Mujaddara is a simple Middle Eastern dish of lentils, rice and onions. Mujaddara translates to pockmarked, which should not be a deterrent. There are different versions across the region, with the ratio of rice to lentils to onions varying from place to place. Some regions also use different spices, but the basis stays the same: rice, lentils, onions. The choice of butter or oil also varies, but generally I like to use butter because of the flavour that it brings to the dish. Replacing that with oil, however, makes it a standalone vegan dish.
Mince meat is sometimes added to the base and when cooked like this it is almost a complete meal. Mujaddara is rarely served by itself, however: it is usually an element of a couple of dishes served at the same time.
I tend to cook this dish only in the warmer months. I like to prepare it and let it sit at room temperature while I grill some meats or prepare some other salads to serve alongside.
One salad I have also enjoyed making this summer is based on a Japanese sesame dressing that I once bought from an Asian grocery. During my holiday break I attempted to come up with my own version. I prefer my homemade version because it doesn’t contain any of the necessary preservatives and flavour enhancements found in most store-bought dressings or vinaigrettes.
I’ve always avoided store-bought dressings as I find they lack personality or depth of flavour, with the exception of the sesame dressing, of course. When I make a dressing or vinaigrette at home I usually make a little bit more than I need. What I don’t use, I cover and leave for another meal later in the week.
Vinaigrettes and dressings need not be used only in salads. I often dress roast vegetables, for example, with a vinaigrette. When I roast a chicken, I usually roast it with potatoes, garlic and carrots. When the chicken is cooked, I set it aside to rest. I like to make a vinaigrette with some of the cooking juices, plenty of lemon juice, fresh oregano and chopped garlic. I season this and then dress the carrot and potatoes with the dressing. The vegetables quickly soak up these flavours and require about 10 minutes to rest for the flavours to develop. The same can be done with another salad of broccoli or broccolini, which is quickly blanched and then grilled on the barbecue to get a nice charred flavour. I leave this to cool to room temperature before dressing with the sesame dressing from the recipe here.
- 1½ cups small brown lentils
- 4 onions
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1½ tsp coarsely ground cumin seeds
- pinch ground allspice
- 1½ cups long-grain rice
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1 cup olive oil
- 2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
- In a small saucepan, cover the lentils with cold water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until lentils are cooked. Strain and set aside. While they are cooking, finely chop two of the onions. Melt the butter in a medium-sized, heavy-based saucepan and fry the chopped onion, cumin and allspice until onions are golden.
- Pour the rice and salt into the pot with the onions and stir. Pour 2¼ cups of cold water into the pot of rice and bring it to the boil. When the water boils, turn the heat down low and cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid. Let the rice cook for 15 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the rice stand, covered, for another five minutes.
- Slice the remaining onions very thinly. In a bowl, mix the slices around with your hands to separate the onion rings. Toss the rings through the flour until they are well coated. Heat the oil in a small saucepan and fry the onions in batches until they are golden brown. Transfer the onions to a paper-towel-lined plate and reserve the oil.
- In a large bowl, toss together the rice and the lentils. If the mixture seems dry, moisten it with two to three tablespoons of the onion-frying oil. Mix in pine nuts and taste for seasoning. Pile the mixture on to a serving platter and top with the fried onions.
Green salad with sesame dressing
- 1 head beautiful, fresh lettuce
- 1 small handful fresh parsley leaves
- 1 large shallot, peeled
- 2 tbsp cider vinegar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- sesame dressing (recipe below)
- 2 tsp sesame seeds, toasted
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
- 1 egg
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- Wash and dry the lettuce leaves and parsley. Refrigerate the leaves until ready to use.
- Very thinly slice the shallot into rings. A mandolin is useful for this.
- In a small bowl, mix the shallot slices with the vinegar, salt and sugar. Leave the shallot to pickle for 10 minutes. Drain the shallots from the vinegar and set them aside.
- Just before you are ready to serve the salad, place the lettuce leaves and parsley in a large mixing bowl. Gently toss the salad with enough of the dressing to lightly coat the leaves. Scatter the pickled shallot slices through the leaves and place the salad into a serving dish. Finish with a sprinkling of sesame seeds over the top of the salad.
- Grind the toasted sesame seeds using a mortar and pestle until they are pulverised and pasty.
- Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil. Place the egg into the water and boil for six minutes. Retrieve the egg from the water and put it in a bowl of cold water. When it is cool enough to handle, tap the egg all over to crack the shell in small pieces. Then, under running water, carefully peel the shell from the egg.
- Add the peeled egg to the mortar and mash it into the sesame paste until the two are well combined. Add the olive oil one tablespoon at a time, mixing well between additions to make an emulsified sauce. Whisk in the lemon juice and a pinch of salt and check the seasoning. You want a luscious, coating consistency. If the dressing is too thick you can add a little more oil or a teaspoon of water.
2016 Jamsheed Harem Le Blanc Plonk riesling blend, Mansfield ($24) – Mark Williamson, wine buyer for Cumulus Inc, Cumulus Up and the Builders Arms Hotel.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 25, 2017 as "Lentil giant".
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