Ottolenghi’s Mejadra recipe is serious comfort food, Middle Eastern style. Mejadra, (or Mujaddara) is a hearty vegan and gluten free basmati rice and lentil dish that’s sustained Muslims, Christians, and Jews for centuries.
Now we all can get in on the action thanks to Yotam Ottolenghi, who included a recipe for it in his now famous cookbook, Jerusalem. I flip through the book whenever I’ve had a frustrating day in the kitchen, and I always come away with a gem.
This gorgeous lentil and rice pilaf can be a hearty appetizer, or a stow stopping vegan meal.
I’ve made quite a few of Ottolenghi’s recipes over the last couple of years and what continues to amaze me is how each one offers a slightly new flavor experience, This highly spiced rice is very different even from the other rice based dishes I’ve made from Jerusalem, like Caramelized Onion and Cardamom Rice, or the Basmati and Wild Rice with Chickpeas, Currants, and Herbs.
Ottolenghi somehow manages this fabulous variety without lots of hard to find or exotic ingredients. I made this dish straight from the pantry, which may be part of the reason it’s been so popular with so many cultures for so long.
Tip: Toast your spices before you add them to your recipes, it brings out the essential oils and allows their flavor to bloom.
The smokey aroma of toasting cumin and coriander seeds gives you a hint of what’s in store. A heavy but nuanced blend of more spices follows them into the pan, along with the basmati rice and par-cooked lentils. Then it’s just about 15 minutes of slow cooking, and a few more minutes of sitting by the side of the stove.
This dish isn’t complete without those glorious fried onions!
They add a salty, sweet, crisp element that pretty much defines comfort. You can make these ahead if you want, and leave them out, uncovered, until dinner time. I love the way the dish calls for half of them to be tossed in with the rice and the rest to be piled on top.
This dish makes such a pretty presentation that I think it would be great on a holiday table, and as an added bonus it provides a gluten free and vegetarian option for your guests.
Enjoy! (I know you will!)
Other Middle Eastern recipes to try ~
- 2 cups vegetable oil
- 1 large or 2 medium onions sliced in 1/8 inch thick slices
- 3 Tbsp flour omit for gluten free
- pinch of salt
for the main dish
- 1 1/4 cups or 250g, green lentils
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1½ Tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 cup or 200g, basmati rice
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 1½ tsp ground allspice
- 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp sugar
- salt and black pepper
- 1 1/2 cups or 350ml, water
- chopped parsley
- Separate the onion slices into rings, and toss with the flour and salt.
- Heat the oil in a pot and fry the onions, in batches, in the hot oil for about 5 minutes until they are browned and crisp. Test the oil by dropping an onion in, it should sizzle on contact. If the onions fry too quickly, reduce the heat. I found that 300F worked well, if you have a thermometer.
- Drain the onions on paper towels and set aside.
- Rinse the lentils well, put them in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook for about 12 minutes, until the lentils have begun to soften, but still have some bite to them. Drain and set aside.
- In a large pan heat the coriander and cumin seeds for a few minutes until you begin to smell their aromas. Add the rice, oil, spices, sugar, salt and pepper and stir to combine everything. Add the water and the cooked lentils. Bring everything to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and cook on low for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, lift the cover and lay a fresh tea towel over the pan, replace the cover, and set aside for 10 minutes.
- Turn the rice into a large bowl, and toss with half the fried onions. Place the rest of the onions on top of the rice, and serve, sprinkled with a little chopped parsley.
notes and variations