Middle Eastern Lentils & Rice with Caramelized Onions [Recipe]

It's been my intention for ages and I'm finally getting around to sharing one of my favourite Middle Eastern recipes with you. For the uninitiated, Mujadara is a hearty, protein rich plant-based meal that is known for its humble and simple ingredients, yet is bold and rich in flavours. As the title of this blog post suggests, the base ingredients are lentils, rice, caramelized onions and spices. It's well known throughout the Middle East, and many families have their own version or special family recipe. If you search the web, you'll come across countless versions. 

It was my husband that first introduced me to this dish many years ago. He used to order Mujadara from the Lebanese restaurant in the cafeteria at his office. It became one of his favourite meals at work. Eventually he learned how to make it himself, and then I started making it too. For us, it's become a wintertime staple and below is our take on the recipe. I hope you enjoy it!

 Photo by  Caroline Yung . 

Photo by Caroline Yung

MUJADARA with CASHEW CREAM

Makes 6 servings. 

Ingredients: 

1 cup brown or green lentils (not red lentils), sorted and picked through for little rocks or other debris
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
3 medium red onions, thinly sliced
Sea salt
3/4 cup brown rice or brown basmati rice
3 1/4 cups of water
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or 1 (1-inch) cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (add more if you want it to be spicy) 
Lemon wedges
Pine nuts or hemp seeds, optional, for garnish
Cashew Cream  (from my 4-Layer Dip recipe)

Directions:

Add the lentils to  medium saucepan and cover them by about an inch with cold water, and bring it to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and allow the lentils to cook until they are tender, but not mushy (about 20 minutes).  Drain and set aside.

While the lentils are cooking, warm the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the skill has warmed up, add the whole cumin seeds and cracked peppercorns . Cook the spices and stir them a bit until you start to smell the aromas as the spices "bloom" and start to darken a bit.

Then, add the onions and a few big pinches of salt and cook until they begin to caramelize . Over time the onions will begin to caramelize and they'll start tasting sweeter. If the onions start sticking to the bottom of the pan,  add a little water.  Once the onions are sweet and a bit crispy you'll know they are done.  This will take an upward of 15 minutes. 

Remove about half of the onions to a dish and set them aside to be used later as a garnish. Then mix in the ground cumin, the cinnamon or cinnamon stick and cayenne.

Next up, mix in the rice and toast the rice in the pan for a few minutes. Add the cooked lentils, 3 1/4 cups of water and 1 teaspoons of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer. Then cover the saucepan and cook 30 minutes. You’ll know it’s done cooking once the water is completely evaporated and the rice is tender.

Turn off the heat, keep the lid on, and allow the rice to steam undisturbed for about 5 minutes.

Taste the rice for seasoning and adjust the flavour with extra salt, pepper or spices if needed. Serve with the reserved caramelized onions, pine nuts or hemp, cashew cream, and a little squeeze of fresh lemon and a side of roasted or sautéed vegetables or salad.  

This recipe is modified from the original recipe by Aarti Sequeira featured on the Food Network blog.