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Kalyn's Kitchen

Mujadarra (Middle Eastern Lentils and Rice with Caramelized Onions)

Mujadarra (Middle Eastern Lentils and Rice with Caramelized Onions)Mujadarra (pronounced moo-jha-druh and also spelled Mujadara, Mujaddara, Mujadarah, and Mujadarrah) is a humble middle eastern dish of lentils, rice, and caramelized onions. This is a recipe where the flavor becomes much more than you’d expect from the simple ingredients used. Years ago I started ordering Mujadarra at a now-closed Salt Lake restaurant which served it with Middle Eastern Tomato Salad around the the plate, the perfect way to eat it if you have tomatoes and fresh herbs on hand. Then that restaurant closed, and I never found another place in Utah where I liked it as much. Recently I decided to get serious about making Mujadarra myself, starting with a recipe from Paula Wolfert’s The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean, in which she cautions not to reduce the amount of olive oil because “the dish will lack a certain richness.” That sounded like a good start to me, but after a few tries, I couldn’t manage to cook the lentils and rice together without one or the other getting overcooked. What worked for me was to cook the rice separately and mix it into the cooked lentils and caramelized onions. After waiting years to re-create a version of this dish I was happy with, I loved how this turned out, and I’m sure it’s something I’m going to be making over and over again.

Rinse lentils, then add water and cook at a low simmer 20-30 minutes, until lentils are soft. Cover the cooked lentils and let sit so they absorb most of the water.

 

Start cooking 3/4 cup long grain rice, either following the directions on the package or using a rice cooker like I did. I used Uncle Ben’s Converted Rice, which is a low-glycemic type of white rice, but Basmati rice would also be good. (Keep the rice warm until you need it.)

 

Peel onions, then cut into quarter-slices to make 3 cups sliced onions. (I increased the amount of onion; next time I might increase the onion even more.)

 

Heat olive oil in large heavy pan, then add onions and start to brown over medium-low heat, stirring every few minutes. (Don’t rush the browning step; you want the onions to slowly get golden brown.)

Here are my onions after ten minutes, just starting to get brown.

I cooked the onions about 15 minutes more, until they were mostly browned like this, for a total of 25 minutes browning time.

 

Remove about half the onions to a paper towel, and let them drain and crisp while you finish the dish. These crispy onions bits are served on top of the cooked lentils and rice.

Add cumin to the rest of the cooked onions and saute 1-2 minutes.

Transfer the cooked lentils to the pan with the onions, leaving behind any liquid that hasn’t been absorbed. Season lentils with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook 2-3 minutes.

 

Then gently mix the cooked rice into the lentils and onions, heating for a minute or two if needed. Serve hot or warm, with some of the crisp onions topping each serving.

Mujadarra (Middle Eastern Lentils and Rice with Caramelized Onions)
(Makes 4 generous servings, recipe adapted from Paula Wolfert’s The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean.)

Ingredients:
3/4 cup long-grain white rice (I used Uncle Ben’s Converted Rice)
1 cup brown lentils, rinsed
3 cups yellow onions, cut into quarter slices (or more)
1/3 cup olive oil (use high-quality olive oil with good flavor for this dish)
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Instructions:

Cook rice in water following package directions, or cook in a rice cooker. When rice is done, cover and keep warm until you add it to the lentils.

Rinse lentils, then place in heavy pot with a tight fitting lid, add 1 quart water, and let lentils simmer over very low heat uncovered until they are soft (about 20-30 minutes, but cooking time will depend on how fresh the lentils are so keep checking until they are soft but still have a slight bite to them.) When lentils are cooked, cover and let water them absorb any leftover water.

While lentils cook, chop onions. Heat olive oil in heavy frying pan, then add onions, reduce heat to medium-low and start to brown onions, stirring every few minutes. Continue to cook onions, stirring often, until they are deeply browned and caramelized, about 20-25 minutes. Don’t rush this step; the onions will be bitter if they’re cooked at high heat.

When onions are browned, remove half the onions to drain on a paper towel to crisp. Sprinkle 1/4 tsp cumin into the rest of the onions in the pan and saute 1-2 minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked lentils to the pan with the onions, leaving behind any water that’s not absorbed. Season the cooked lentils and onions with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook 1-2 minutes to blend flavors.

Gently mix cooked rice into the lentils and caramelized onions, heating for a minute or two if the rice is not hot. Put Mujadarra on a serving dish, top with crispy caramelized onions, and serve hot or warm.

This is great served with Middle Eastern Tomato Salad on the side. It would make a great side dish with Baked Falafel Patties with Yogurt-Tahini Sauce, or you could also serve the sauce with the Mujadarra.

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South Beach Suggestions:

Made with a low-glycemic type of white rice such as Uncle Ben’s Converted Rice, this dish would be approved for phase 2 or 3 of the South Beach Diet.

Other Food Bloggers Make Mujadarra (also spelled Mujadara, Mujadarrah, Mujadarah, or Mujaddara)

Mujadara from Desert Candy

Mujaddara from Habeus Brulee

Mujadara from Herbivoracious

Mujadara from Orangette

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    57 Comments on “Mujadarra (Middle Eastern Lentils and Rice with Caramelized Onions)”

  1. Just made this tonight to accompany baked pork tenderloin and baby carrots with nutmeg and ginger — best meal I've had in a long time, thanks for the recipe!

  2. Donna, what a fun memory; hope you enjoy the recipe.

  3. i've been wanting this recipe for some time now. my aunt used to make this dish for my uncle when i was a child.she would also cook the lentils,rice and onions together.caramelized onions sounds great on top of the dish also. she would also make a salad and have fried or sauted cubed steak . italian salad dressing to me made this dish wonderful. a bite of steak,lentils&rice with the salad.one of my favorite childhood memory of my aunts great cooking.thanks aunt helen & kalyn.

  4. I tried this last night. Perfect!!!!

    I used brown rice, and it was just fine.

    It's going in my permanent collection for phase 2 South Beach.

    Thank you, Kalyn.

  5. Thanks for sharing about that Iranian version with walnuts and raisins. Also good to know that cooking the rice and lentils separately isn't that unusual, it definitely worked better for me.

  6. In one of the regions of Iran…they add walnuts and raisins which are briefly cooked hot butter….in addition to the caramelized onions.

    (They cook the lentils separately before adding to the rice)

    The resulting one pot rice dish is served with side dishes of plain yogurt and a basket of fresh herbs.

  7. Ooh delicious! Whenever I cook lentils it is usually an indian dish but I love the flavors in this rice dish. Love the caramelized onions.

  8. I have lots of lentils and Basmati rice on hand and this sounds great. I might like trying it with some curry powder. Thanks for posting this!

  9. I have lots of lentils and lots of Basmati rice on hand. I'll have to give this one a try. I wonder if a good curry would be good with this? I might try that. Thank you for posting this!

  10. Katie, I think any combination that includes lentils will have to be good!

    ck, thanks for sharing how your mom did it.

  11. this sounds pretty good and looks great, but is pretty different from the recipe i grew up with. i don't know if it's just the lebanese way, or the way my mom always did it, but we don't caramelize the onions. we allow them to get translucent, then cook the lentils and rice right along with them, until the lentils have begun to break down. its an even simpler method than what you've described and it's also pretty awesome. the rice does kind of explode on itself, but i think that's a nice part of the dish, and when the lentils begin to break down, they become even sweeter. thanks for posting!

  12. This sounds wonderful! I've been experimenting cooking rice, quinoa and red lentils together…. But I have to try this. The red lentils cook in the same time as rice, but I agree, other lentils take longer and I don't see how it would work together. Great photo – I want to dip my fork in!

  13. I used traditional brown lentils, because that's all I've ever had in this dish, but you can definitely use any type of lentils you'd like. I like Uncle Ben's Converted Rice because it's lower on the glycemic index, but Basmati rice is probably what would normally be used in this I'm guessing. Let us know if you experiment and find a good combination.

  14. I'm curious to know if you tried other kinds of lentils than the brown ones. French lentils (Puy lentils) take longer to cook and would probably cook at about the same rate as rice. I know you are a big fan of Uncle Ben's, but that cooks faster than traditional rice. I'm just curious to know what kinds of lentils you used during your testing process. Thanks for continuing to publish such a terrific food blog!

  15. I'm tempted to try this with quinoa! looks amazing.

  16. I'm seconding CindyK's recommendation for mujadarra made with bulgur instead of rice. There was a really mouthwatering description by Marian Burros in the NYT (3/15/00) of a pita (made by Kalustyan) stuffed with bulgur mujadarra (spelled in the article as mujaddara), lots of carmelized onions, tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, hot sauce, and tahina. I made the sandwich the same day I read the description. Awesome!

  17. that looks so good! I love the burnished and bronzed onions on top!

  18. This is such a simple dish, but sounds so flavorful and comforting. I love the effort that you took to find the perfect method for making these.

  19. It sounds like I will need to try the Mazza version of this! I do remember Robert's Deli but the restaurant where I used to love this was the original Cafe Med on 400 South in SLC (no relationship to the current Cafe Med.) They later moved to 500 S and about 400 W, but it wasn't a great location and they went out of business. I was so sad to see them go, as well as Robert's Deli too.

    I agree, more onions can only be better for this dish!

  20. This is one of my favorite dishes at Mazza. Gorgeous. Caramelized onions are a weakness 🙂