Mujaddara is a simple Levantine rice and lentil pilaf that is considered to be a “poor man’s dish”. It is also a dish that is very near and dear to my heart. Let’s rewind back to May 2008. I was 22, just a couple weeks shy of turning 23 and I was studying in Egypt for the third time. Living on my own for about a year and a half, I still struggled with feeding myself. I loved street food, but I wanted to cook for myself. At the time, my cooking skills hadn’t really evolved since the days my parents allowed me to stay home alone without a babysitter (macaroni and cheese, ramen noodles, etc). There I was, living thousands of miles away from home and I still lacked the ability to feed myself. Cooking, I realized, was a basic life skill and it was something I was sorely lacking. I refused to believe that humans made it this far so we could subsist on Hot Pockets and Cocoa Puffs. I needed to change.
I went to my favorite bookstore and bought a cookbook with Egyptian and Levantine recipes. After skimming through the book, I settled on something that looked easy: mujaddara. So off I went to a nearby supermarket to purchase the ingredients. When I arrived home, I cut an onion for the first time in my life. Yes, at the age of 22. My first attempt at making mujaddara was merely OK, but that didn’t deter me. I made it constantly for the rest of the summer until I had perfected my own version. Now, I usually prefer to make more complex dishes but I still love to return to the simplicity of mujdaara. What sets it apart from just being lentils and rice are the caramelized onions. They’re so tangy and sweet. They should be a part of every cook’s repertoire. Even if you don’t have much of an interest in making mujaddara, caramelize some onions and eat them with some toast and butter.
4 onions, sliced (watch out for onion tears)
3/4 cup lentils
3/4 cup rice
about 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
Heal oil and a dash of salt in a large non-stick skillet over medium low heat. When hot, add the onions. Stir the onions every few minutes, for 30 minutes. Turn the heat up a bit and continue cooking until the onions until they are a deep, golden brown, another 15-20 minutes or so. Set skillet aside.
In the meantime, prepare the lentils and rice according to their package directions. Some people prefer to cook the lentils and rice together in the same pot, but I find that this results in overcooked lentils, so I always cook them separately. When the lentils and rice are ready, pour them into a colander to get the water out.
Mix together the lentils and rice in a big pot. Add salt, pepper, a couple glugs of olive oil, and most of the caramelized onions. Heat until the mujaddara is warm, add more salt and pepper to taste.
Serve in bowls and garnish with the remaining caramelized onions. Serve warm.
Originally posted in March 2010