Cookbooks will tell you that, in the Middle East, mujadara is the essence of comfort food, a humble dish made from pantry staples. To that I will add how easy it is to make.
The only part that needs some attention is the frying of the onions (or in this case, leeks). To get them crisp, you have to cook them until they are deeply brown and darker than you might be comfortable with. But without the deep color, you don’t get the crunch. Just make sure to take them off the heat before they burn. You want the majority to be mahogany, not black (though a few black strands would be O.K.).
1 cup brown or green lentils
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, roots trimmed
2 ¼ teaspoons salt, more as needed
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
¾ cup long-grain rice
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
4 cups trimmed and chopped spring greens (chard leaves, spinach, kale, mustard or a combination)
- Place lentils in a large bowl and add warm tap water to cover by 1 inch. Let soak.
- Meanwhile, halve leeks lengthwise; run under warm water to release any grit. Thinly slice leeks crosswise.
- Heat oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat. Add leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crispy, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer half the leeks to a bowl to use for garnish and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt.
- Stir garlic into the pot with the remaining leeks and cook for 15 seconds until fragrant. Stir in rice and sauté 2 minutes. Stir in cumin, allspice and cayenne; sauté 30 seconds.
- Drain lentils and stir into pot. Add 4 1/4 cups water, 2 teaspoons salt, bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Rinse greens in a colander and spread damp leaves over lentil mixture. Cover and cook 5 minutes more, until rice and lentils are tender and greens are wilted. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Serve sprinkled with reserved crispy leeks.
Other Info (pictures, nutrition, etc)
This is a staple dish from my husband's side of the family, but we brown onions not leeks, and do it separately. Therefore we use much less oil for the mujadara itself. My family seasons it as they like at the table, using the onions, Greek yogurt, and/or Siracha Melissa-style.
Swap out the rice for bulgar wheat and I find that the texture of the dish is far superior.
I also had trouble w/ the leeks. Not so crispy - more like soggy. I spread them on an baking sheet and put them under the broiler on low which helped quite a bit.
I have made this recipe several times, but today's variation was the best. We didn't have greens, so I used cauliflower and sautéed cherry tomatoes instead. Squeezed juice from half lemon on at end. Most importantly, simmered lentils for five minutes without rice, then added basmati rice! In the past, the rice had always gotten mushy before the lentils were done.
I grew up w/ Lebanese grandparents nearby & this was 1 of our staples. It's a complete protein too. I also often use bulgur wheat instead of rice, & have never used anything but yellow onions cooked dark brown in oil. Some saved for the top. It's meant to be eaten at room temp, after a few hrs on counter, & is often better next day. We had a gr. salad w/ oil & lem. dressing, & lots of my g'ma's homemade "Syrian" bread, as she called it. So good.
You need to preheat your pan, then pour in the oil; wait until it begins to shimmer; put a few slivers of leek in. If they immediately begin to sizzle, add the rest. If your oil is not hot enough you are going to soak it all up with the leeks, creating a greasy mess. If the leeks brown too quickly, lower the heat. Be sure to turn frequently, shaking the pan to distribute leeks evenly. I used one huge leek in an 11" steel skillet. Also, be sure leeks are dry before frying. It took 15 min.
I'm Lebanese and Armenian and have been making this for years. I cook the rice and lentils in chicken broth. When they're done I let them sit for about 10 minutes. Then I add fresh or frozen spinach, fresh minced garlic, feta cheese and kalamata olives (pitted and quartered). I finish it off by squeezing the juice of a lemon over it--depending on the size of the lemon.
Nutritional analysis per serving (6 servings)
9 grams fat: 1 gram saturated fat, 6 grams monounsaturated fat, 1 gram polyunsaturated fat
44 grams carbohydrates: 4 grams dietary fiber, 2 grams sugars
10 grams protein
279 milligrams sodium