I am very reluctant to name this dish "Lebanese", maybe I should say "Lebanese inspired", or something like that. I don't want to upset anyone in case my recipe is not authentic enough. The truth is that I used to eat this dish often at a local restaurant in my hometown. It was not a Lebanese restaurant, in fact it was as Brazilian as it can be. It was a buffet-style restaurant where you pay per weight (of your plate of food, not your weight, please ...). This type of places are super common in Brazil and it is most people's first choice for lunch hour. This particular restaurant served a different cuisine each day of the week. Thursdays were Arabic food, and that included all Middle Eastern "inspired" foods, like fatayer, kibbeh, baklava and my favourite of all, Mujaddara or, for you and me: rice and lentils.
But it's not just plain rice and lentils. This dish tastes amazing also because it has caramelized onions all over it and it uses a Middle Eastern mix of spices that you wouldn't normally think of when making rice or lentils. In my humble attempt to recreate it I used some more pantry-friendly ones like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. The result was good enough to satisfy my cravings until I find a good Middle Eastern restaurant here in Seattle or perhaps until I visit my sister-in-law Kristina and husband Charbel in Abu Dhabi. Charbel's family is Lebanese and if he cannot teach me how to make an authentic Mujaddara, at least he can teach me how to pronounce it...
I made this dish specially for the New Year, as it is a tradition in my family to eat lentils on New Years Day or Eve. It is supposed to bring wealth for the year to come, so why not give it a try, right? Besides, eating lentils is no chore for me at all, I love them. Unfortunately I couldn't get Andrew to try them. I guess he is not superstitious enough to overcome his adversity to lentils :)
Rice and Lentils Recipe:
1 cup (8oz) of green lentils
1/2 cup (4oz) white rice
2 very large yellow onions, finely sliced
1-2 teaspoons of salt (depends on your taste)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon of each cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large pan and add the onions. Don't worry if it looks too much, they will reduce a lot. Add salt and pepper (I started with 1 teaspoon of salt and added the second one at the end of the dish as I tasted it). Cook the onions over medium heat until they are golden brown and caramelized, about 20 minutes, stirring it every once in a while.
While the onions cook, place lentils in a large pot and cover with water about 1 inch. Add the spices and bring it to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer. Add cooked onions to the lentils along with the uncooked rice. Continue cooking it, stirring often to avoid it to stick to the bottom of the pot. If necessary, add more hot water and simmer until all grains are fully cooked. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
This rice dish is supposed to be sort of moist and sticky, sort of risotto consistency, but a bit drier maybe.
The amount of onions you use is up to you. I like it a lot so I used a lot of it.
The ratio of rice/lentils is also up to you. I used double amount of lentils because I was looking for a lentil-based dish for today. You can do half and half, or more rice than lentils.
You can also use brown rice and I saw recipes using bulgur as well, although I haven't tried that way yet.
It is nice to use some extra brown and crisp onions to decorate the final dish. I didn't do it because I had burnt my skillet, which leads me to our next and final note.
If you burn the bottom of your skillet or pot while cooking the onions, don't panic. After removing the onions, keep skillet heated and add some vinegar. Scrape the bottom using a wooden spoon.