Mujadara (Lebanese Lentils, Rice, and Caramelized Onions)

There's this tiny restaurant in Stamford called Layla's Falafel that has the most delicious and authentic Lebanese food. You walk in the door and the owner greets you with the biggest smile and a booming hello, the smell of baklava and za'atar filling the air. 

Before moving out East, I'd never experienced really good Mediterranean cuisine - falafel, hummus, grape leaves, baba ganoush, tabbouleh, za'atar spiced pita, tahini (!) - the list goes on and on. It's a vegetarian's dream come true. 

The one item that Ravi and I always get is the mujadara - a blend of rice, lentils, and caramelized onions. It's such a simple and budget friendly dish that I wanted to try and recreate it at home. It's not quite as good as the original, but I have to say, it's pretty close! 

I added a tiny bit of cumin and allspice to give the rice some depth, but the real star of the show is the caramelized onions. They take 30-40 minutes to really develop flavor, so don't skip this step! What I sometimes do is cook the onions as part of my Sunday meal prep and then they're ready to go for later in the week. 

Try this for your next Meatless Monday endeavor! We usually serve it with a side of hummus or tahini and deeply roasted broccoli. The leftovers reheat beautifully too. 

Mujadara (Lebanese Lentils, Rice, and Caramelized Onions)

Serves 2-3 as a main or 4 as a side dish
Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 50 minutes

1 large yellow onion, vertically sliced
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
pinch sea salt
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/8 tsp. allspice

2/3 cup French lentils
1 bay leaf

2 cups cooked brown rice
1/4 tsp. sea salt (to taste)

1. Caramelize the onions.  

Heat olive oil to medium heat in a large heavy bottomed skillet. Add onions and salt. Stir to coat onion slices evenly with the oil. Spread onto an even layer and let cook, stirring occasionally. The trick to caramelizing onions is to cook them slowly and not stirring too often so that the sugars in the onion brown without burning. Depending on the strength of your stove, you may need to turn the heat down to medium-low after they've cooked down a bit. I also add a splash or two of water towards the end of cooking, which helps keep the onions from burning without adding extra oil and also brings up those flavorful caramelized bits that otherwise stick to the pan. The entire process will take about 30-40 minutes depending on your level of patience. The onions can be made several days ahead of time and stored in the fridge.

After the onions have caramelized, add the cumin and allspice. Cook for several minutes on low heat until spices are fragrant. 

2. Cook the lentils. 

While the onions caramelize, start the lentils. I cook most of my legumes and grains just like pasta. Bring a decent sized pot of water to boil and add the bay leaf, lentils, and a pinch of salt. Reduce heat to a low boil and let cook for 20-25 minutes. The lentils should be tender, but still hold their shape and have a slight bite.

Drain lentils, remove bay leaf, and add to finished pan of caramelized onions. Stir to incorporate. 

3. Put it all together. 

Turn heat to low (at this point you're just keeping everything warm). Add cooked brown rice, another pinch of salt, and mix again until ingredients are evenly incorporated. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. At this point, I usually turn off the heat and cover the dish for 5-10 minutes to let the flavors meld.

Serve room temperature or gently warmed through. 

This dish reheats beautifully and is a wonderful meal prep recipe.