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.
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
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.
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