From my earliest days as a child in Syria to our weekly specials here at Velas, mujaddara has always been a dish I dreamt of. Grandma knew best, Grandma made it the best, and if she were here today in the kitchen with us, she would remind us of “how to best-make” Mujaddara.
“Mujaddara (Arabic: مجدرة mujadarah, with alternative spellings in English majadra, mejadra, moujadara, mudardara, and megadarra) consists of cooked lentils together with groats, generally rice, and garnished with sautéed onions.”
“Mujaddara is the Arabic word for “pockmarked”; the lentils among the rice resemble pockmarks. The first recorded recipe for mujaddara appears in Kitab al-Tabikh, a cookbook compiled in 1226 by al-Baghdadi in Iraq. “
“Containing rice, lentils, (and sometimes meat) it was served this way during celebrations. Without meat, it was a medieval Arab dish commonly consumed by the poor, reputed to be a derivative of the “mess of pottage” Jacob used to buy Esau’s birthright. Because of its importance in the diet, a saying in the Eastern Arab world is, “A hungry man would be willing to sell his soul for a dish of mujaddara.”
Ingredient List and Portion Size:
Green Lentils 2 cups
White rice 2 cups
Onion 2 large ones
Salt 1 tbls
Turmeric 1 tbls
Ground cumin 1 tbls
Canola oil 1/2 cup
– Dice the onions and add them to a large pot with 1tspn salt and canola oil. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently for one hour, or until they are deeply golden brown, sticky, and caramelized.
– Put lentils, 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover the lentils in a couple of inches of water in a stock-pot. Bring everything to a boil over high heat. Once they’re boiling, set a timer for 10 minutes, and reduce the heat to medium to maintain a good simmer.
– Once the lentils are ready, strain them and rinse them until the water runs clear.
– Add the lentils back into the pot, along with 1/3 of the caramelized onions, rice, salt, turmeric, cumin, and water. Stir together and shake everything out into an even layer.
-Turn the heat to high. Once the water comes back up to a boil, cover, lower the heat to low, and cook for 15 minutes. Do not open the lid while it’s cooking.
– Once 15 minutes have passed, turn off the heat and keep the pot covered for another 10 minutes.
– Add the rest of the onion and stir it together.
Make sure you don’t overcook the lentil.
You want to keep a little crunchiness in it.
Serve with yogurt (with minced cucumber and spices) and a favorite shatta (Arabic chimichurri) sauce of your choosing.
How to plate your dish
Garnish the dish with the remaining caramelized onions, the side of yogurt-cucumber sauce, shatta (optional), and on a large serving dish. Generally speaking, we serve the sauces and yogurts as individual sides and not on the dish itself as it tends to preserve flavor and aesthetics.
To this day, nobody makes this dish quite like grandma no matter how hard we try or how close we stick to the recipe. Time and time again, we try, and we can only ever get so close. This leaves me to believe, that although she did transfer every detail of the recipe in its entirety, there still is a bit of magic hidden under that lovely woman’s spatula.