Isn’t it funny how sometimes you encounter a food that is so darn yummy and satisfying that it becomes an instant comfort food, even if you’ve never tasted it before. I felt this way the first time I tried Indian poha, for example, a fluffy, mashed-potato-like starch dish made from dried, pounded rice that’s rehydrated and sautéed with spices. One bite and I knew I could eat it every day, even for breakfast.
Mujedrah (aka mujadara) is another candidate for an instant, universal, comfort dish. Made from rice, lentils, and caramelized onions, it’s a specialty of Lebanese cuisine, where it’s usually served with yogurt. This recipe is adapted from my dear Lebanese Kiwi friend Dorita Hannah. When her mother found out she shared the family recipe with me, her mother was embarrassed because, apparently, it was an easy, everyday, ersatz way of making mujedrah. Of course, that’s one of the reasons I loved it! The recipe was delicious and easy.
I try not to make this mujedrah too often because I can eat the entire batch, which really serves 8 to 10 people. It’s too good to resist. Mujedrah is perfect as a side dish with roasted lamb or chicken. Sometimes I even serve it as a vegetarian main course. I find the best rice for it to be basmati, the best lentils, green or brown. You can serve it warm or at room temperature (which makes it great for a buffet or pot luck).
The Hannah Family’s Easy Mujedrah
Makes 7 to 8 cups, 8 servings
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 medium or 1 very large white onions, thinly sliced
1 cup green or brown lentils, picked over to remove stones
5 cups water
1 cup basmati, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Plain yogurt, for garnish
In a wide saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the sliced onions and sauté, stirring frequently, until very nicely browned, about 15 minutes. The onions should be quite soft and a deep caramel color, with some dark brown bits. Remove about 1/3 of the onions and set aside. Add the lentils and the 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook the lentils uncovered for 20 minutes. Add the rice and salt, stir, cover, and simmer an additional 20 minutes. The water should all be absorbed. Let sit off the heat, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes, and fluff with a fork or spoon. Serve warm or at room temperature, with the reserved onions scattered on top. Garnish with yogurt.