I moved from New York to LA earlier this year, and one of the Manhattan places I miss most is a little middle eastern market called Kalyustan’s. Pretty much any spice you can think of is available at Kalyustan’s, along with a wide selection of canned and jarred goods from around the world. They also have a small cafe upstairs that serves delicious hot prepared food that you can eat there or take home. The menu includes falafel, grape leaves, samosas, and my personal favorite, the mujadarrah. When I lived in NYC, I would hit Kalyustan’s every weekend, browsing the aisles for interesting finds, then hitting the cafe for some killer mujadarrah.
Since moving to LA, I haven’t found anyplace that matches Kalyustan’s multicultural offerings generally, or their mujadarrah specifically. So, when I found myself craving the dish recently, I decided to take matters into my own hands. Mujadarrah is nothing exotic — just rice, lentils, onions, olive oil, and pepper — but it had been a while since I made it myself. Also, after several years living in Manhattan with no kitchen and ample delivery options, my cooking skills had dulled. Luckily, I remembered an excellent recipe from Deborah Madison’s cookbook, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. When I was in school, I would make a huge pot of the stuff, then eat it for the rest of the week.
Luckily, mujadarrah easy to make. It’s key, as Madison reminds her readers, not to skimp on the olive oil, which helps bind the rice and lentils. I would add that lots of freshly ground black pepper is similarly crucial. What I particularly like about Madison’s version is the way the caramelized onions are cut into rounds, not diced, making their smokey sweetness more pronounced. The results were spectacular — even better than Kalyustan’s!
Mujadarrah (From Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone):
6 tablespoons of olive oil,
1 very large onion, sliced into rounds ¼ inch thick,
1 ¼ cups green or brown lentils, sorted and rinsed,
Salt and freshly milled pepper,
¾ cup white or brown long-grain rice
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it’s a rich, dark brown, about 12 minutes. Meanwhile, put the lentils in a saucepan with 1 quart water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes. Add the rice, plenty of pepper(!), and, if needed, additional water to cover. Cover and cook over low heat until the rice is done, about 15 minutes. Stir in half the onions, then cover and let stand off the heat for 5 minutes. Spoon the lentil-rice mixture onto plates or a platter and cover with the remaining onions.