Mujaddara, and trying to convert a legume skeptic

by Elissa

I would dearly love to incorporate more meatless meals into our dinner rotation--vegetarian meals tend to be healthier and cheaper, not to mention better for the environment. But it's hard to put a balanced meatless meal on the table when a key member of the household generally does not lik legumes (he also is not crazy about eggs, and I haven't been brave enough to attempt tofu yet). But I keep trying to find a recipe that will meet with everyone's approval, and here is one that will get repeat play in our kitchen.

Mujaddara (also sometimes spelled mejadra) is a Lebanese dish featuring rice, lentils, and sauteed onions.  I attempted it a few years back, but the recipe I tried was pretty bland. I think the key to making this dish delicious is plenty of sauteed onions, as the rice and lentils do not contribute much in the flavor department.  The dish got back on my radar when I saw this Melissa Clark recipe in The New York Times  a few weeks back. But I knew from experience that two leeks was not going to be enough in the onion department. I looked around at some other recipes, and ended up adapting this version from Food52.

Mujadarra with yogurt sauce, toasted pine nuts, and cucumber rounds

Mujadarra with yogurt sauce, toasted pine nuts, and cucumber rounds

I was quite pleased with the end result. In addition to plenty of onions, I added a yogurt sauce and some toasted pine nuts (I think almonds would also work). The toppings helped keep things interesting, and I especially liked how the nuts added some crunch to an otherwise soft dish. I'm not sure if my resident skeptic has been entirely persuaded, but he ate this dish without complaint, so I'm going to call it a win. 

Mujaddara, adapted from Food52 

1 cup white rice

1 cup lentils (I used regular brown lentils, but I think French green lentils would work as well or better) 

3 onions, sliced

3 Tablespoons butter

4 Tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup pine nuts or sliced almonds

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon za'atar

Begin by starting the lentils and rice: put lentils in a saucepan with 4.5 cups of water and some salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Once the lentils are going, cook your rice (I use 1 cup to 1.5 cups water and a generous pinch of salt). Begin on the onions while the rice and lentils cooks. Melt the butter with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and 1/2 teaspoon sale and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are browned and starting to caramelize, 15-20 minutes.

Saute the nuts in 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-low heat until nicely toasted. Mix the yogurt with the garlic powder and za'atar, adding in a tablespoon of olive oil and 1/2 a teaspoon salt. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

The lentils, rice, and onions should all be finished around the same time.  Mix the lentils and rice together in a large serving dish, pour the onions on top and stir to combine. Serve with toasted nuts and yogurt sauce on the side.