Sunday, June 13, 2010

Recipe for Mujadarra (Middle Eastern Lentils and Rice with Caramelized Onions)

Mujadarra (Middle Eastern Lentils and Rice with Caramelized Onions)Mujadarra (pronounced moo-jha-druh and also spelled Mujadara, Mujaddara, Mujadarah, and Mujadarrah) is a humble middle eastern dish of lentils, rice, and caramelized onions. This is a recipe where the flavor becomes much more than you'd expect from the simple ingredients used. Years ago I started ordering Mujadarra at a now-closed Salt Lake restaurant which served it with Middle Eastern Tomato Salad around the the plate, the perfect way to eat it if you have tomatoes and fresh herbs on hand. Then that restaurant closed, and I never found another place in Utah where I liked it as much. Recently I decided to get serious about making Mujadarra myself, starting with a recipe from Paula Wolfert's The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean, in which she cautions not to reduce the amount of olive oil because "the dish will lack a certain richness." That sounded like a good start to me, but after a few tries, I couldn't manage to cook the lentils and rice together without one or the other getting overcooked. What worked for me was to cook the rice separately and mix it into the cooked lentils and caramelized onions. After waiting years to re-create a version of this dish I was happy with, I loved how this turned out, and I'm sure it's something I'm going to be making over and over again.

Rinse lentils, then add water and cook at a low simmer 20-30 minutes, until lentils are soft. Cover the cooked lentils and let sit so they absorb most of the water.

Start cooking 3/4 cup long grain rice, either following the directions on the package or using a rice cooker like I did. I used Uncle Ben's Converted Rice, which is a low-glycemic type of white rice, but Basmati rice would also be good. (Keep the rice warm until you need it.)

Peel onions, then cut into quarter-slices to make 3 cups sliced onions. (I increased the amount of onion; next time I might increase the onion even more.)

Heat olive oil in large heavy pan, then add onions and start to brown over medium-low heat, stirring every few minutes. (Don't rush the browning step; you want the onions to slowly get golden brown.)

Here are my onions after ten minutes, just starting to get brown.

I cooked the onions about 15 minutes more, until they were mostly browned like this, for a total of 25 minutes browning time.

Remove about half the onions to a paper towel, and let them drain and crisp while you finish the dish. These crispy onions bits are served on top of the cooked lentils and rice.

Add cumin to the rest of the cooked onions and saute 1-2 minutes.

Transfer the cooked lentils to the pan with the onions, leaving behind any liquid that hasn't been absorbed. Season lentils with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook 2-3 minutes.

Then gently mix the cooked rice into the lentils and onions, heating for a minute or two if needed. Serve hot or warm, with some of the crisp onions topping each serving.

Mujadarra (Middle Eastern Lentils and Rice with Caramelized Onions)
(Makes 4 generous servings, recipe adapted from Paula Wolfert's The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean.)

Ingredients:
3/4 cup long-grain white rice (I used Uncle Ben's Converted Rice)
1 cup brown lentils, rinsed
3 cups yellow onions, cut into quarter slices (or more)
1/3 cup olive oil (use high-quality olive oil with good flavor for this dish)
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Instructions:
Cook rice in water following package directions, or cook in a rice cooker. When rice is done, cover and keep warm until you add it to the lentils.

Rinse lentils, then place in heavy pot with a tight fitting lid, add 1 quart water, and let lentils simmer over very low heat uncovered until they are soft (about 20-30 minutes, but cooking time will depend on how fresh the lentils are so keep checking until they are soft but still have a slight bite to them.) When lentils are cooked, cover and let water them absorb any leftover water.

While lentils cook, chop onions. Heat olive oil in heavy frying pan, then add onions, reduce heat to medium-low and start to brown onions, stirring every few minutes. Continue to cook onions, stirring often, until they are deeply browned and caramelized, about 20-25 minutes. Don't rush this step; the onions will be bitter if they're cooked at high heat.

When onions are browned, remove half the onions to drain on a paper towel to crisp. Sprinkle 1/4 tsp cumin into the rest of the onions in the pan and saute 1-2 minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked lentils to the pan with the onions, leaving behind any water that's not absorbed. Season the cooked lentils and onions with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook 1-2 minutes to blend flavors.

Gently mix cooked rice into the lentils and caramelized onions, heating for a minute or two if the rice is not hot. Put Mujadarra on a serving dish, top with crispy caramelized onions, and serve hot or warm.

This is great served with Middle Eastern Tomato Salad on the side. It would make a great side dish with Baked Falafel Patties with Yogurt-Tahini Sauce, or you could also serve the sauce with the Mujadarra.


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South Beach Suggestions:
Made with a low-glycemic type of white rice such as Uncle Ben's Converted Rice, this dish would be approved for phase 2 or 3 of the South Beach Diet.

Other Food Bloggers Make Mujadarra (also spelled Mujadara, Mujadarrah, Mujadarah, or Mujaddara)
(Recipes from other blogs may not always be South Beach Diet friendly; check ingredients.)
Mujadara from Desert Candy
Mujadarra from Wasabimon
Mujaddara from Habeus Brulee
Mujadara from Herbivoracious
Mujadara from Orangette
Mujadarah from Good Things Catered
(Want even more recipes? I find these recipes from other blogs using Food Blog Search.)counter customizable free hit

57 comments:

  1. I might have to make this today. Looks like a comforting dish for the cool weather we are having.

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  2. I first learned this dish from a Lebanese woman who owns a small grocery store in North Providence. She taught me to cook the lentils and rice together, after caramelizing the onions in the pan. But I love the idea of cooking the ingredients separately and combining them to retain the texture of each of the ingredients. This is truly comfort food!

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  3. Lovely photo, Kalyn! I learned to make Mujaddarah in Saudi Arabia, where I got hooked on Middle Eastern food. I crave this dish when I'm under the weather, it's so good.

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  4. Wow, is this EVER my bag! I may have to change my dinner plans. :O)

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  5. I look at your picture and I think I want to eat it right now.

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  6. This looks excellent! I have everything here to make it, I should put this on the menu for this week. Thanks!!

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  7. How fun to hear that so many other people have a history with this dish. It's definitely a comforting and inexpensive thing to make when the weather is a bit cool.

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  8. i have heard so much about this dish but somehow never managed to cook or eat it outside. So glad that you posted this recipe! I think my half finished packet of zatar would love to be a part of this dish too :)

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  9. OhMyGosh does this look deeeeelish! Those dark caramelized onions on top have me drooling!

    Donna

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  10. I've heard a lot about this dish and know that I would absolutely love it! Thanks so much for posting this...it is exactly my kind of meal.

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  11. I have made a version of this by Geoff Smith, where the method is a little different, but the flavors are much the same. The carmelize onions give the dish such a sweet and rich flavor.

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  12. Umm, I don't think I can wait for dinner. How about this for breakfast. Lentils!
    Super good Kalyn.

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  13. This looks great, love the onions on top! I think lentils are one of those ingredients we tend to forget about and just don't use enough. I've never heard of this dish, so thanks for sharing it!

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  14. I'm happy to be introducing some people to this dish for the first time. It's definitely one of those combinations where it ends up being so much more than you'd imagined it will be.

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  15. Now this dish might be a way to get Mr. GFE to eat lentils! He loves rice and caramelized onions. I've never heard of this dish, but really want to make it. It really does look like terrific comfort food. Thanks, Kalyn!

    Shirley

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  16. I make this with bulgur instead of rice and TONS of carmelized onions. In fact, I carmelize the onions - a whole bag at a time - in a crockpot and we eat them on everything! Just discovered that carmelized onions in turkey burgers are great! You have me craving Middle Eastern food right now!

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  17. I love the idea of caramelizing onions in a crockpot. I think I'm going to have to try that!

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  18. This looks wonderful! Kalyn, are you referring to the now closed Robert's Deli in your article? I was heartbroken years (and years!) ago when I learned it closed since I loved how they made this dish. It was incredible! If this resembles theirs, then I'm thrilled to have a recipe that compares. Thanks!

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  19. This is my idea of heaven Kalyn. I am definitely making this one. Thank you for the recipe. I think I will go crazy with the onions :)

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  20. This is one of my favorite dishes at Mazza. Gorgeous. Caramelized onions are a weakness :)

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  21. It sounds like I will need to try the Mazza version of this! I do remember Robert's Deli but the restaurant where I used to love this was the original Cafe Med on 400 South in SLC (no relationship to the current Cafe Med.) They later moved to 500 S and about 400 W, but it wasn't a great location and they went out of business. I was so sad to see them go, as well as Robert's Deli too.

    I agree, more onions can only be better for this dish!

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  22. This is such a simple dish, but sounds so flavorful and comforting. I love the effort that you took to find the perfect method for making these.

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  23. that looks so good! I love the burnished and bronzed onions on top!

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  24. I'm seconding CindyK's recommendation for mujadarra made with bulgur instead of rice. There was a really mouthwatering description by Marian Burros in the NYT (3/15/00) of a pita (made by Kalustyan) stuffed with bulgur mujadarra (spelled in the article as mujaddara), lots of carmelized onions, tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, hot sauce, and tahina. I made the sandwich the same day I read the description. Awesome!

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  25. I'm tempted to try this with quinoa! looks amazing.

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  26. I'm curious to know if you tried other kinds of lentils than the brown ones. French lentils (Puy lentils) take longer to cook and would probably cook at about the same rate as rice. I know you are a big fan of Uncle Ben's, but that cooks faster than traditional rice. I'm just curious to know what kinds of lentils you used during your testing process. Thanks for continuing to publish such a terrific food blog!

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  27. I used traditional brown lentils, because that's all I've ever had in this dish, but you can definitely use any type of lentils you'd like. I like Uncle Ben's Converted Rice because it's lower on the glycemic index, but Basmati rice is probably what would normally be used in this I'm guessing. Let us know if you experiment and find a good combination.

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  28. This sounds wonderful! I've been experimenting cooking rice, quinoa and red lentils together.... But I have to try this. The red lentils cook in the same time as rice, but I agree, other lentils take longer and I don't see how it would work together. Great photo - I want to dip my fork in!

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  29. this sounds pretty good and looks great, but is pretty different from the recipe i grew up with. i don't know if it's just the lebanese way, or the way my mom always did it, but we don't caramelize the onions. we allow them to get translucent, then cook the lentils and rice right along with them, until the lentils have begun to break down. its an even simpler method than what you've described and it's also pretty awesome. the rice does kind of explode on itself, but i think that's a nice part of the dish, and when the lentils begin to break down, they become even sweeter. thanks for posting!

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  30. Katie, I think any combination that includes lentils will have to be good!

    ck, thanks for sharing how your mom did it.

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  31. I have lots of lentils and lots of Basmati rice on hand. I'll have to give this one a try. I wonder if a good curry would be good with this? I might try that. Thank you for posting this!

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  32. I have lots of lentils and Basmati rice on hand and this sounds great. I might like trying it with some curry powder. Thanks for posting this!

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  33. Ooh delicious! Whenever I cook lentils it is usually an indian dish but I love the flavors in this rice dish. Love the caramelized onions.

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  34. In one of the regions of Iran...they add walnuts and raisins which are briefly cooked hot butter....in addition to the caramelized onions.

    (They cook the lentils separately before adding to the rice)

    The resulting one pot rice dish is served with side dishes of plain yogurt and a basket of fresh herbs.

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  35. Thanks for sharing about that Iranian version with walnuts and raisins. Also good to know that cooking the rice and lentils separately isn't that unusual, it definitely worked better for me.

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  36. I tried this last night. Perfect!!!!

    I used brown rice, and it was just fine.

    It's going in my permanent collection for phase 2 South Beach.

    Thank you, Kalyn.

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  37. i've been wanting this recipe for some time now. my aunt used to make this dish for my uncle when i was a child.she would also cook the lentils,rice and onions together.caramelized onions sounds great on top of the dish also. she would also make a salad and have fried or sauted cubed steak . italian salad dressing to me made this dish wonderful. a bite of steak,lentils&rice with the salad.one of my favorite childhood memory of my aunts great cooking.thanks aunt helen & kalyn.

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  38. Donna, what a fun memory; hope you enjoy the recipe.

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  39. Just made this tonight to accompany baked pork tenderloin and baby carrots with nutmeg and ginger -- best meal I've had in a long time, thanks for the recipe!

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  40. Glad you liked it. I have loved this dish for years and years!

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  41. Nice blog and good recipe! Though I have to agree with cf, the Lebanese version I was taught by my mom never browned the onions, they are cooked long and slow (up to an hour or so) till translucent, with only a hint of color. It's all good though! The trick is getting the rice and lentils cooked together so they are just done. My way is: get the onions going; start cooking the lentils; when 2/3 done, add half the onions, uncooked basmati, extra water to suit, salt and pepper; cook till done, and then add the other half of the onions which have had a little longer in the pan. Lots of olive oil! Brown basmati also works really well, and cooks at the same rate as the lentils, so is a simple cooking operation.

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  42. Danny, thanks for those tips. I love hearing how different families prepare this traditional dish!

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  43. I love mjadara! It's my go-to dish when I've got nothing else in the house. And then I remember how yummy it is and eat it for days.

    Other tips for making it even more Middle Eastern:

    Add 3-4 cardamom pods (or 1 Tbsp. ground cardamom); 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon; up to 3 tsp ground cumin to the rice when cooking. DELICIOUS.

    Definitely need plain thick yogurt for serving. That yogurt makes the spices really pop in your mouth. When I was visiting my parents in the States, I made them this dish, and they were completely skeptical of the yogurt, but ended up loving it.

    I've also used brown rice for this dish, and it works great. My Arab husband liked the brown rice even better.

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  44. Emily I love hearing your authentic touches; thanks for sharing. Especially like the idea of adding more seasonings to the rice and brown rice would probably be my favorite too.

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  45. Thank you so much for posting this recipe it is absolutely delicious!

    I have tried lentils a couple times and dislike the taste, this was my third and last try before giving up on lentils.

    I did tweak it a bit though, I prepared the onions first, then sauteed the brown rice with the carmelized onions to toast it a little, then I sauteed the cooked lentils with some garlic, mixed everything together, seasoned with cumin and cinnamon, tasted it, then threw in a handful of raisens.


    Next time I will try adding cardamon as suggested in another comment.

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  46. Glad you liked this; I would hate to think of someone giving up on lentils.

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  47. Hi Kalyn! I love your blog :)

    Just wanted to let you know that middle eastern rice and lentils are often eaten with a tomato-cucumber salad on top as well as a yogurt sauce (with cucumbers in it and maybe some garlic - kind of like a tzatziki) It acts as a kind of dressing and is just great with the rice and tomato salad. I thought it might be something you like since I see yogurt on this blog often, so I wanted to share! My mom is middle eastern and makes it this way.

    Thanks for all of your wonderful recipes! I make your roasted lemon cabbage wedges all the time - they're divine.

    Jessica

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  48. Jessica, thanks for sharing that. Lucky you to have a mom who makes good stuff like this for you! I do remember that the restaurant where I learned to love this served it with a ring of chopped cucumber-tomato salad around the plate, but I hadn't heard about serving that on top or with the yogurt sauce either. Both of those sound really good to me!

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  49. Brown rice and (dry) lentils cook the same time; you can easily cook them together in a single pot.

    If you wanted to cook using lentils and white rice in a single pot, you need to start the lentils off and add rice somewhere in the 10-30 minute mark -- which is a huge range, and no, it isn't easy to get right, unless you have a lot of experience with it.

    Much easier to just use brown rice. And better for you, too. My vote is for eating it with parsley - yum.

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  50. Danny I like the rice cooker for perfect white or brown rice, but feel free to do it any way you prefer!

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  51. Do you think this dish would freeze well? Or else could I make it ahead and reheat? Thanks so much.

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  52. I haven't tried freezing this, but I am quite sure it would freeze okay. I have kept it in the fridge a few days and then reheated, and that works well too. I prefer it reheated in a frying pan (like fried rice) rather than using the microwave.

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  53. Just made this for the first time. I originally found you via Pinterest.

    It's SO easy to make and SO yummy!

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  54. So glad you liked it. This has been one of my favorite dishes for a long time.

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  55. Thanks for your quick reply to my question about freezing this dish -- I didn't get a chance to try because my family devoured it! So delicious! I caramelized the onions in a dutch oven in the oven for hours (a Cooks Illustrated method). It took longer but it was hands off, which is what I needed with two little ones in the house. In any case -- thanks for the recipe -- a keeper for sure.

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  56. Kalyn, how interesting - I've got a very similar recipe on my blog, yet entirely different (mine's a soup): http://nami-nami.blogspot.com/2012/10/makhlouta-comforting-rice-and-lentil.html

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