Hey Eithne…you still out there?
Good, because this one's for you.
My friend Eithne wrote to me a while ago asking if I had a really good recipe for Mejadra (or Mujadara, depending on where in the middle-east you might hail from), and while I had enjoyed a few different versions over the years I had never made it myself and so couldn't really help her. I did tell her that I'd search some reliable sources and try a few different twists on the dish and get bacl to her. When I finally came upon this Ottolenghi-Tamimi take on the classic, I knew my search was over.
Mejadra is an ancient dish popular throughout the Arab world, a soul-food that comes in as many varieties as there are cooks in the region. Think of it as their "mac and cheese", it is just as addicting as this "American" favorite, though it is much…. MUCH healthier. The three main ingredients of the dish never seem to vary much; lentils, rice and onions, it's the spices and any condiments served along with that have the ability to elevate this dish to swoon status.
As is the case with every dish Ottolenghi and Tamimi send forth into the world, their version of Mejadra is rock star good. It's a dish so simple to make, yet with their additions of whole coriander and cumin seeds and generous amounts of allspice, cinnamon, and turmeric, it achieves a higher orbit than most. For me, the keys to this dish are the crunch of the whole spice seeds, and the generous amounts of crispy onion strings. They offer just the right amount of crunch and depth of flavor that along with the sweet spice of the cinnamon and allspice make this a truly memorable dish.
It is delicious hot or at room temperature, serve it along with a crisp green salad for a "Meatless Monday" meal, or alongside your favorite grilled meat. I prefer mine with some chopped fresh cilantro and a spoonful of plain, greek yogurt that's been thinned with a little fresh lemon juice on top…..SO GOOD!
Cheers – Steve
- 1 1/4 cups green or brown lentils
- 4 medium onions
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- about 1 cup safflower oil (I use peanut or canola, whatever I have in stock)
- 2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 1 cup basmati rice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- freshly ground black pepper
- plain greek yoghurt with lemon and chopped cilantro as garnish (optional)
- Place the lentils in a small saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to a gentle boil, and cook for 12-15 minutes, until the lentils have softened but still have a little bite. Drain and set aside.
- Peel the onions and slice thinly. Place on a large flat plate or sheet tray, sprinkle with the flour and 1 teaspoon of salt, and mix well with your hands. Heat the sunflower oil in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan placed over high heat. make sure the oil is hot by throwing in a small piece of onion; it should sizzle vigorously. Reduce the heat to medium-high and carefully add 1/3 of the sliced onions. Fry for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally with a slotted spoon, until the onion takes on a nice golden brown color and turns crispy (adjust the temperature so that the onion doesn't fry too quickly and burn). Use the spoon to transfer the onion to a colander lined with paper towels to drain, and sprinkle with a little more salt. Do the same with the other batches of onions, add a little extra oil if needed.
- Pour any extra oil out of the pan and wipe it clean. Add the cumin and coriander seeds and place the pan back over medium heat. toast the seeds for a minute or two, stirring constantly. Add the rice, olive oil, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and plenty of black pepper. Stir to coat the rice with the oil, then add the cooked lentils and the water. Bring to a boil, cover with a lid, and simmer over very low heat for 15 minutes.
- Remove from the heat, lift off the lid, and quickly cover the pan with a clean rea towel. Seal tightly with the lid and set aside for 10 minutes.
- Finally, add half the fried onion to the rice and lentils and stir gently with a fork. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if desired. Pile the mixture in a shallow serving bowl and top with the remaining onions. Serve hot or at room temperature either as-is, or with a scoop plain yogurt thinned slightly with a little fresh lemon juice.