I love all my Ottolenghi cookbooks, but Jerusalem is hands down my favourite one. I think every recipe I ever made from that cookbook is wonderful. I always tell people it’s thé best cookbook ever written. I’ve made quite a few of Ottolenghi recipes over the last couple of years and what continues to amaze me is how each one offers a slightly new amazing flavour experience.
One of my first recipe from ‘Jerusalem’ was Mejadra, a fragrant Middle Eastern rice dish with lots of spices that is so amazing you can eat it on its own! I served mine with homemade lamb sausages. Did I already mentioned that it’s served under a mountain of fried onions? What’s not to love, right? It’s so good that you don’t want to serve it to company, you will want to keep it all to yourself. Mejadra is not only cheap (using mostly pantry staples), but also delicious and nutritious. Everyone knows lentils are packed with plant-based protein and loads of fibre. I can see myself living of this dish for a few weeks if I have to and not getting tired of it. Mejadra is a dish that is very popular throughout the whole Arab world. It simply is comfort food at it’s very best.
You start the rice with toasting whole cumin and coriander seeds which will provide you with a subtle crunch in the finished rice dish. If you don’t like to use whole spices (and I know quite a few people who don’t) just tip the seeds after toasting into a pestle and mortar and ground them up before adding all the other ingredients. It will not affect the taste and the end result will be as delicious.
The best part of this dish are the fried onions, so don’t skip this part unless you are allergic to onions or you despise them in which case I think you are nuts (just kidding Tima). Onions are, next to garlic, only the best way to flavour your food. For this recipe you need a staggering 700gr of onions which need to be cut into rings. A lot of people cry when they are cutting onions, the trick is to not form an emotional bond. When that doesn’t work, you can always try one of the other tear-free tricks for cutting onions like wearing goggles or cutting the onion under a vent. Don’t try the trick of cutting it under running water or freeze it before cutting. Just think of what will happen when you throw wet onions in screaming hot oil. Not a good combination…………
Anyway if you don’t have time or don’t want to deep fry, substitute the fried onions with fried shallots/onions from the supermarket (Asian section). It will still be good, but please also try this with homemade fried onions when you are not pressed for time. Can you already tell I like, no love onions? I just couldn’t go without…………………
My biggest fear is that 12 years into our marriage my hubby will say ‘let’s cut onions out of our diet’ and I’ll have to leave in the middle of the night with the kids.
I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. If you try it, please let me know! Leave a comment, telling me what you think of it. You can also tag your photo on Instagram with @culyzaar or post it on my Facebook page so I can see it. I love seeing your takes on the recipes on my blog!
- 250 g green or brown lentils
- 4 large red onions (700gr before peeling)
- 3 tbs plain flour
- enough sunflower oil to fry the onion rings
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbs coriander seeds
- 200 g basmati rice
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 1/2 tsp ground allspice
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp sugar
- 350 ml water
- salt and black pepper
Place the lentils in a small saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil, and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, until the lentils have softened but still have a little bite. Drain and set aside.
Peel the onions and slice thinly. Place on a large flat plate, sprinkle with the flour and 1 teaspoon salt, and mix well with your hands. Heat the sunflower oil in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan placed over high heat. Make sure the oil is hot by throwing in a small piece of onion; it should sizzle vigorously. Reduce the heat to medium-high and carefully (it may spit!) add one-third of the sliced onion. Fry for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally with a slotted spoon, until the onion takes on a nice golden brown color and turns crispy (adjust the temperature when necessary so the onions don’t fry too quickly and burn). Use the slotted spoon to transfer the onion to a colander lined with paper towels and sprinkle with a little more salt. Do the same with the other two batches of onion; add a little extra oil if needed.
Place a saucepan over medium heat and toast the cumin and coriander seeds for a minute or two. Add the rice, olive oil, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and plenty of black pepper. Stir to coat the rice with the oil and then add the cooked lentils and the water. Bring to a boil, cover with a lid, and simmer over very low heat for 15 minutes. My rice was done in 15 minutes, but rice varies greatly, and different types of basmati can need more time or maybe more water. Follow the directions on the package if you want to be sure it’s cooked well.
When your rice is cooked you remove it from the heat. Take off the lid, and quickly cover the pan with a clean dishtowel. Seal tightly with the lid leave the pot to steam for 10 minutes. The towel absorbs all the condensation so the rice does not get soggy.
Finally, add half the fried onion to the rice and lentils and stir gently with a fork. Pile the mixture in a shallow serving bowl and top with the rest of the onion.