January 15, 2012
Mujaddara sure has a lot of different spellings: mujadarrah, mudardara, mejadra, moujadera...the legacy, I suppose of translating from an alphabet with so many more options for the letter "r" alone, than English. The name derives from the Arabic word for smallpox, apparently because of the way the lentils interrupt the rice surface is said to look like a pockmarked face (another example of this imagery in cooking is in the Chinese dish MaPo Tofu, in which chile flakes stand in as pockmarks). It is a relative of kushari, biryani, and probably a dozen other rice-based dishes, and can be dressed up or dressed down as desired.
In any language, Mujaddara is one of those beautifully simple dishes that is both incredibly healthful and eminently affordable. It is a staple in the Middle East that is, even in its simplest form, popular amongst people of every walk of life. Each cook makes adjustments based on his or her preference, availability, or cultural norm: what starts as a dish of rice and lentils topped with fried onions finds infinite variability in the type of lentil, the ratio of lentil to rice, the type of rice or grain, the medium for frying the onions, and the seasonings. It can be served as a complete meal unto itself, plain or garnished with yoghurt sauce, or beside meat or other vegetables for a more complex meal.
It is delicious. It is easy to make. We served it for dinner with a little leftover roasted chicken mixed in, and curry-roasted cauliflower on the side. I want to try making some of the infinite varieties out there, but first I want to make it again, just like this:
2 medium yellow onions
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup basmati rice
3/4 cup brown lentils
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
125 grams roasted chicken thigh meat
2 tablespoons flaked almonds
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon Baharat* (optional)
Slice one onion, and dice the other. Fry the onions rings in 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil, until dark brown, 25 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot, and boil the lentils for ten minutes.
Fry diced onions in 1 tablespoon of oil in a large pot. Once translucent, add the salt and spices. Add the rice, and stir it about for a couple of minutes, and then add two cups of boiling water (from the microwave, or a recently boiled kettle). Drain the lentils, and add immediately to the pot of onions, rice and water. Stir well, and bring back to a boil, reduce heat, and let simmer on the lowest temperature for 25 minutes.
Remove chicken meat from bones and skin and set aside. Toast the almond flakes in a dry skillet.
Remove lentils and rice from the heat. Stir in chicken and almond pieces, and half the onions. Top bowls with remaining onions and almonds, and serve, sprinkled with Baharat if you like.
*Baharat: Technically, baharat simply means "spices" in Arabic (bahar means spice), and versions vary from place to place. The one I use is a rather simple one made of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom and black pepper, and I use it in the dish, too, in place of the cinnamon and allspice. It is very fragrant. I add the cumin separately, although some versions of Baharat include it in the mix.