Meatless Meals: Mujaddara

IMG_0898Mujaddara, a dish of rice, lentils and carmelized onions, is popular throughout the Middle East. This is my version, cobbled together over years of eating mujaddara prepared by Palestinians, Lebanese, Iraqis, Syrians, Egyptians and Israelis. My seasoning is probably idiosyncratic and not representative of any national cuisine by this point. This recipe will make enough for four to six bowls.

Ingredients:

1 cup lentils (sorted, rinsed and drained)
½ cup olive oil
1 ½ tsp cumin
½ tsp crushed black peppercorns
3 good-sized onions
¾ cup rice (I use whole-grain Basmati)
3 cups water
Salt to taste
½ tsp cayenne pepper or dried chili flakes
2-3cm stick of cinnamon

Preparation:

First cook the lentils until just tender by putting them in a pot and covering with water (a couple of centimeters above the level of the lentils). Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.

While the lentils are cooking, slice the onions thinly. (I like to slice each onion lengthwise and then slice the halves across the width.) Heat the olive oil, 1 tsp of cumin and the peppercorns and then add the onions and salt lightly. Cook, stirring from time to time, until caramelized. If they stick, add a little water. Be careful once they start turning golden because they will burn very quickly from that point. The finished onions should be a dark walnut color, only starting to become crisp. Use a slotted spoon to remove about half of the onions and put them on paper to drain. (This will be garnish.)

Now add the rest of the cumin, the cayenne or chili flakes and the cinnamon stick to the onions and sauté for a minute or two. Then add the uncooked rice and continue to sauté until the rice takes on an opaque appearance. Add the drained lentils and  3 cups of water, stir, bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for about half an hour, until all the water is absorbed. When done, turn off the heat and leave covered for a few more minutes.

To serve, top with the reserved caramelized  onions.

Meatless Meals: Potato-Cheese Bake with a Middle Eastern Twist

This one has many great qualities, among which are that its cheap, filling, tasty and easy to make. It might seem odd to post a baked dish in August of one of the hottest summers on record (for those of us in the northern hemisphere), but here in Jerusalem evenings are getting cooler. You can also refrigerate the leftovers and eat them cold as a sort of potato salad.

Ingredients

Potatoes, cut into chunks

Onions, diced

Cottage cheese (I use the 3% fat kind.)

Labneh OR Greek yogurt OR Sour Cream (I use 5% fat labneh.)

Salt

Ground black pepper

Cumin

Ground cardamon (known locally as hel)

Flour (Just a spoonful or two. I use whole wheat flour.)

….

Combine the potatoes and onions in a suitably sized baking dish with a cover and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine cottage cheese and labneh (or substitute). Season to taste with salt, pepper, cumin, and hel. I use about 2 parts salt, 1 part pepper, 3 parts cumin and one part hel. Mix well. Add the flour and mix well again. This will thicken the mixture so it doesn’t separate or get watery when cooked with the potatoes.

Add the cheese mixture to the potatoes and mix until evenly distributed. Cover and cook in the oven or microwave for 30-40 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. About halfway through the baking, remove and turn the mixture a few times before covering again and returning it to the heat.

Mix with chopped broad-leaf parsley before serving. (Not shown because I don’t have any at the moment.)

Enjoy hot or cold.

If you make this, I’d love to know how it worked out for you, and what variations you tried.

Meatless Meals: Moroccan-style Carrots

I made Moroccan carrot salad the other day – I’d forgotten how good that is! I learned the dish from the Polish-American wife of a Turkish-Israeli and because I’m an inveterate improviser when I cook, I’m sure I’ve changed the recipe by now, but I don’t actually remember. All that’s to say that this dish might more accurately be called something like

Moroccan-style carrot salad

After washing and scraping the carrots, cut them into rounds. Heat a little olive oil in a pan and cook the carrots to the desired degree of tenderness. Transfer the mixture to a heat-proof bowl.

Toss with lemon juice, then season with crushed red pepper (or hot paprika), sweet paprika, cumin, cinnamon and coriander. Use the spices in proportions of your choosing, but do use all of them. (If you are not used to Middle Eastern food, the combination might seem strange; just give it a try!) Let the salad marinate for a while. Before serving, add chopped, flat-leafed parsley and toss again.

That’s it. Quick and easy to prepare and the result is consistently deliciously. I serve it at room temperature as a salad or warmer as a side dish.