Thursday, January 1, 2009

Lebanese Rice and Lentils

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lentil spoon


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:

I used:

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.

 lentils close up2


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.


Anonymous said...

This looks delicious! Just what I was craving for dinner.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this great recipe. Definitely one to try. Picture superb! Can you help with recipe to make onion bajas from lentil flour? Thank you Harry W. Australia

Rita said...

Hi Harry - thanks. I am not familiar with onion bajas, so I looked around the web but didn't really find any recipes specific for that. I also never used lentil flour, do you?
Sorry couldn't help more...

Anonymous said...

Hi Rita, Thanks for the message. Luckily a friend is bringing an implement to grind the lentils into a flour consistency. This should coat the 10cm onion rings prior to frying......Can't wait to try this. Meanwhile have the Lentils soaking for the "Mujaddara", which I want to try first. Hungry just thinking about it at6.30am! Will let you know......Harry

Rita said...

Harry - I see now what you want to do...Perhaps grind or process the lentils and use it to coat the onions? I never tried that, let me know how it turns out!

Anonymous said...

Hi Rita ,The lentil flour came out ok, but the onions needed to be partly cooked & whole & just squashed slightly prior to coating. Deep frying quickly is the way to hold everything together. Have to admit first attempt was a failure with undercooked onions & very shallow frying.Still edible with crispy lentil coating.I'm visiting my friendly food hall man for further instructions.....will let you know.....Harry

Anonymous said...

Hi Rita , Have cooked & enjoyed the mujaddara recipe you show. Was easy & looked like yours!. Great, thanks.Will try with other pulses and I'm sure will go well with any meat /fish left overs. Still have to follow up that baja's at my food hall friend......Cheers Harry

Anonymous said...

Harry - I am so glad you enjoyed it!

Anonymous said...

Majadra is really one of my favorite dishes, and a perfect example of poor peasant's food being as delicious as some of the finest delicacies. Yours looks delicious, but I have to mention: cumin is absolutely essential for the proper taste. To my knowledge my mother only puts a pinch of cinnamon.

Speaking of Arabic restaurants in the Seattle area, have you been to Mediterranean Kitchen? I'm not particularly fond of it but I know that lots of people go crazy for it. They have fantastic house-made labneh and good kibbeh but I think their main dishes are too big and all taste of just garlic and lemon.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant to say a pinch of cinnamon on top of the cumin

Rita said...

Anonymous - thanks, it looks like the Mediterranean Kitchen is close to where I live, I will check it out.

Anonymous said...

Have just cooked chic peas using your "Mujaddara" spices plus a little cumin.The aroma is super!These 4 spices are a must without going into the chillie/curry ingredients, though I'm sure they would add something when all mixed together.An Indian friend has suggested a good pinch of cumin when cooking rice. Have yet to try this.....Harry W.A.

Rita said...

Harry - Oh my, I can only imagine how wonderful and fragant the chickpeas must be. I think I ate them like that back in Brazil, but never thought about making them here, thanks for the idea and inspiration! I like cumin too, it sometimes reminds me of Mexican flavours.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rita, Just enjoyed those chic peas with a late breakfast.I'm freezing 2 small batches for future. Like you say the fragrance is really something special. No further forward with onion Baja experiment........Harry

Anonymous said...

This is my favorite rice dish that I buy at a Lebanese restaurant all the time. Thank you for the receipe, I will definately be making it.

Anonymous said...

Hi... I tried your Mujadara Recipe... very nice with the spices, I added Cumin... and I realised that I had run out of rice ! so I improvised with Burghul !... it was delicious... Pat (

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