When people think of Jewish food, they don’t tend to think of Indian cuisine, but there actually have been several small Jewish communities in India. Rather than one mass migration, Jewish groups have settled in India at different times throughout the centuries. Today, most Indian Jews have immigrated or “made Aliyah” to Israel, but a few do continue to live in India. Like other Jewish communities around the globe, Indian Jews have adapted their adopted country’s cuisine to make it kosher. This makes for some really interesting, really flavorful recipes. To learn more about the Jewish community in India, click here.
We are close friends with a Sephardic Jewish family from India. The Ashtamker family moved to Israel not long after it became a nation, then made their way to America about 20 years ago. They have shared many special meals with us over the years. I love their family recipes, but most of them require a trip to the local Indian or Jewish market—the spices and ingredients can’t always be found in a regular grocery store. Exploring those tiny markets can be fun, but when I share a recipe with you I try to keep things simple, using ingredients that can be found at your local supermarket.
Of all the dishes the Ashtamker family has taught us, the one I make most often is called mujadara. This dish is not only consumed in India; it is popular throughout the Middle East and Arab world. It is frequently eaten by Jewish families because it’s kosher, pareve, and very inexpensive to prepare. The ingredients should all be easy to find at your local market. Mujadara is vegetarian, gluten free, and very healthy. I often eat this as an entrée when I’m in the mood for a filling vegetarian meal. Be sure to follow the directions as written, it will make your mujadara nice and fluffy. As you cook you may feel like you’re adding too much salt, but don’t worry… much of the salt is rinsed away with the soaking and cooking liquid. The end result will be moderately salted.
If you are eating this as an entrée and you don’t mind making it a dairy meal, try topping it with some Greek yogurt along with the caramelized onions—it is simple and delicious!
One final note— you might notice that I’ve added a “Gluten Free” category to my blog. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be going through the archives and re-categorizing all my gluten free dishes. I hope this is helpful to those of you who are avoiding gluten! If it is, leave me a comment and let me know.
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- Rinse and sort the rice, removing any small stones or impurities, then cover it with cold water and 2 tsp of salt. Let it soak at room temperature for 2 hours.
- Rinse and sort the lentils, removing any small stones or impurities.
- Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Add 2 tsp salt to the boiling water, then add the lentils. Reduce heat to medium and simmer the lentils till they are tender, but not soft or mushy (about 15 minutes). Remove from heat and drain, then rinse in a colander with cold water.
- Drain and rinse the soaked rice.
- Rinse out the saucepan where you cooked the lentils and pour in 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil. While water is heating, in a large pot, heat 1/4 cup olive oil till hot enough for frying. Add the lentils to the pot along with the cumin, 1/2 tsp salt (if you are watching your sodium intake, use 1/4 tsp salt), and 1/4 tsp pepper. Sauté for 2 minutes.
- Add the drained rice to the pot and stir.
- When the water in the small saucepan boils, pour it over the lentils and rice. Stir. Add bay leaves and lemon peel to the pot and bring water to a boil. Cover the pot. Reduce heat and let the rice steam at a low simmer for 20 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed.
- Turn off the rice, uncover the pot, fluff the rice with a fork, cover the pot again and let it sit for another 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat up 1 tbsp olive oil in a skillet. Peel the onion and cut into thin slices. Fry the onion slices over medium heat until they are soft and nicely caramelized. Season with salt and pepper.
- Fluff the mujadra with a fork again. Serve topped with the caramelized onions. If you like the flavor of butter, you can substitute melted butter for olive oil. If you do this, please keep in mind that the dish becomes dairy rather than pareve.