I am just back from Beirut where I saw my beautiful mother and of course every time I visit her, I ask her to cook something delicious for me. This time I was modest in my request and asked for mujaddara, a simple lentils, onions and rice dish that is a staple of Lebanese Christians during Lent and once also a staple on spring cleaning days when the lady of the house put the lentils to cook while she and her maid/s beat the dust out of the carpets before putting them away, washed the floors and generally did a deep clean everywhere preparing the house for the summer months. I still remember the beating of the carpets although I don’t remember the mujaddara — mujaddara is the mushy version, almost like a dip while mudardarah is the dry version, a little like risotto although not at all wet — on those days! Anyhow, my mother now whizzes the lentils, rice and onions with a hand blender but in the old days she cooked them down to a mush over a low heat. And my mother being a totally wonderful woman, she obliged my whim and prepared mujaddara for me and as you see from the picture of the ingredients above it couldn’t be more frugal as a dish.
The preparation is simple. On one burner you put the lentils to cook in five times their amount of water; and on the other the chopped onions to fry. Once both are ready, you add the lightly caramelised onions to the lentils.
Then you add the rice. My mother’s hand is hiding most of it but there is very little rice. You then cook the whole for another half hour or so before whizzing them until you have a textured and rather loose purée. You need to quickly pour the mujaddara in either individual plates or large serving platter, both shallow so that it doesn’t split as it cools as in the picture below — I chose looks over function and used deeper plates than I should have. While the lentils are cooking, you have enough time to prepare a beautiful seasonal salad, in this case tomatoes, cucumbers and parsley. The parsley should have really been purslane but we didn’t have any in the house and hey presto, you have the most delicious vegetarian, and vegan lunch. Totally delicious and healthy too!
Mujaddara is also a favourite weekend lunch in both mountains and towns where it is served with a cabbage or seasonal salad, trimmed onions and Arabic bread. You can prepare it with green or brown lentils. The difference between the two is quite noticeable, both in texture and taste, with the green lentils mashing up more and making a smoother purée. Serves 4-6
200 g large green or brown lentils
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
25 g white short grain rice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon or cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice (or 7-spice mixture)
1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
Put the lentils in a colander and rinse under cold water. Transfer to a saucepan. Add 2 litres water and place over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium. Stir the lentils and boil gently for 1 hour, or until the lentils are very tender and the water is reduced by two thirds.
Put the olive oil in a frying pan and place over medium heat. When the oil is hot, fry the choppe onions until they become soft and transparent and very lightly caramelised.
Rinse the rice in cold water. Drain and set aside.
When the lentils are done, add the cooked onions with their oil, and the rice. Season with the cinnamon, or cumin, allspice (or 7-spice mixture), pepper and salt to taste and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes, stirring regularly, or until the rice is done and the mixture has thickened. Be sure not to let the mujaddarra burn. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Pour immediately into a shallow serving bowl and let cool to serve at room temperature.