I discovered Mujaddara probably about ten years ago at this little Lebanese lunch spot in Baton Rouge, called Serop’s Express. I didn’t know what the brown crumbly mixture was, but I ordered on a whim and I was instantly in love. The soft grain-like mixture was earthy, flavorful, and had an intoxicating blend of seasoning. I immediately googled the recipe, determined to make it myself.
Despite trying several times over the past ten years, I’ve never been able to replicate Serop’s magic recipe. I’ve even had friends question members of the restaurant’s family about what’s in the dish, only to get the answer “rice and lentils”. *sigh* I’ve had mujaddara at other Lebanese restaurants, but none of them compare to what Serop’s serves up. I don’t know what they put in there, but it’s way more delicious and intoxicating than just rice and lentils.
So, what is Mujaddara? It’s a recipe as old as time. As with most recipes this old, there are a million and one ways to make it, but the common thread among them all is rice, lentils, and caramelized onions. Some are seasoned, some are not. Some cook the rice and lentils together, some do not. However it’s made, though, it’s usually extremely delicious, filling, and very inexpensive. So, in other words, it’s definitely a budget byte!
The version I finally settled on is as close to Serop’s as I can get. It has plenty of caramelized onions to give it a deep, rich flavor, vegetable broth to make the flavor a little more complex, and a healthy dose of aromatic spices to keep things interesting. This recipe makes a big batch of about 6 cups, but this recipe will freeze very well, so any leftovers can be saved for later. I’ve been eating mine plain in a bowl, but it goes great with sautéed greens, roasted vegetables, or even topped with a fried egg. It’s kind of one of those all-purpose dishes that can be eaten at almost every meal. No wonder it’s been around so long!
(I added chopped cilantro for garnish and to add color to the photo. Cilantro is not needed for the recipe.)
- 2 Tbsp olive oil ($0.32)
- 4 yellow onions ($1.59)
- 1 tsp cumin ($0.10)
- 1 tsp allspice ($0.10)
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves ($0.03)
- 2.5 cups vegetable broth ($0.30)
- 1 cup long grain white rice (or jasmine) ($0.33)
- 1 cup brown lentils ($0.68)
- Thinly slice the onions and add them to a large pot with the olive oil. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently for one hour, or until they are deeply golden brown, sticky, and caramelized. Remove half of the onions and set them aside to top the pilaf after cooking
- Add the cumin, allspice, and cloves to the pot with the remaining onions. Sauté for about one minute to lightly toast the spices. Add the vegetable broth and stir the pot well to dissolve any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot.
- Add the rice and lentils to the pot. Cover the pot with a lid and turn the heat up to high. Allow the contents to come up to a boil. As soon as it reaches a full boil, turn the heat down to low and let it simmer for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, turn the heat off and let it rest for 10 minutes without removing the lid. Finally, remove the lid, fluff with a spoon or fork, then top with the reserved caramelized onions. Serve warm.
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Step by Step Photos
This recipe starts with caramelized onions, which lend a lot of flavor to the final pilaf. They take a long time to make, but are well worth it. Begin by thinly slicing four yellow onions and adding them to a large pot with 2 Tbsp olive oil. Cook the onions over low heat, stirring frequently for one hour. You can stir less frequently at first, but will need to keep a closer eye towards the end. I did chores around the house during the first part, remembering to walk back into the kitchen every few minutes to stir.
After an hour or so, they should be deep golden brown, sticky, and caramelized. If you don’t like the stringy texture of caramelized onions, you can dice them instead. They will probably cook a little faster when diced and will blend into the pilaf a little better.
Remove half of the onions and set them aside to top the pilaf later. Add 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp allspice, and 1/4 tsp ground cloves to the pot. Sauté the spices with the remaining onions for about a minute. This toasts the spices slightly, which enhances their flavor.
Add 2.5 cups of vegetable broth to the pot and stir to dissolve any browned bits off the bottom. All that browned onion sugar will help give a lot of flavor to the Mujaddara.
Add one cup of long grain white rice and one cup of brown lentils to the pot. I used jasmine rice because it’s my favorite, but you can use plain white rice, if desired. You’ll want to use brown lentils and not French or “green” lentils, because those take twice as long to cook as brown lentils. If unsure, check the packaging to see the recommended cooking time. It should be 20-30 minutes.
Add the rice and lentils to the pot, place a lid on top, then turn the heat up to high. Let the pot come to a full boil. Once it reaches a boil, turn it down to low heat and let it simmer for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, turn the heat off and let it rest with the lid in place for 10 more minutes. After the ten minute rest, you’ll have this (see photo above).
Fluff it up with a spoon or fork (looks more appetizing now, for sure). The rice and lentils should have absorbed all the broth and be soft and tender all the way through.
Top the Mujaddara with the reserved caramelized onions and serve! YUM.