Weekday Vegetarian: Mujaddara with Spiced Yogurt

weekday vegetarian lentils rice onion photo

Photo: Kelly Rossiter

Sometimes the simplest recipes can be the most sublime. Combining just three kitchen staples of lentils, rice and onions with a dollop of spiced yogurt with lemon juice transported me to the Middle East. I made half of the recipe for our lunch today, and I was wishing I had made the whole thing. The recipe writer says the mujaddara improves with age, but I'd be hard pressed to keep it for long.

I was trying to analyze what I found so satisfying about this little dish. Partly it is the combination of textures with the chewiness of the rice, the softness of the lentils and the melting quality of the onions. Party it is the combination of the earthy flavour of the lentils with the sweet, almost turning to bitter fried onions. I admit fried onions are one of my favourite flavours as well as cooking aroma. The one thing that I was missing that would complete the Middle Eastern flavour was mint, but it was still delicious.

I reduced the cooking time of this a bit because I have a rice cooker so I did the rice and lentils at the same time, rather than successively, in the same pot. I've never actually tried to cook plain rice in the oven before, but apparently it works. Otherwise, this is about as simple as it gets. Cook three ingredients separately, join them together, top with yogurt and be transported yourself.

This recipe is from the website Food52.

Mujaddara with Spiced Yogurt
For the Mujaddara:

3/4 cups Puy lentils (aka French lentils, the tiny dark brown ones)
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 cup jasmine rice
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 cups onions (about 3 medium onions), halved and thinly sliced

For the yogurt:

1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin (freshly ground, if possible)
1/2 teaspoon coriander (freshly ground)
1/2 teaspoon spicy paprika or aleppo pepper
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Juice and zest of half a lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Put lentils, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 4 cups water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer lentils until soft but not mushy, about 20 minutes. Drain lentils and set aside. Rinse pot.

3. Add rice, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 1/2 cups water to the pot, set over medium heat, and bring to a boil. When water begins to boil, cover pot, transfer to oven, and cook for 17 minutes until perfectly cooked. Remove from oven, uncover, and fluff with a fork. Set aside.

4. While rice cooks, set a wide, deep saute pan over medium-low heat and add butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil. When butter has mostly melted, add onions and toss to incorporate with butter and oil.

5. After 5 minutes, onions will have softened slightly and started to release their liquid. Raise heat to medium and cook 10 to 12 minutes more, until onions are very soft and browned. Add water by the tablespoon if pan gets too dry or if onions start to stick. When onions are well browned, add last tablespoon of olive oil and raise heat to high. Cook another 3 to 4 minutes, until bottom layer of onions has charred and crisped; try not to stir too much, or onions won't crisp up.

6. Combine rice, lentils, and most of the onions in large serving bowl and let sit for at least 15 minutes, to marry the flavors together. (Truth be told, this dish improves with age.) Taste, and add more onions if desired. Meanwhile, make the yogurt: mix all ingredients together in a small bowl.

7. If mujaddara has cooled significantly, reheat in a low oven or even in the microwave for a couple minutes. To serve, plate a big scoop of mujaddara and top with a dollop of yogurt.

More Middle Eastern Food
Middle Eastern Spinach and Meatball Soup

Related Content on Treehugger.com