Mujadara (Rice, Lentils and Caramelized Onion Pilaf)

While scrolling through the intertubes the other day, I came across a recipe for Mujadara on the herbivoracious site.  Mujadara is a classic middle eastern pilaf-type dish made with lentils, rice and caramelized onions.  Even though this dish was new to me, according to the "Encyclopedia of Jewish Food" by Gil Marks, the first recorded recipe for mujadara was found in a 1226CE cookbook, and that recipe was based on a 9th century recipe.

The term mujadara can be spelled a number of different ways since it is a transliteration from the Arabic word for smallpox, which the lentils kinda-sorta resemble.  Before you go ewwww ... you know those vermicelli noodles you dined on last night?  They are named after the Italian word for little worms.  So there.

I didn't make any major changes to Michael's recipe.  Since his version serves 4 as a main course, I halved everything but the spices to make 4 sidedish servings.  White wine or vermouth are suggested, but since I have no idea what vermouth is, except that it is used to water down the gin in martinis, I went with wine.  Michael does say that you can use water instead, but veggie broth has a bit more flavor.  Also, I used butter like in the original, but feel free to omit it and double the olive oil for a vegan version.

Michael is correct that cooking onions for an hour coaxes the maximum amount of flavor and sweetness out of them.  But I don't have that luxury on most weekdays, so I took a slight shortcut, sauteing the onions at medium instead of low to speed up the cook time.  As a result we were able to sit down to dinner less than a hour after I got home from my day job.  Of course, it helped that I was making a simple baked fish for dinner, which allowed me to potschke (fool around) with this dish.

For those more organized than I, toss a million sliced onions with some olive oil into a slow cooker and leave to cook on low all day, then freeze what you don't need at dinner time (caramelized onions freeze beautifully, by the way).   A more detailed explanation is in my soon to be published future best-selling cookbook, but if you're real nice I'll share a version of that recipe right here.  EventuallyProbably.

Michael cautions against using red or French lentils and to use brown or green instead since they hold their shape better.  So even though I prefer red I went with brown; color the result de-licious!  Even theHubby, who normally doesn't care for lentils, ate his entire serving!  Woo-hoo!  A delicious and healthy keeper (both the recipe AND theHubby)!

Mujadarah (Rice, Lentil and Caramelized Onion Pilaf) 
Adapted from herbivoracious
Yield:  4 side-dish servings

4 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 Tbl. butter
1 Tbl. olive oil
1/2 cup white wine or vegetarian chicken broth
3/4 cup uncooked brown lentils
1 cup  uncooked white rice
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
couple sprigs flat leaf parsley, chopped (for garnish)

Heat butter and oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onions to coat.

This is how the onions looked after the 5 minutes.

Cover and let steam for 5 minutes.

This is how they looked after 15 minutes.  Nice, but not done.

Uncover and stir occasionally until onions are deeply browned, another 20-ish minutes.

After 20 minutes.  What a difference a few more minutes make.

Meanwhile, cook the rice and the lentils separately in water according to their package directions. If your package of lentils doesn't have cooking directions (like mine didn't), rinse lentils, then add to 2 cups boiling water.  Cover and simmer on low for 20 minutes, or until lentils are cooked through but still firm.  Drain.  Transfer cooked rice and lentils to a serving bowl and set aside; keep warm.

When the onions are brown to your liking, carefully pour in the wine or broth.

Let simmer until the liquid is almost totally evaporated, which will only take a minute or two.

Add onions to the lentils and rice along with the cinnamon, cumin, salt and pepper.  Gently stir to combine.

Top with chopped parsley and serve warm or at room temperature.  Store leftovers, covered, in the fridge for up to 3 days.


I've heard of mujadara and have been curious how it would turn out...great to hear you have good results..will have to try it soon!
Sara said…
Oh, I love this dish! Caramelized onions are so delicious. :)

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