Rice, lentils and onions combine to make a flavourful Lebanese dish

The more you read the words ‘Dinner in 20 minutes’ the deeper and more varied the meaning that it conveys to you. Some adjectives that come to mind, other than the mandatory ‘healthy’ and ‘nourishing’ are quick cooking, easy to make and so on, until it hits you with a ‘light bulb’ moment. You want to be able to fix something with as little ingredients as possible. After a possibly hot and sultry commute back home from work, the very thought of fishing out 10 ingredients from the pantry... Definitely not!

The recipe for today’s dish, mujaddara, was first recorded about 800 years ago in an Iraqi cookbook, the ‘Kitab – al- Tabikh’. The vegetarian version was regarded as a poor man’s comfort food. It’s a comfort food all right, except that it’s delicious enough for royalty, in my opinion. It calls for exactly three ingredients (apart from salt and pepper for seasoning): rice, lentils and onions. Lots of onions. And no, the mujaddara police are not likely to censure you if you choose to add some chopped coriander as garnish. Despite the industrial quantity of the onion, you need not fear a potential bad breath situation. By the time you’re done cooking them down, they’re sweet, caramelized and almost honey-like in taste.

The advantage of using lentils (whole masoor dal) for a quick dinner cannot be underestimated. They are flavourful, full of protein, filling and the best part is that they cook significantly faster than other legumes in the pantry. They also come in all colours and shapes, from the garden variety brown ones to the vibrant olive green speckled French ‘Puy’ Lentils to the exotic, glistening jet black Beluga lentils. Mujaddara is usually paired with a simple yogurt, but it takes just a few minutes to whip up this simple Tzatziki with a piece of preserved lemon and yes, the classic South Indian sour lemon pickle is perfect for this purpose.

Mujaddara:

You need:

1/2 cup whole lentils (Sabut Masoor dal)

1 cup Basmati rice

6 cups sliced onions

4 tablespoons oil (or ghee)

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Method:

Cut the onions in half lengthwise and slice into thin strips.

Heat oil in a large skillet and add the onions.

Stir to coat and cook down (on medium heat) beyond the translucent stage, all the way till the onions caramelize almost into a brown mass.

Make sure to stir the onion at regular intervals to prevent it from scorching. If that happens, sprinkle some water and scrape off the stuck bits (the six cups will reduce to one cup)

While the onions are caramelizing, wash and rinse the lentils, add 1 1/2 cups of water and cook for about 10 minutes until they’re soft and cooked through, but not mushy.

Similarly, add 2 cups of water and 1/3 – 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the cleaned basmati rice and boil till it’s done.

You can either cook the lentils and the rice separately or fit them in 2 pans in the pressure cooker and allow the weight to let off one whistle.

Remove the rice and fluff to separate the grains, and drain off any excess water from the cooked lentils.

Add the cooked rice, lentils and the caramelized onions into a large bowl and gently fold them to combine thoroughly.

Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and crushed black pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature (remember, the rice is already salted).

Preserved Lemon Tzatziki:

In a small blender, pulverize the skin and pulp of 1 quarter of a traditional preserved lemon or about six to eight pieces of traditional South Indian lemon pickle completely. Whisk in about 1 cup of fresh yogurt. Taste and adjust for salt.

She has three Masters Degrees, has lived on three continents and is a full time mom to two kids. Nivedita Subramanian exults in culinary experiments, combining traditional techniques with foreign ingredients and vice versa. Follow her on www.panfusine.com

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