Mujadara is very popular dish in the Middle East – especially in Palestine and Lebanon. It is usually considered a ‘poor man’s dish’ because of the inexpensive, and easily accessible ingredients. Traditionally it is made with rice, lentils and lots and lots of onions! Mujadara can be also made with freekeh, or cracked green bulgur wheat instead of rice, which is more popular in northern Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon. Freekeh, which has a smokey, buttery flavor and chewy texture, is one of the most nutritious, delicious grains available, and is a staple of Palestinian cooking. Some of the best freekeh (our opinion) is sold by an American brand called Village Harvest, and was formerly found in bulk at Costco. These days, this brand is almost impossible to buy, but we finally found it at Target online.
You can also purchase freekeh straight from Palestine from several good fair trade sites: http://www.canaanfairtrade.com/products/dried-goods/#freekeh
Mujaddara is the Arabic word for “pockmarked”; because the lentils among the rice resemble pockmarks. The first recorded recipe for Mujadara appears in Kitab al-Tabikh, a cookbook compiled in 1226 by al-Baghdadi in Iraq. Containing rice, lentils, and meat, it was served this way during celebrations. The vegetarian portion is a medieval Arabic dish which commonly consumed by the poor, reputed to be a derivative of the Biblical “mess of pottage” Jacob used to buy Esau’s birthright. It is often said that “a hungry man would be willing to sell his soul for a dish of Mujadara.”
For the Mujadara (serves 4)
3-4 whole medium onions
2 cups lentils
2 cups Basmati rice, or freekeh
4 cups water or chicken broth
For the Carmelized Onion Topping:
2 whole onions, cut into rings about 1/4-inch thick
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
For the Tomato Salad:
4 whole tomatoes
3 Tablespoons olive oil
5 green onions
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Dice onions into thin cubes and place in a pan with 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté until they become dark brown (make sure pot is covered).
Simultaneously, par-boil the lentils. Par boiling means to slightly under cook–for this recipe the lentils will need 7-12 minutes. You may boil them in 2 cups of water of 2 cups of chicken broth, for extra flavor.
Drain the par-boiled lentils, but keep the water. Add the onions and rice or freekeh to the pot. Add 2 more cups of water (or broth) to cover the rice and lentils. Bring the pot back to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce heat to low. Simmer until all water has evaporated or is absorbed (10-15 more minutes).
Fluff with a fork before serving. Mujadara is traditionally served with carmelized or fried onions as a topping. To carmelize the onions:
Cut 2 medium white onions into rings about 1/4″ thick. Place them in a thick bottomed skillet with 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat. Cover for the first 5-10 minutes to sweat the onions–this makes them soft and makes them process faster. Once soft, uncover and let them cook over medium/high heat, stirring often until they are a dark golden brown.
Enjoy your mujadara with the bright and fruity contrast of a tomato salad or even plain yogurt. Both provide a lightness to the earthy, robust lentils.
3 medium tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
5 green onions
Dice tomatoes and green onions and toss in a bowl with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
Suggested wine paring: