Mujadara is a Middle Eastern dish made with rice and lentils. The first recorded recipe for mujadara appears in Kitab al-Tabikh (Book of Dishes), a cookbook published in Iraq in 1226. It is unclear whether the Persians, who brought rice to western and central Asia from India, created the dish or borrowed it from India. While it is traditionally made with basmati rice and brown lentils, different countries have their own unique versions – for example, Bukharans are known to use mung beans in lieu of lentils and Iraqis like to top theirs with fried eggs. Some regions use chickpeas instead of lentils. Nearly all versions incorporate soft caramelized onions, as their sweet flavor really enhances the dish.
Recently I decided to try my hand at making mujadara with quinoa instead of basmati rice. Quinoa has more nutritional value than rice. It is closely related to spinach; much like spinach, it is packed with nutrients. Quinoa is a wonderful source of protein, amino acids, insoluble fiber, magnesium, riboflavin, and phytonutrients. Regular consumption of quinoa can improve your cardiovascular health, reduce the frequency of migraine headaches, and even decrease your risk of certain cancers.
To make this Quinoa Mujadara, I used my regular mujadara recipe as a base and improvised from there. While quinoa does not cook up quite as fluffy as rice, it does provide a nice texture for the lentils, and it’s got a lot more protein than rice. The result is filling, comforting, vegan and gluten free with lots of fiber. It can be served either as a vegetarian main course or as a side dish. 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 cooking liquid. The end result will be moderately salted. I use more black pepper in this quinoa mujadara than I do in my regular mujadara, I find it enhances the overall flavor of the dish. If you’re not a black pepper fan, feel free to cut back to taste. As a dairy variation, try topping the caramelized onions with a dollop of Greek yogurt– delish! Enjoy!
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- 1 cup brown or green lentils
- 2 cups quinoa
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 strips lemon peel, each about 2 inches long
- 2-3 large onions, peeled and sliced thin
- Salt and pepper
- Chopped fresh flat leaf parsley or mint for garnish (optional)
- Greek yogurt for topping (optional)
- Rinse and sort the lentils, removing any small stones or impurities.
- Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan. 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. Shake vigorously to remove excess water.
- Rinse the quinoa in a mesh strainer for about 2 minutes.
- In a large pot, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium till warm. Add the lentils to the pot all at once along with the cumin, 1/2 tsp salt (if you are watching your sodium intake, use 1/4 tsp salt), and 1/2 tsp pepper. Heat up the mixture till it begins to fry. Sauté for 2 minutes.
- Add the rinsed quinoa to the pot and stir. Reduce heat to low.
- Rinse out the other saucepan where you cooked the lentils and pour in 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil. When the water in the saucepan boils, pour it over the lentils and quinoa. Stir. Add bay leaves and lemon peel to the pot and bring all ingredients to a boil. Cover the pot. Reduce heat and let the quinoa steam at a low simmer for about 20 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed and the little tails release from the quinoa seeds. Remove from heat and leave the pot covered for 5 minutes longer.
- While the quinoa is cooking, heat up 2 tbsp olive oil in a skillet. Fry the onion slices over medium heat until they are soft and nicely caramelized.
- When the quinoa is done steaming, remove the bay leaves and lemon peel and fluff the mixture with a fork.
- Serve topped with the caramelized onions and chopped parsley or mint. Add Greek yogurt, if desired (dairy). You can substitute melted butter for olive oil, if you like. If you do this, please keep in mind that the dish becomes dairy rather than parve.