Mujadarra is an ancient Arab/Mediterranean dish most often associated with Lebanon. It is a deliciously rustic, meatless creation that turns simple lentils &
rice into a uniquely tasty feast. Spice is the signatory soul of Mujaddar…not tongue-burning peppery spice, but the warm, intensely flavorful spiciness of cinnamon, cumin, coriander and the like. Mujaddara’s crowning glory is its tasty topping of fried onion rings.
From a practical point of view, much of the preparation involved can be done hours, or even a day, in advance. Add a simple lettuce or tomato salad, dessert if you wish, and dinner has seldom seemed easier to put together.
Colorful red, yellow and orange lentils may be used, but be cautious as they cook very fast and can become mushy. I prefer brown lentils in this dish as they retain their shape and texture better. Lentils do not need to be soaked before cooking. Chicken stock will add richer flavor, but water or vegetable stock can be substituted.
I generally end up adding more spice than the quantities recommended below (it’s better to start low and increase the amount as needed).
Instead of making super-crispy onion rings, I prefer to fry them in a little olive oil until they are nicely browned and slightly crisp. I you think you prefer them very crisp many helpful tutorials are available at youtube.com.
Serve the lentils over white or brown rice, or a combination.
1 cup brown lentils
2 ½ cups chicken stock
One teaspoon each cumin, coriander and cardamom (or more, to taste)
½ teaspoon each cinnamon and turmeric (or more, to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste
One large red or white onion cut in approximately ½ inch slices
½ cup flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
4-6 cooked white or brown rice, or combination
Rinse the lentils under cold water to remove any potential dust and debris. Place them in a large pot and add the chicken stock and spices. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and cover the pot. Simmer until the lentils are just tender, usually about 15-20 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. The lentils may be made up to a day ahead.
To make the onion rings peel an onion and slice it in ½-inch-or-so rounds. Blot the onions and toss them in a bowl with the flour. Heat the olive oil in a sturdy skillet. Shake excess flour off the onion rings and add them carefully to the hot oil. Using tongs, turn the onions periodically as they cook to insure even browning. Drain them on paper towels. Don’t worry if the onions aren’t in perfect rings—they’ll still be tasty!
To serve, spread the rice over the bottom of a large, deep serving platter or individual plates. Top with lentils and garnish with onion rings.
I have a slight preference for white wine with this dish, but some tasters found soft, flavorful reds equally appealing. Big, tannic red wine did not fare as well here, nor did white wine with too much oak. Gentle fruity whites with a good crisp finish are ideal with the dish.
Matanzas Creek, Alexander Valley (Sonoma County, California) Sauvignon Blanc 2018
($22): Delicately fruity, with floral nuances, this beautifully balanced white wine had just the right amount of flavor and acidity to hit all the right notes with the Mujadarra.
Simi (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay 2017
($18): The flicker of oak in this wine adds just the right spicy note to fully engage the lentil/rice duo. Not too oaky and not too alcoholic (13.5%), Simi is a compatible partner for the dish.
Talbott, Monterey (California) Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2017
($26): This California Pinot Noir exhibits just the right amount of fruit plus an attractive hint of earthiness, both of which echo and complement the earthy lentils. It also connects nicely with the fried onions.