“Rice is great when you’re hungry and want 2000 of something.” –Mitch Hedberg
I have never been a big fan of rice. It’s boring, filler-food used to hold up tastier food. Then I discovered lentils and rice at a tiny corner market when we moved to Ottawa.
My sister and I would often visit Ayoub’s, a corner store that made a wide selection of Middle Eastern food, spending pocket change not on chocolate bars and chips, but crispy pakoras, cheesy garlic flatbreads and lentils and rice – all made in-house. Unfortunately, Ayoub’s burned down a few years back.
Lentils and rice is just that: a combination of lentils, rice, onions and a mixture of spices that turns it into yummy comfort food. Lentils and rice, or mujadarrah, is a perfect side and puts boring old rice to shame. It still works under things like curries and is even better cold out of the fridge the next day.
I might be overstepping, but I’ve found that any rice can be used for lentils and rice. It’s a perfect use for that free white rice that comes with Chinese food delivery no one ever eats, basmati, brown rice, Minute Rice or even old dried out rice left out on the counter all night in the rice cooker because you each thought the other one was going to put it away. No matter what type of rice you use, it works and it always turns out tasty. Best of all, the ingredients are the cheapest around.
Rice (3 rice cooker scoops will make a nice big batch. Otherwise, as much rice as you would normally cook up for dinner)
1-2 Cans lentils (green ones preferably as they hold their shape)
2 Medium white onions finely diced
1 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Black pepper
1 tsp. Cumin
Splash lemon juice
1/4 cup Olive oil
Cook rice in advance.
- Coat a large frying pan or wok with 1/4 cup olive oil, and heat up.
- Add onions to the oil, moving them around occasionally until they are on the edge of nicely browned and about to turn black. They should be fried up enough that you would eat them right out of the pan should it be socially acceptable. Save a few onion bits for garnishing later if you’d like.
- Deglaze with a splash of lemon juice, about 2 tablespoons or one “whoosh” around the pan with a squeeze bottle of Real Lemon.
- Add salt, pepper and cumin to the bubbling onions.
- Add rice to pan and toss it around to coat it in the oil, onions and spices.
- Add lentils to the mixture and combine.
- Serve with a blob of sour cream or Greek-style yogurt on top and additional fried onion bits if desired.
Click HERE for a printable version of this recipe.
There are plenty of variations to be found on mujadarrah online, including ones with different spices and bigger fried onion pieces. I’ve seen it referred to as the “mac and cheese” of the Middle East – and just like mac and cheese, every family has their own way of doing it. Try it, and come up with your own.