Monday, January 26, 2009

Mujadara goodness

Since I've moved into my new apartment, I've gathered up my resolve to cook. I took the plunge today and canceled my meal plan (which was only really useful in that it gave my easy access to Indian food and ice cream), so soon I'll get a nice check from George Mason University that I can use to stock a pantry (and maybe use to partially pay back a loan or six...).

Apparently my new roommates don't really cook, so what little I've been doing in the kitchen has been of note to them. Today, though, I ventured into an unexplored territory, one in which the primary questions my roommates ask is, "What is that?"

That is mujadara (pronounced "moo-jah-dra"), and is a Lebanese dish that I found on Orangette (thanks to Cody at Crashing the Last Supper). I've wanted to try it out since winter break, since it's super easy and inexpensive.

This version of mujadara is basically onions, lentils, and rice. Most of the flavor comes from the onions, which are cooked until carmelized. According to Molly Wizenberg (ze mastermind behind Orangette), the browner the better-- they can even be burnt! They do take a bit of time, but I was twittering/checking email/reading for class/goofing off and so the time flew by.

This is definitely a recipe I will repeat, but to be satisfying it needs something beside it. Molly suggests a salad, and also mentions grapefruit. I'm thinking that something sweet would be a nice complement to the heartiness of the lentils. I sneaked some of my roommate's apple juice, but next time I'll probably try out salad and fruit. Maybe snow peas... ah....

Below is the recipe, which Molly graciously gave me permission to reprint. To read the whole post, go here.


The key to this dish is the onions: they must be browned well, and with patience. Caramelize them to within an inch of their lives. Heck, burn them a little, even. In cases like this, it’s almost impossible to overcook them. Their intense, deeply toasty flavor is the main player here, so don’t rush it.

As for serving, mujadara is often presented with a green salad. I like mine with a chopped romaine salad, something similar to this one. It would also be nice with some labneh on the side, and flatbread.

¼ cup olive oil
2 medium yellow onions (about 1 ½ lb.), finely chopped
1 cup brown or green lentils, picked over for stones and other debris
½ cup basmati rice
1 tsp. salt, plus more for serving

In a large (12-inch) sauté pan or skillet or a Dutch oven, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are deeply caramelized, a rich shade of amber. If they’re burnt and blackened in spots, even better. This is a fairly slow process. Depending on your pan and your stove, this could take between 30 minutes and 1 hour in total. On my stove, it takes about 50 minutes.

While the onions are cooking, place the lentils in a medium saucepan, add water to cover by an inch, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook, undisturbed, for 20 minutes. Drain the lentils, and set them aside.

When the onions are ready, stir in the rice. Then add the cooked lentils, along with 2 cups of water and the salt. Stir to mix well, and bring the pan to a boil. Reduce the heat to keep the pan at a slow simmer, cover, and cook. Depending on the size and shape of your pan, this last stage – cooking the onions, rice, and lentils together – could take from 20 to 40 minutes. Basically, the dish is done when the rice is done. I use a 5-quart sauté pan, which is wide and flat, so the rice cooks pretty quickly, in about 25 minutes. I used to use a Dutch oven, however, which was narrower, and the rice took 30-40 minutes to cook.

After about 20 minutes, remove the lid, and give the pot a gentle stir. If there is still some liquid visible, replace the lid and keep cooking until it is fully absorbed. On the other hand, if there is no obvious liquid, take a taste. If the rice is tender, the mujadara is ready. If the rice is not yet ready, add another splash of water, replace the lid, and cook until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked. The mujadara is ready to eat when the rice is tender and there is no liquid left in the pan.

Serve, with additional salt, if needed.

Note: Mujadara is even better on the second day, so if you can, make it ahead. Reheat before serving. I like to eat the leftovers for lunch, with a grapefruit for dessert.

Yield: 4-6 servings


  1. Good on you for canceling your meal plan. I feel like cooking is worth the extra time.