biting into them later. You can grind them up if you don’t like it quite so rustic.
Add the rice. Stir it around for a few minutes. Some of the grains will start to turn white. Add the lentils, and 3 cups of water. Add enough salt that the water tastes slightly salty. Cover the pot, and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat, and cook until the rice is done (about 20 mins). Take it off the heat, and remove the lid. Check the salt, and maybe add more.
Put the mujaddara on a platter. Sprinkle the top with all of the reserved onions. Garnish it with lemon wedges and parsley (I really like it with pomegranate molasses, too, but I don’t know how authentic this is).