March Forth! Today is the only day of the year whose date is also a command, an exhortation, a rally cry.
There are many things I could march forth and do today--I did, in fact, march down to my compost pile, in snow boots but not in snow shoes, which is an improvement over a few weeks ago. But I decided that I also needed to march forth and blog, and what I needed to blog about was mujaddara.
It is hard, admittedly, to get very excited about cooking in early March. The vegetables available are the same ones that have been available for months--i.e. vegetables in season in the southern hemisphere or those that can survive for months in a root cellar. It's hard to cheer for chard or kale or even sweet potatoes in March. March is that kind of month.
And it's still winter, of a sort. I was skyping with my friend Sonia this morning, and she was exalting about the sun in Geneva and how she'd walked back to her house with no gloves on except when she was in a particularly shady bit. I said that it was not not sunny here, and we agreed that was an improvement. There are flashes of sun on this early March afternoon, and the sky is brighter than it's been in days. But still, to get to the compost requires snow boots, and when I went for my Sunday run yesterday afternoon, I had to choose a route that avoided the bike path, which is still mostly snow-covered and slippery. Then again, I didn't leave the house until almost 5 p.m., and that would have been unheard of even a month ago. So, spring is on its way, but it's most definitely not here yet.
And so, mujaddara--a 3 ingredient dish that is absolutely more than the sum of its parts. It doesn't require any sad winter vegetables, although, of course, you could (and probably should) serve it with a vegetable on the side. (I enjoyed mine last night with a bit of roasted sweet potato.)
I'm sure that there are as many versions of mujaddara as there are Middle Eastern grandmothers, but I have been making the Food 52 version for several years now and have found no reason yet to expand my horizons. (The version in the new Ottalenghi Jerusalem cookbook might be that reason, but not quite yet.) The ingredients are these: lentils, rice, onions. There is also olive oil and butter, and there is salt, but that really is the sum total of the ingredients. You boil the lentils, you cook the rice, you caramelize the onions and then you mix it all together and let it sit--for 15 minutes, for several hours, for a day. What you will find is savory and a bit sweet from the onions and slightly salty and altogether delicious. Rivka's Food 52 recipe adds a spiced yogurt, and many (though not all) of the commenters over there found that it made the dish for them. Alas, it didn't for me. I made the spiced yogurt the first time I made the dish but not since. I may experiment with coming up with a spiced yogurt I like better, but in the meantime, I've been eating the mujaddara with plain yogurt from Side Hill Farm and enjoying every mouthful.
Last night, Alex and I were talking on the phone, and as soon as I said, "I made the mujaddara with caramelized onions," he said, "I'll be right over." His reactions are not always that immediate.
What I love about this recipe is that it's simple--you can basically caramelize the onions while the lentils and rice are cooking, limiting your time at the stove--and delicious and easily adaptable. If you or your guests are gluten-free, no problem. Vegan--just swap out the butter with olive oil. Vegetarian, easy. Carnivorous--well, maybe then you'd serve it as a side, but still, it's a delicious one.
Soon enough, we'll be able to expand our winter repertoire to include the earliest spring greens, asparagus, green garlic, chives and more. But in the meantime, as we wait March out (and entertain ourselves while doing so--it's Tournament of Books time again!), there is mujaddara, and that is at least some consolation.
Mujaddara (minus the spiced yogurt)
(adapted from Rivka at Food 52)
- 3/4 cups Puy lentils (aka French lentils, the tiny dark brown ones)
- 1 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1 cup jasmine rice
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 cups onions (about 3 medium onions), halved and thinly sliced
- Put lentils, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 4 cups water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer lentils until soft but not mushy, about 20 minutes. Drain lentils and set aside.
- At the same time, add rice, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 1/2 cups water to another pot, set over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Turn heat down and cover. (My jasmine rice takes between 15-20 minutes to cook on very low heat.) Remove lid and fluff with a fork. Set aside.
- While rice and lentils are cooking, set a wide, deep saute pan over medium-low heat and add butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil. When butter has mostly melted, add onions and toss to incorporate with butter and oil.
- After 5 minutes, onions will have softened slightly and started to release their liquid. Raise heat to medium and cook 10 to 12 minutes more, until onions are very soft and browned. Add water by the tablespoon if pan gets too dry or if onions start to stick. When onions are well browned, add last tablespoon of olive oil and raise heat to high. Cook another 3 to 4 minutes, until bottom layer of onions has charred and crisped; try not to stir too much, or onions won't crisp up. (Note: I never added the final tablespoon of oil, and it was still fine.)
- Combine rice, lentils, and most of the onions in large serving bowl and let sit for at least 15 minutes, to marry the flavors together. (This dish definitely improves with age.) Taste, and add more onions if desired.
- If mujaddara has cooled significantly, reheat in a low oven or even in the microwave for a couple minutes. To serve, plate a big scoop of mujaddara and top with a dollop of yogurt.