Mujadara, a simple and comforting dish made with rice and lentils, is popular all throughout the Arab world. The first recorded recipe can be found in a cookbook from Iraq that was published in 1226, though the origins of the dish stretch back much further than that. It is one of my favorite vegetarian side dishes, a healthy and filling complete protein.
I first learned this recipe from 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 Middle Eastern or Indian markets—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 their version of mujadara. This dish is popular throughout the Middle East and Arab world. It is frequently eaten by Jewish families because it’s kosher, dairy free, and very inexpensive to prepare. The ingredients should all be easy to find at your local market.
While it is typically served as a side dish, I often eat mujadara 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.
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 note— you might notice that I’ve added a “Gluten Free” category to my blog. I hope this is helpful to those of you who are avoiding gluten! If it is, leave me a comment and let me know. 🙂
To learn more about the Jewish community in India, click here.
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Learn to make mujadara in the traditional Indian style - fluffy white basmati rice, tender brown lentils, cumin & salt with caramelized onions.
- 2 cups white basmati rice
- 1 cup brown lentils
- 2 tsp cumin
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 strips lemon peel, about 2 inches long each
- 2 large onions, peeled and sliced thin
- 1/2 tsp salt, more or less to taste
- 1/4 tsp black pepper, more or less to taste
Rinse and sort the rice, removing any small stones or impurities, then cover it with cold water. Let it soak at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours.
Rinse and sort the lentils, removing any small stones or impurities.
In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. 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.
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, and 1/4 tsp pepper. Sauté for 2 minutes.
Add the drained rice to the pot and stir. Turn heat to low.
Rinse out the saucepan where you cooked the lentils and pour in 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then carefully pour it over the lentils and rice. Stir, raise heat on the large pot to medium high. 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. 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 parve.