Lentils and rice might seem like the sort of thing you'd be forced to choke down at a vegan potluck or a hardcore yoga retreat. But when you add sweet, caramelized onions, a knob of butter, and a dollop of spiced yogurt on top, you'll find that they go down pretty easy.
The name of the dish, mujaddara, also lends a certain amount of exoticism. When you tell people that you're serving mujaddara for dinner, they'll most likely lick their lips. Saying "lentils and rice" probably won't elicit the same reaction.
I found the recipe on the genius Food52. (It actually won for "your best lentils"--a category that's probably about as exciting as "your best tofu.") Feeling fat that week and wanting to be more virtuous, I printed it out. "We're having this lentil dish for supper," I mumbled to Dan. Thankfully, he wasn't paying attention.
Although people raved about the dish in Food52's comments section, I was doubtful that it could make an entire meal. So I also grilled some lamb sausages and roasted a head of cauliflower with some olive oil and Indian spices. Just as a back up, I told myself.
But, wow. The sausages and cauliflower were totally secondary. We didn't even need them. Somehow the short list of ingredients comes together to make something special. I can't really explain it, it's sort of magical. And if you manage not to eat all of the mujaddara and save some for lunch the next day, it actually improves as the ingredients and flavors spend more time together.
Every time I've made mujaddara since then, I've skipped the cauliflower and sausages. It is delicious and filling enough to stand on its own. That said, if you did want to serve it to company, and that company might include some very hearty eaters, some sausage might be a good thing. But for an average weeknight, when it's just Dan and me, it's lentils and rice all the way.
Mujaddara with spiced yogurt
From Not Derby Pie, via Food52.
1 cup jasmine rice
3/4 cups Puy lentils (French lentils, the tiny dark brown ones)
2 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. olive oil
6 cups onions (about 3 medium onions), halved and thinly sliced
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (full-fat or not)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. spicy paprika (or aleppo pepper)
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
Juice and zest of half a lemon
Salt to taste
In a stockpot, cook the jasmine rice with a pinch of salt and 1 1/2 cups of water.
Put lentils, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 4 cups of water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer lentils until soft but not mushy, about 20 minutes. Drain lentils and set aside. Rinse pot.
While the rice is cooking, set a large saute pan (I use a cast-iron skillet) over medium-low heat and add the butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil. When the butter has mostly melted, add the onions and toss to incorporate with butter and oil.
After 5 minutes, the onions will soften slightly and release their liquid. Add a pinch of salt. Raise the heat to medium and cook 10 to 12 minutes more, until the onions are very soft and browned. (You can add water by the tablespoon if the pan gets too dry or if onions start to stick.) When the onions are well browned, add last tablespoon of olive oil and raise the heat to high. Cook another 3 to 4 minutes, trying not to stir so the bottom layer of onions will get charred and crisped.
Pour the cooked rice and lentils into the onions and stir until combined. Taste and add salt if necessary. Let the lentils and rice sit for at least 15 minutes. If it cools off, you can reheat it in the microwave or in a low oven.
To make the yogurt sauce, combine all of the ingredients together in a small bowl. Refrigerate until you're ready to serve it.
To plate the dish, simply top the warm mujadarra with a dollop of yogurt.