Sunday, May 9, 2010


I know, that doesn't look like a real word. It's a phonetic approximation of an arabic word, the name of this wonderful (and wonderfully cheap) dish I'm going to tell you about. It's Lebanese style lentils and rice, and our dad (being half Lebanese) makes this all the time. There are very few ingredients, but if you do it right it's incredibly rich and delicious; paired with a salad that has lots of leafy greens, cucumber, dried mint, olive oil and lemon juice, it's pretty much a perfect plate of food. And did I mention cheap? This is a good recipe to make when you are home all day with some other task to accomplish (like practicing the piano for 7 hours), because most of it is hands off, and it only gets better as it sits. In fact, we ate leftovers from this batch for more than a week, and it was delicious the whole time (and a source of blessedly fast easy dinners and lunches over the course of many busy days for all of us).

Mjuddrah (Mmm-zhud-druh with a nice arabic rolled r) is made magically wonderful by the huge amounts of caramelized onions it contains (a universally recognized truth is that the smell of frying onions is one of the world's most wonderful smells). My dad usually fries up an extra little batch of onions for topping the lentils with afterwards (a practice I highly recommend). When I made it this time, I put such an enormous amount of onions into the mix to begin with that I felt more onions weren't needed. I must admit I missed the extra super brown onions on top (as a child they were absolutely my favorite part, in fact I think I wished I could be eating a whole plate of fried onions and skip the lentils and rice), so I'll do them from now on (you should too).

1 cup lentils
1 1/2 cups brown basmati rice (or whatever kind you have)
1/4 to 1/2 cup good olive oil
4 onions (if they had been large, maybe 3, mine were quite average)
5 cloves garlic
2 tsp toasted cumin seed
salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper
1 1/2 quarts stock or water or some combination thereof

Begin with your lentils and your rice. I used regular brown lentils, and brown basmati rice. I let them both soak in plenty of cold water while I worked on the onions.
I sliced up (pole to pole) 4 onions. Yes, 4. Believe me (more than 4 would not have hurt matters). I put at least 1/4 cup of olive oil in my big enameled cast iron pot, heated it up, and added the onions along with salt and pepper (the salt gets the onions to release their juices and break down a little quicker. I stayed with the onions (on high heat) while they got to softening up, and then turned it way down and let them go, coming back occasionally to stir, for maybe 20 minutes. Then I chopped up about 5 cloves of garlic, and ground up about 2 teaspoons toasted cumin seeds. When the onions were seriously deep golden brown, I added the garlic, the cumin, and a bit of crushed red pepper flakes.
Then I drained the rice from its soaking liquid and threw it in the pot with the onions. I turned up the heat and let the rice dry-toast in the oil for a little while.
Then I added about a quart and a half of liquid (I used part stock, part water - you could use all water, or all stock, up to you and what you happen to have in the house). Then I added some salt (maybe 2 tsp), stirred it up, brought it to a boil, and thinking that brown rice takes 45 minutes and lentils take 20, I let the brown rice simmer over low heat, covered, for about 15 minutes. Next time, I'd only do it for 5, because the rice cooked a lot quicker than expected and was almost perfectly done when I added the drained lentils. When those went in, I brought it back to the boil, covered it and put it in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. If you were to use white rice instead of brown, I would (from the stage of the onions being nice and golden) add the liquid to the onions first, bring it to the boil, add salt and then put the lentils in first, for five minutes, then add the rice, and after bringing back to the boil, cook covered, in the oven or on lowest heat on the stovetop, for another 17 minutes.
If you wanted (and I really think you should), you could save out a small pan-full (3/4 cup maybe) of the caramelized onions from the first step, which you could continue to fry till super golden and almost crispy, to put on top of each serving (or you could slice up another onion to fry up, if you don't think of it in time to save some out of the first batch). Don't forget that nice lemony minty salad, and maybe some warm pita bread. In FACT, putting all that (mjuddrah, salad, pita) together into a wrap or pocket sandwich is a GREAT idea. If you had some hummus nearby, that wouldn't hurt in there either. Maybe some shredded carrots too! Mmm.


  1. what if i made a buttload of brown rice yesterday? any tips for making this with already cooked rice?

  2. yes, totally! In fact our dad sometimes does them separately on purpose because he hates it when the rice gets over-cooked. Just do the onions the same, and add only about 3 cups of liquid (for 1 cup of dry lentils), bring it to a boil, add the lentils and cook at a simmer for about 20 minutes, until they're tender, then stir in your buttload of rice to heat it up and bring it all together... Should work great - I'm not 100% on the proportions, you might want to have a little extra stock around in case it needs to loosen up a bit. And definitely have those extra fried onions for topping each serving. Let us know how it goes!

  3. And I'm just thinking now, it was definitely more like 1/2 cup (as opposed to 1/4) of olive oil. Be generous with your olive oil with this one. It makes lentils happy.

  4. this sounds fabulous, i'm gonna try it!

  5. I made a half-recipe yesterday for dinner, with already ground cumin and no pepper flakes—still turned out yummy! I used no-chicken broth so it was vegan. Absolutely right about the onions. I forgot to save some out until after I had added the cumin, but they were *more* than okay. I was disappointed in the salad though, maybe it was because the lettuce I picked had started to bolt and was a little bitter. Now I'm thinking about making a buttload of rice next time and using some of it for Mollie Katzen's Indonesian salad...