mujaddara – lebanese lentil rice
Don’t hate me. I know, it’s been just over a week since I last posted a recipe for rice (this chinese vegetable stir-fried rice). I could be sharing with you so many other delicious dishes that have been cooking in the savormania kitchen lately, but I settled for this one today because my cousin has been asking for Lebanese recipes. So with this post I’m inaugurating the Syrian/Lebanese Cuisine category, in honor of my paternal grandmother who was just as an amazing cook as my maternal grandmother was.
Let me introduce Teta to you: she was, and will always be, my inspiration. She taught me good household values ever since I was a little kid, making me clean my bedroom and my closet a million times until not a speck of dust remained. She taught me how to treat my family with respect and love, even when we were going through rough patches. She taught me that life is to be enjoyed every day as if it were the last, and most of all, to love one another with no regrets.
The most beautiful memory I have of Teta was when she would often sit on the veranda of her Panama apartment, listening carefully to each family member’s comments and sometimes including her own words of wisdom. From time to time, she would wear around her neck her most prized possession: what I called the family necklace. With a smile on her face and tears of joy in her eyes, she would slowly glide her fingers through the stream of gold and pearl pendants hanging on the necklace, so as to hear the sweet sound of the metal ornaments chiming in harmony. The gold pendants were shaped in the figure of either a boy or a girl, each featuring an engraving with the name of every member of our gigantic family. I remember her telling me proudly “Sharon, see, here you are” while pointing to the tiny girl pendant with my name carved in cursive letters, adding that “This way, I feel that you are always with me.” I remember feeling so happy as a child, just knowing that I was close to her heart even being physically miles away in Switzerland. Next to my pendant, swayed blissfully Jacques, Yael, and Michelle – my father, mother, and sister. Nearby, over fifty little boys and girls were dangling one next to the other; each engraved with my uncles’, aunts’, and cousins’ names. From time to time, little pearls would be added on to the necklace. Whenever an aunt or cousin was expecting a child, a pearl would dangle, waiting to be replaced either by a little boy or a little girl.
I always wondered why the pearls. Years observing my grandmother’s necklace made me understand the meaning. My grandmother was the queen of our family – she was respected, admired and cherished by all of us. But most of all, she brought the meanings of the words love, happiness, and family into our lives. She taught us that family is our most valued strength, because no matter what and no matter where we all are, we can always count on each other. Each birth in our family isn’t just another person to ornament the family necklace. On the contrary, each baby brings joy and love into our family. Each baby will grow up to become another proud member of such a strong heritage. White pearls represent purity, wisdom, and dignity. My grandmother was the noblest person I have ever met. She was my role model — the wisest and most diplomatic woman in my life. Through the white pearls, I believe she wanted to convey her philosophy to each newborn. She wanted us all to stand strong and be there for each other, more importantly now that she is gone. As a child, the necklace always fascinated me. With such a big family, it seemed impressive that we were as close to each other in real life as on the necklace. Even today, years later, I feel the presence of my grandmother every time I hold the necklace in my hands, constantly reminding me that no matter what, she will always be there guiding us from up above.
5 years ago to the day Teta passed away, leaving me with so many things I wished I could have told her. I wish I could have hugged her one more time, telling her that she created a beautiful family that will be always grateful for everything she taught us. The family necklace has strictly nothing to do with mujaddara, however cooking Syrian/Lebanese dishes is my way to hang on to the memories of Teta. I don’t have the necklace here with me, but when I cook one of her many recipes, I always feel like she’s here with me. This lentil rice was one of her favorite ways to create a hearty meal for the family. The lentils bring so much flavor to the dish while making it very filling. My favorite part of it all is the caramelized — trust me, they’re not burnt — onions that are served on top of the mujaddara. They bring all the crisp and flavor to this classic Lebanese dish that will always remind me of dinners at Teta’s house.
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- ¾ cup (125g) yellow lentils
- 3 small onions, sliced
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 ½ cup (290g) Basmati rice
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- In a small saucepan, combine the yellow lentils with 3 ¾ cups water. Bring the saucepan to boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 40 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a medium skillet over high heat. Sauté the onions until brown and crispy, about 20 minutes. Line a plate with paper towel and let the onions drain on top when ready.
- When the lentils are cooked, drain them and reserve 1 cup of their cooking liquid.
- In a large saucepan, combine the basmati rice with the reserved lentil water, 1 ¾ cups water, vegetable oil, lentils and salt. You don't need to add anymore water, because the lentils will still contain some water in them and will release the liquid while cooking. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.
- Serve the mujaddara topped with the crispy onions.
How did your mujaddara come out? Share photos of your recipe on Instagram by tagging #savormania