I'm writing this at my desk, looking at pictures from our ski trip with Jyoti last weekend and wishing that we were driving to the mountains again soon. It's so beautiful up there, and skiing is one of those activities I find so enjoyable that I forget I'm actually exercising. Of course, skiing, if you didn't know, is not cheap. There are the lift tickets, and the condo rental, and the ski rental, and all the time you spend driving to and from Tahoe. And then there are the things you consume, because your appetite goes nuts after skiing all day. There were beers, many. And chicken wings. And really good French fries at a dive bar near the condo we rented. And In-N-Out on the way home. And spicy lamb hotpot, to cap off our weekend. It was heavy on our wallets and on our health, because we normally don't eat quite so badly. And definitely not in a span of 3 days.
I had a point here, and it's this: in an attempt to make up for the excess of last weekend, I made mujadara for dinner. Mujadara is one of the simplest, most wholesome foods I know how to make. I make it when I've been living excessively, or when the pantry is bare, or when I'm craving it, which is often. If you're not familiar with it, mujadara is a Lebanese rice pilaf with lentils and caramelized onions. It has a lot going for it -- we always have the ingredients on hand, and it's filling, healthful, and inexpensive to boot. Earthy lentils, sweet rice, tangy yogurt, and caramelized onions. Don't be stingy with the onions, or the yogurt for that matter.
You can eat it alone, but I think it needs a big salad and a generous drizzle of spiced Greek yogurt on the side. I've often thought it would be great alongside that salad and that yogurt, plus crisp falafel. Or juicy lamb-mint meatballs. Or spicy roasted chicken thighs. Or roasted eggplant.You get the idea.
My last point is that leftover mujadara in the fridge is a very good thing, because it tastes better the next day. Even Mark looks forward to leftover mujadara for lunch. Maybe, in the end, that's all you need to know. He's not a big lentil fan, I'm a lentil super fan, and this dish brings us together.
Mujadara, adapted from Mark Bittman with a hat tip to Serious Eats Food Lab and their excellent method for caramelizing onions quickly
A few notes: This isn't a quick dinner; caramelizing onions takes awhile. Don't be stingy with the onions or the salt. Do not leave out the side of yogurt; it makes this dish. And finally, this dish gets better, that is more flavorful, the longer it sits.
serves 2 as a main, plus leftovers; or 4-6 if you also serve a salad and other sides
For the rice, lentils, caramelized onions:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 or 2 (or 3! you can't have too many onions) large yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 cup water
3/4 cups lentils (Puy lentils are great, but can also use normal green lentils)
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 cup white rice (I like Jasmine or Basmati)
garnish: chopped parsley or mint, something spicy like harissa, or a spiced Greek yogurt (see below)
For the Greek yogurt garnish:
1/2 cup plain, full-fat yogurt
lemon juice from 1/4 of a lemon
a few tablespoons chopped parsley/mint/cilantro
a few shakes of cayenne pepper or1-2 teaspoons of harissa
1. Begin by caramelizing the onions: in a large heavy bottomed pan (enameled French oven is best here), heat the oil to medium-high and add onions. Cook 6-8 minutes, stirring to incorporate onions with fat, until onions have exuded most of their liquid. A brown residue should appear on the bottom of the pan. Add 2 tablespoons of water and deglaze the brown bits from the bottom of the pan by scraping the end of a flat wooden spoon through the onion residue. Continue cooking, stirring every so often, until brown residue builds up again. Repeat deglazing process and cooking steps at least 3 more times, until all the water is used up and the onions are a deep brown color. Note: the onions will taste great like this. However, if you like crisp-textured onions, scrape the onions to one side of the pot and cover the bottom of the pan with a thin coating of oil. When the oil is hot, spread the onions evenly over the bottom of the pan and let them fry, without stirring, 2-3 minutes, or until the edges are crisp. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.
2. Next, make the rice: pour 1 cup rice into whatever vessel you will cook your rice (rice cooker, pot, etc.) Rinse rice with water several times, swishing the rice around and draining, until the water rinses clear. Drain rice well. Now, add 1 teaspoon salt and 1 1/2 cups of water to the vessel and cook. I use a rice cooker, but an easy way is to cook rice is to bring rice/water to a boil on the stove and then oven bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Taste to make sure it is cooked through; if not, add 2 tablespoons hot water and return to oven for 5 minutes.
3. While rice is cooking, boil the lentils: in the empty onion pot, add lentils, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer the lentils until tender, about 20 minutes. They should be tender, but not mushy. Drain lentils and return to empty pot. Add cooked rice and 3/4 of the caramelized onions and mix well. Season generously with salt, as necessary.
4. Combine all of the spiced yogurt ingredients in a small bowl. Plate mujadara, top with additional caramelized onions and add a healthy dollop of spiced/herbed yogurt on the side.