This isn't the most photogenic dish, but its fragrance and flavor more than make up for that. Jeremy, who would normally prefer pizza to lentils and rice, remarked immediately upon coming in the house that dinner smelled amazing; he then proceeded to eat two helpings of it.
Quite the testament!
Mejadra (also known as mujadarrah or mujadarra) is a very old, traditional dish and it's featured in Jerusalem: A Cookbook, a beautiful new work by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi which was just nominated for a James Beard Award as best international cookbook. It showcases gorgeous pictures and seductively enticing recipes for classic foods from this city which is home to both Jews and Arabs, and generously shares culinary representation from both cultures. Here is how Amazon.com describes it:
"In Jerusalem, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi explore the vibrant cuisine of their home city with its diverse Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities. Both men were born in Jerusalem in the same year - Tamimi on the Arab east side and Ottolenghi in the Jewish west. This stunning cookbook offers 120 recipes from their unique cross-cultural perspective, from inventive vegetable dishes to sweet, rich desserts. With five bustling restaurants in London and two stellar cookbooks, Ottolenghi is one of the most respected chefs in the world; in Jerusalem, he and Tamimi have collaborated to produce their most personal cookbook yet."
My very dear friend Nika loaned me her copy of Jerusalem, and I wanted to make so many, many things! But I started with one of my very favorites, mejadra - a simple, comforting plate of spiced lentils and rice.
But this isn't just any ol' lentils and rice; the key ingredient in mejadra is onions which have been slowly, lovingly, patiently crisped until they're deeply golden and toasty and richly flavored. Combining these very basic ingredients with cumin, cardamom, turmeric, allspice, and cinnamon enhances and elevates them to make a dish that is absolutely stellar.
And now that Ashkenazi Conservative Jews have been granted permission, if they choose to do so (it's optional, based upon personal preference), to eat kitniyot [KIT-nee-YOHT] - corn, rice, peas, lentils, and beans - which were formerly banned at Passover along with leavened products, this is a fabulous dish that can easily be modified for the holiday that begins at sundown tonight. (See "The Kitniyot Dilemma" for more information about the dietary laws, the new ruling, the difference between customs for Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews, etc.) Simply use matzah meal instead of flour to coat the onions, and you've got an amazing new dish to serve at your seder or at any time over the next 8 days. And it's pareve ([PAHRV] = neither meat nor dairy), so it can be served with any kind of meal!
But really, mejadra is such a wonderful dish that you'll want to serve it all the time!
(slightly adapted from a recipe in Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi)
1-1/4 cups green or brown lentils
2 very large onions, halved, sliced very thin
3 tablespoons flour or kosher l'Pesach matzah meal ([KOH-sher leh PAY-sahk] = kosher for Passover)
freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1 cup white rice
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
3/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar
1-3/4 cups water
Place the lentils into a medium saucepan and cover generously with water; bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and cook for 20 minutes until just tender. Drain.
In a large bowl, toss the sliced onions with flour or matzah meal. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, to taste.
In a very large frying pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Carefully add the onions, then turn heat to low and cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently to keep onions from burning, until they are mostly browned and crisp. Drain in a colander lined with a paper towel.
In remaining oil in the frying pan, cook the cumin and coriander for 1 minute; add rice, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon, and sugar. Stir to coat rice with spices, then add water and reserved lentils. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and cook for 15-20 minutes, until rice is tender and water has been absorbed.
Stir in half of the onions, then place lentils and rice onto a serving platter. Top with remaining onions and serve hot.