Mujaddara The “Beans and Rice” of the Middle East
By Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer
Beans and rice have long been considered affordable comfort food all over the world. There are red beans and rice in the southern United States, arroz con frijoles in Latin America, and Mujaddara in the Middle East. While these dishes originated from a need to get maximum nutrition for very little money, these dishes are anything but poor in flavor. In the Arab world, lentils and rice star in the most popular vegan specialty, Mujaddara.
While many might think lentils are bland, this dish is actually very rich in flavor, brought to life with the sweetness of caramelized onions. There is no such thing as too many onions in this recipe, so if you want to double the onions you can. Mujaddara is the term for this dish in Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine, but it’s also known as Mudardara in Syria, and Kushari in Egypt.
This is the signature vegan dish most Arab Christians eat during the Lenten fast. As far as Arab dishes go, this recipe is one of the easiest, even for novice home cooks. Top the mujaddara with a cucumber tomato salad and if desired, a dollop of Greek yogurt. The contrast of the warm and hearty lentils combined with the freshness and coolness of cucumber tomato salad is surprising yet harmonious. This dish is also great for picnic or potlucks as it tastes great warm or cold.
For the recipe technique, click on the video below:
Recipe for Mujaddara (Lentils and rice) 4 Servings
1 cup lentils
1 cup rice, basmati or long grain
2 cups of water for the rice, plus additional water for the lentils
3 large onion
1 tsp salt
Pepper to taste
2 tsp cumin
½ tsp allspice (optional)
5 tbsp olive oil
Spread lentils out in a single layer on a white kitchen towel to check for and discard any tiny stones. After sorting the lentils, place them in a strainer and rinse thoroughly under cold water. They are ready to cook after rinsing. Place the lentils in a large pot. Cover with water so that there is at least an inch of water over the lentils. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until tender—then drain out the water and use as part of the two cups water for cooking the rice. With the lentils in the pot, add the rice, water, cumin, optional allspice, and salt and pepper to taste. Wait for the water to boil, and cover. Reduce heat until the rice is cooked and the lentils are tender (about 25 minutes). In the meantime, heat the oil in a separate skillet, and sauté the onions under medium heat until they are caramelized or deep brown in color, the process might take around 15 minutes. Pour the onions over the cooked rice and gently toss. Serve the mujaddara in dishes and allow guests to top their own plates with the amount of salad they wish.
Blanche Shaheen is a journalist, food writer, and host of the cooking show called Feast in the Middle East. Her new cookbook, “Feast in the Middle East” will be out this spring. She specializes in Arab cuisine of the Levant and beyond. You can check out her cooking video tutorials and cultural commentary on growing up Arab American at https://www.youtube.com/user/blanchetv Her recipes can also be found at https://feastinthemiddleeast.wordpress.com/