Lentils and rice, beans and rice...this combination exists in some form in many parts of the world and commonly referred to as poor man's food. The Middle East is no exception and as long as it is tasty and filling, I'm all over it.
Mujaddara is the Arabic word for "pockmarked".... apparently the lentils among the rice resemble pockmarks! Despite the ominous title, this homely dish is part of a staple diet and made on a regular basis throughout the Middle East and can be found in Christian households during Lent. It can be prepared with brown or red lentils and drizzled with butter.
I have made a version using some asian ingredients as I felt it complimented the earthy flavour and eliminated the butter using rapeseed oil instead. This can be eaten alone or alternatively, is great with grilled lamb. Some elements of the traditional recipe have been taken from the wonderful cookery writer Ghille Basan.
· 3 tablespoons rapeseed oil for frying lentils (coconut oil can be used as a substitute)
· 3 tablespoons rapeseed oil for frying onions (coconut oil can be used as a substitute)
· 3 large onions, halved and thinly sliced
· 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
· 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
· 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
· 3 cloves of peeled garlic
· 2cm piece of peeled ginger
· 4cm piece of peeled galangal (as best as you can)
· 4cm piece of peeled fresh turmeric (be careful as this stains, so wear gloves if you don't want yellow hands!)
· 250g green/ brown or red lentils
· 1 litre of water or stock
· 250g of rice (I used basmati but you can use long grain if desired)
· 2 spring onions chopped (green part included)
· handful of coriander leaves
· salt and pepper to season
· 1 lemon to squeeze over finished dish
· Thick yoghurt to serve (Greek yoghurt works very well)
- Organise your spices and set aside whilst you get on with the 'asian' paste. Roughly chop the garlic, ginger, galangal and turmeric and place in pestle and mortar with a little salt. I find the addition of salt helps pound the ingredients better - keep pounding until you have something resembling a paste.
- Heat a heavy based pan and begin frying the onions until golden brown. Remove half the onions and place in a separate smaller pan as we will continue to fry these later for the caramalised onion topping.
- Now add the spices and asian paste to the onions in the heavy based pan and fry for 1-2 minutes. Add the lentils and make sure everything is coated well. Pour in the water/stock and cook gently for around 10-15 minutes until the lentils are slightly cooked but still aldente. You may need to check the cooking instructions for the lentils as they may cook at different times.
- At this point, add the rice and bring to the boil. Season with salt and pepper and turn down the heat to cook gently for a further 10 minutes until the water is absorbed and the rice is cooked through. Again, you may want to check the cooking time for the rice beforehand.
- Turn off the heat and place a clean tea towel over the pan and cover with the lid. Allow the rice to steam for 10 minutes while you get on with frying the remaining onions.
- Fry the onions until they become dark brown and slightly caramalised. You are now ready to serve the dish with a sprinkling of fresh coriander leaves, spring onion, caramalised onions and a good squeeze of lemon to add a tangy finish.
- The dish can be served with plain yoghurt or you can add chopped cucumber with crushed garlic and mint.