The Mejadra recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's Jerusalem: A Cookbook is Tamimi's take on the traditional Arab comfort food combination of rice, lentils, and onions. Here, the rice and lentils are steamed together with a plethora of spices, pilaf style, before adding the pièce de résistance--a smattering of freshly fried onions. It may seem strange to stir crisp fried bits into a steaming hot pot of rice, but the lost crunch factor is totally worth it considering the incredible depth of caramelized, salty flavor given over to the rice and beans. And never fear, fried-fiends, you'll reserve some of the fried onions for topping off your bowl anyway.
Why I picked this recipe: A heavily spiced blend of lentils, rice, and fried onions seemed like a perfect bowl of comfort food for chilly late November evenings.
What worked: Once assembled, the dish far surpasses the sum of its parts—who knew such humble elements could taste so dynamic?
What didn't: The onion frying step took much longer than advertised, and I needed to fry the onions in five batches in order to not crowd the pot. Next time, I'd use a slightly bigger pot and go up on oil by a cup or so in order to fit more in each batch.
Suggested tweaks: The flavors and technique of this dish are pretty set in stone; that said, you could probably tweak the cooking times to use a different type of bean or brown basmati rice if you felt up to the task.
Reprinted with permission from Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, copyright 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
- 1 1/4 cups/250g green or brown lentils
- 4 medium onions (1 1/2 lb/700g before peeling)
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- About 1 cup/250ml sunflower oil
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 1 cup/200g basmati rice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 1/2 cups/350ml water
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place the lentils in a small saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil, and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, until the lentils have softened but still have a little bite. Drain and set aside.
Peel the onions and slice thinly. Place on a large flat plate, sprinkle with the flour and 1 teaspoon salt, and mix well with your hands. Heat the sunflower oil in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan placed over high heat. Make sure the oil is hot by throwing in a small piece of onion; it should sizzle vigorously. Reduce the heat to medium-high and carefully (it may spit!) add one-third of the sliced onion. Fry for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally with a slotted spoon, until the onion takes on a nice golden brown color and turns crispy (adjust the temperature so the onion doesn’t fry too quickly and burn). Use the spoon to transfer the onion to a colander lined with paper towels and sprinkle with a little more salt. Do the same with the other two batches of onion; add a little extra oil if needed.
Wipe the saucepan in which you fried the onion clean and put in the cumin and coriander seeds. Place over medium heat and toast the seeds for a minute or two. Add the rice, olive oil, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and plenty of black pepper. Stir to coat the rice with the oil and then add the cooked lentils and the water. Bring to a boil, cover with a lid, and simmer over very low heat for 15 minutes.
Remove from the heat, lift off the lid, and quickly cover the pan with a clean tea towel. Seal tightly with the lid and set aside for 10 minutes.
Finally, add half the fried onion to the rice and lentils and stir gently with a fork. Pile the mixture in a shallow serving bowl and top with the rest of the onion.