May 19, 2015

Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook, Jerusalem, is one of my favorites. The flavors he uses in his food are delicious and complex and unexpected, but the recipes are simple to make and easy to follow. We’ve long loved his pasta with yogurt, peas and chile oil, but my new favorite dish–one that I whip up early in the week and then eat for several days after–is mejadra. It’s so delicious and comforting, it’s completely vegetarian and it can easily be made vegan.

Mejadra–a traditional Arabic comfort food–is a combination of spices, rice and lentils that’s topped with fried onions and creamy Greek yogurt. And while frying onions may sound a little intimidating, especially when you’re trying to put together a quick meal on a Monday night, I promise it’s not: you don’t even need a thermometer, you just need to babysit your pan a little while the onions brown. (Full disclosure: I usually make a pot of the rice and lentils but cut up a whole onion for myself per time I eat this meal–yes, that means I’ve been eating a lot of onions lately, but oh man, they’re so good.) Also, this dish is just as good eaten warm-ish as it is piping hot, and it’s easily reheatable in the microwave the next day.

Here’s the recipe, if you’d like to make it yourself…

Mejadra from Jerusalem

1 1/4 cups green or brown lentils

4 medium onions, peeled and sliced thinly

3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

About 1 cup sunflower oil 

2 tsp. cumin seeds

1 1/2 Tbsp. coriander seeds

1 cup basmati rice

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1/2 tsp. ground turmeric

1 1/2 tsp. ground allspice

1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. sugar

1 1/2 cups water

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Greek yogurt, for serving

Special equipment: A Dutch oven or a deep cast-iron skillet

Place the lentils in a small saucepan, cover with plenty of water, add a pinch of salt, bring to a boil, and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, until the lentils have softened but still have a little bite. Drain and set aside.

Place the peeled, sliced onions on a large flat plate, sprinkle with the flour and 1 teaspoon salt, and mix well with your hands. Heat the sunflower oil in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan (I use a Dutch oven) over high heat. Make sure the oil is hot by throwing in a small piece of onion; it should sizzle vigorously. Reduce the heat to medium-high and carefully (it may spit!) add one-third to one-half of the sliced onion. Fry for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally with a slotted spoon, until the onion takes on a nice golden brown color and turns crispy (adjust the temperature so the onion doesn’t fry too quickly and burn). Use the spoon to transfer the onion to a colander lined with paper towels and sprinkle with a little more salt. Do the same with the other batches of onion; add a little extra oil if needed.

Wipe the saucepan in which you fried the onion clean and put in the cumin and coriander seeds. Place over medium heat and toast the seeds for a minute or two. Add the rice, olive oil, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt and plenty of black pepper. Stir to coat the rice with the oil and then add the cooked lentils and the water. Bring to a boil, cover with a lid, and simmer over very low heat for 15 minutes.

Remove from the heat, lift off the lid, and quickly cover the pan with a clean tea towel. Seal tightly with the lid and set aside for 10 minutes.

Finally, add half the fried onion to the rice and lentils and stir gently with a fork. Pile the mixture in a shallow serving bowl and top with the rest of the onion. Serve with Greek yogurt.

Would you make this? Please tell me if you do–I hope you love it.

Photo by Jonathan Lovekin

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