Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Brown Rice with Caramelized Onions and Lentils

Mujadarah is a classic Middle Eastern dish that consists of rice, lentils and caramelized onions. It's substantial enough to be a stand alone dish served with Greek yogurt, but is also fantastic with chicken and other proteins. Growing up, there was always leftover mujadarah to be found in the fridge ready to heat up. Things haven't changed much, as this remains a favorite dish of mine to have around on busier months. Mujadarah is packed with healthy ingredients (more on that below), but is also inexpensive (see...proof that I can survive without infusing every dish with saffron and morels), and very versatile (easy to throw in a poached egg or other fun toppings)! Over the past year, I've made this dish my own by combining flavors from Ottolenghi and Poopa Dweck's recipes with my own additions.

The American Heart Association recommends a diet rich in fiber derived from whole grains as part of an overall heart-healthy diet. Fiber may help lower blood cholesterol levels as well as the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke. Fiber also keeps you feeling full, so it may help prevent obesity. The lentils in this dish are an excellent source of both fiber and protein, which make the dish incredibly satisfying. This recipe is also a great source of whole grains as it uses brown basmati rice which is rich in both fiber and fat soluble vitamins. Brown rice has a nuttier taste compared with refined (not in the cultured sense) white rice, which gets milled of the outer bran layer and stripped down to nothing (how humiliating), becoming "empty carbs". I'll stick with brown rice, por favor. Serve with a few dollops of low fat Greek yogurt and we're really talking business.

While Mujadarah traditionally uses fried onions, I have two alternative methods of caramelizing onions. I most often use the oven method where I roast the sliced onions with olive oil at 400 degrees for about an hour, mixing every 15-20 minutes. This approach uses far less oil than frying and preserves the crispy, caramelized onion texture and taste. The downside, however, is that some rogue onions may decide to burn, so you really need to watch it closely the whole time. The second method (which I just tested for the first time and love) is Alton Brown's microwave method. I was amazed at how sweet and delicious the onions became in the microwave, though they were considerably more mushy than the fried or roasted alternatives. (I'll need to test this method with thicker onion slices in the future, so look out for updates). Both methods are great, and recipes are below for your enjoyment.

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Mujadarah:
  • If you have a food processor with a slicing blade, give it a try prepping the onions. It will save you time, but is definitely not necessary. I used a level 3 on my adjustable slicing attachment for the Breville Sous Chef.
  • Having a plan and good time management is really helpful. Start with the onions. While they're cooking, work on the lentils and then the rice.
  • When cooking the rice, let it get to a true boil before covering. Once boiling, cover and lower the temp to your lowest setting and don't open the lid.
  • Cook times may vary between brands of brown rice. I used Lundberg organic brown basmati rice.

For the Onions:
  • 4 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (2 tablespoons for oven method)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda (only for microwave method)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
For the Mujadarah:
  • 1 1/4 cups lentils (green or brown)
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 1 cup brown basmati rice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 1/3 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley for garnish (optional)
  • Low fat Greek Yogurt (My favorite is Fage) for serving 

Mujadarah Recipe:
Place the rice in a bowl, cover with plenty of cold water, allow to sit for 30 minutes while you continue with your prep work. Drain and set aside.

Cook onions using either the microwave or oven method (see below).

While onions are cooking, place the lentils in a small sauce pan and cover with plenty of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, cook for 12-13 minutes, until softened, but still retaining a bite. Drain and set aside.

In a medium heavy-bottomed sauce pan with a lid, toast the coriander and cumin seeds over medium heat for 1-2 minutes until aromatic. Add the rice, olive oil, allspice, cinnamon, sugar, kosher salt, and several grinds of black pepper. Mix well so that rice is well coated in oil and spices, add the lentils, then add the water. Bring to a rapid boil, then simmer for 40 minutes covered with tight fitting lid (at the lowest possible temperature). Do not be tempted to open the lid prematurely.

Remove from heat, quickly lift the lid and place a clean kitchen towel over the rice and immediately seal again with lid. Set aside for 10 minutes.

Add the caramelized onions to the rice and fluff with a fork, garnish with parsley, and serve with low fat Greek yogurt. Enjoy!

Method 1: Microwaved Caramelized Onions:
Place half the thinly sliced onions in a large microwave-safe mixing bowl and mix with 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt. Add the rest of the onions and add the additional 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 10 minutes.

Removed bowl from the microwave and carefully uncover and drain any excess liquid. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the baking soda. Microwave uncovered for 15 minutes. Stir well and again drain any excess liquid.

Microwave uncovered at 3 minute intervals for an additional 15-20 minutes, stirring well after each interval until the desired level of brownness is achieved. Set aside until ready to use.

Method 2: Oven Roasted Caramelized Onions:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Using clean hands, mix the sliced onions with 2 tablespoons of olive oil (may need slightly more to coat all the onions) and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. Divide evenly onto 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper so that each baking sheet has a single layer of onions.

Place the baking sheets in the oven and cook for about 1 to 1.5 hours, mixing every 15 to 20 minutes, until onions are browned, but not burnt. Note, once onions have shrunken considerably, you can consolidate the onions onto 1 baking sheet for the remainder of the cooking. Once done, set aside until ready to use.


  1. This looks DELICIOUS. I adore carmelized onions. Put them in omelettes, on tacos, you name it. I'll have to give this a try!

    1. Hey Dani! Definitely try the microwave method. I was seriously surprised by how sweet they tasted.

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