Last week we had some guests staying over with us, and I thought Mujaddara would be a good option for lunch the next day because I had all the ingredients as always. Mujaddara is a popular Middle Eastern dish that consists of lentils & rice, topped off with caramelized onions. It’s a dish that’s cooked in Cyprus too, where we call it Mucendra (moo-jend-ra) and I don’t remember any caramelized onions in my grandma’s version.
OK, so I know you can find hundreds of Mujaddara recipes on the internet. However, I wanted to write about it because I made a brilliant ‘mistake’ last time that I want to share with you. If any of you read my post on the Whole30 experience, I included a link to another blog that explains the benefit of soaking grains and how to do it.
Normally I soak my rice. The lentils, I will sometimes soak them for a while or not. It depends when I decide that I’ll be cooking mujaddara or whatever includes lentils and how much time I have for soaking. So the other night, I decided I’d be soaking my lentils too. (I know I used the word soaking a lot but bare with me). So I place the rice in a bowl, cover it with water, and then I think, oh why not save some bowls and soak the lentils with the rice. I think this is a great idea and I proceed with adding the lentils to the rice. I add the apple cider vinegar and I give the bowl a stir. Then I realize, snap, lentils take a lot longer to cook than rice! At this point I feel like it’s too late to do anything. I considered separating the grains from one another but it was impossible because I had stirred the bowl. I thought, worst case the rice will just be really cooked through and lose its shape. I know this sounds silly right now but I actually freaked out about it in my head for a little while. It was late at night, I had never done this before, and I didn’t have a second plan for what I could have ready for my guests if this wouldn’t work. It made sense that after some soaking the lentils wouldn’t take as much time cooking as they normally do when cooked un-soaked. Time would tell. In the morning I bit through a grain of lentil and thankfully it was pretty soft. So it worked out just fine and I now soak the rice and lentils together before making mujaddara! It saves time. And bowls. Of course I won’t end this post before sharing the recipe so here it is – vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, simple yet tasty!
(You’ll just have to go by gut feeling for exact cooking time & measurements. Sorry… but to give you an idea… I usually do a 1:1 ratio of lentils and rice. How much spice you’d like to use is up to your personal taste. I put about 1/2 tsp of each spice. Cooking is a little bit like art to me. You have to stick to some techniques but the rest is up to you. Add or subtract whatever you want.)
1 cup short-grain rice
1 cup brown lentils
2-3 tbsp apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
2-3 cloves of garlic, grated
1 medium to large yellow onion
salt & pepper
Soak the rice & lentils overnight using drinking water and add the apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. Sieve it before cooking. Add a couple of tbsp of olive oil to a pot. Add about 1/4 tsp cumin and the grated garlic. After a couple of minutes add the rice & lentils. Give it a stir. Pour about 2.5 cups of boiling water over the pot. Add some salt. Lower the heat and cover the lid. In the meanwhile, cut the onion in half and then into thin slices. In a skillet, add some olive oil over medium heat. Add about 1/2 tsp turmeric, cumin, cinnamon and sumac. Once the oil is hot, add the sliced onions. Stir every now and then until the onions are caramelized. I don’t consider myself a pro at caramelizing onions but they look something like this:
The mujaddara takes about 30-40 minutes to cook. Once there’s no water left and the grains are soft, it’s done. If at any point you check and there’s no water but the grains are still kind of crunchy, just add a small amount of water and cover the lid again. Don’t check too many times though; the steam trapped inside helps it cook. Serve warm topped with the caramelized onions and if you like, some yogurt on the side.
Tip: My mother-in-law makes mujaddara with bulghur. In that case, you don’t soak the bulghur as bulghur is cracked wheat and doesn’t require soaking – at least not for the same reasons as you’d soak other grains. You could also use brown rice if you prefer. I haven’t tried soaking brown rice with lentils and cooking them together yet, but I would assume it’ll take longer to cook than regular rice as it normally does.