Caramelised onion and the nuttiness of cooked lentils. A familiar scent that wafted through my grandparents' home every Friday without fail. Growing up amongst Maronite Catholics, Fridays were meat free all year around. That didn't mean that my Tayta was going to let us go without a phenomenal feast. Mjadra was always on the table.
This is a go to dish for those of you who are fasting, experimenting with plant based foods or trying to reduce your meat intake. It's also gluten free and lactose free. Do not be fooled by mjadra's humble appearance and simplicity. There is a reason why families all over the Middle East serve this (and its many variations) every week without fail. Even my carnivorous in-laws and my fussy five year old nephew request 'special rice' at every family get together.
You'll be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to make.
3 sliced onions
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup green lentils -washed and drained
1 cup basmati rice -washed three times and drained
3 cups of boiled water
salt to taste
1) In a medium sized pot, fry the onions in olive oil. Start on a low/medium heat until the onions soften, then increase the heat until the onions are caramelised. After this, argue with your mother about whether or not the onions should be burned. True story, many people prefer the onions completely blackened. It's entirely up to your taste. If you are going to take the onions further, you will need more olive oil.
2) Remove the onions from the pot, leaving the oil behind. If a few stray onions remain, let them be. They'll just boost the flavour.
3) Add the drained lentils to the pot carefully, as the residual moisture from the lentils will make the oil spit. Add the boiled water and salt. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Taste the broth for salt at this point. Adjust to taste.
4) Add rice, cover the pot and simmer for a further 10 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Leave the pot to stand for 10 minutes.
5) Spread the rice on a platter and smother with caramelised onions.
Tip: This dish can be served hot or at room temperature. My personal preference is to eat it piping hot, with fresh garden salad dressed in lemon and crushed garlic.
When you eat this dish, I ask that you think of my talented Tayta's legacy. Meat free doesn't have to be taste free!
For more videos and recipe ideas, find me on Instagram: @maryj_1