Congratulations! You must be an extremely curious person, in order to look into this dish. We have to admit that Mejadra (though being very tasty) is not one of the most photogenic dishes in the world. Your perseverance will be rewarded now with a lovely story and recipe.
Renowned in the Middle-East for its simplicity and yet high nutritional value, the Mejadra (literally means “smallpox” - the lentils in the dish give the illusion of pockmarks on a person’s face) was nicknamed “Poor people’s food”, though it was enjoyed by all levels of society.
Mejadra has its roots in the area of Iraq and Syria since the middle ages (many assume that it is connected to the “Mess of Pottage” dish that Jacob used in order to buy Esau’s birthright), though today it is found in many countries in the region and accordingly has gained some variations - while the Syrian cook requires nothing more than oil, rice, lentils, caramelized onions, cumin, salt, pepper and water, the Iraqi cook requests the company of garlic and tomato and the Persian cook would not even think of calling it a dish without the immediate addition of raisins, saffron, dates and some meat or chicken.
Here I will give you a basic, though tasty recipe of my own favorite Mejadra:
• 1 tsp cumin seeds
• 1 tbs vegetable oil
• 2 medium onions, sliced to rings
• 1 cup brown lentils
• 3 cups water
• 2 tbs vegetable oil
• 2 medium onions, chopped
• 5 cloves of garlic, minced
• Salt and ground pepper
• 2 cups basmati white rice
• 2 cups water
• Fresh coriander bunch, chopped
• 3 medium tomatoes, sliced in wedges (optional)
• Yoghurt Mint dip (optional)
Put a frying pan on medium heat, wait 1-2 minutes until very hot, add the cumin seeds and toast them for a few minutes until they are a shade darker coupled with a strong aroma, take off the heat (keep the pan on the side, do not clean it), cool the seeds, grind them to powder and set aside.
Put the pan back on high heat, wait 1-2 minutes until very hot, add the oil and the sliced onions, lower to medium-low heat, caramelize them until they become tender brown (not burnt), it takes around 15 minutes. Take them off the pan and set aside.
Combine lentils and 3 cups of water in a saucepan, put on high heat and cover, when it reaches boiling point - lower to lowest heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until almost soft. Take the pan off the heat, use a colander to rinse the lentils from the pan (while saving at least 1 cup of cooking water on the side), cool them under a tap water and set aside.
Put a saucepan on the heat, wait 1-2 minutes until very hot, add the oil and chopped onions, saute for 4-5 minutes until onions achieved translucency, add the garlic, saute for another minute, add toasted cumin powder, salt, ground pepper and rice, fry until rice is a shade or two lighter, add the lentils together with 2 cups of water and 1 cup of cooking water, cover it, bring to boil, lower the heat to lowest and wait till all the water got absorbed - around 10-15 minutes.
Turn the heat off, leave the cover for 10 minutes and then mix in the coriander with the Mejadra. Pour into saucers and add tomato wedges and yoghurt on the side.
She’Hiya Je’Yida! (Bon Appetit in Arabic)
by: Amit Rabin