Friday, July 15, 2011

Mujadara - the Poor Man's Meal

I first had mujadara also known as mujaddara or mejadra several years ago at one of my very favourite lebanese restaurant here in Vancouver Nuba. Sweet caramelized onions with soft billowy lentils and brown rice combine with a hint of cumin to make a perfect meal in my opinion. Turns out, Mujadara is a staple meal in middle eastern cooking and it's easy to see why.

I love discovering new dishes especially ones that are easy to make at home and so that very night I frantically googled recipes for this dish. There are countless mujadara recipes to be found online, and they are all generally the same with only slight variations here and there. We've been making it for awhile and I think we've finally got it perfected. Adding cumin really takes it to the next level as well as garnishing with feta cheese if you have it.

This is not a very labour intensive meal to make, once you've chopped up all the onions and wiped your tears away but it does take some time, at least 1 hour. So this is not an ideal meal for slapping together at the last minute since you'll end up getting frustrated when the lentils are still hard and the rice takes forever to cook, believe me I've been there on a weeknight when we were all hungry and cranky. So if you have time for a slow-cooked meal, this is it. And it's well worth the wait.

As a side note, I also gave this meal (without the caramelized onions) to my 9 and a half month old baby who seemed to enjoy it and digested it well. Food for everyone.

Mujadara (serves 6)

1 cup brown rice
2 cups dry brown or green lentils (I used french lentils)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 garlic clove (optional)
3-4 onions, thinly sliced
6-7 cups chicken or vegetable stock (water can also be used instead)
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

garnish options
avocado, sliced or cubed
feta cheese
plain yogurt

Finely slice 2-4 onions and fry with 1 Tbsp olive oil. Cook on low, stirring occasionally until brown and caramelized, do not worry if there are burnt crusty bits because it will only add to the flavour. Realistically this step takes about 1 hour. This is the most time consuming part of this dish but cannot be skipped since the onions really make this meal.

Fry 1/2 of another onion in the oil until lightly browned and then add garlic, cumin, 3 cups of stock and the dry lentils. It is not necessary to presoak the lentils, just rinse in water to remove any dust.  Cook for about 20 min on a low temperature and cover, lentils should be almost cooked, it is okay if they are not fully cooked yet. Stir now and again so lentils don't stick to the bottom of the pan. Add more stock if necessary if more liquid is needed.

Next add the rice and the remaining stock, reduce to low and cover. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for another 20 min or until rice is fully cooked. If rice is not fully cooked and there is no liquid left then add more stock if needed.

Serve with caramelized onions on top. Sprinkle with feta cheese, avocado and plain yogurt if you have it. Makes great leftovers.

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