Mujaddara

Updated: Nov 10


I prefer cooking in small spaces, where everything is in arm's reach and you don't have to trek from place to place. I live in a small house, with a perfectly functional galley-style kitchen that has just enough counterspace and storage for daily cooking. Unfortunately, only one person can really be in it at one time. When I am cooking I don't care for other people standing in my 3' x 3' space and I am not pleasant about it.


These are some of the things overheard at my house: "When is it safe to go in the kitchen?" "I need to get a glass out of the cupboard but I am afraid to pass the Kitchen Dragon." "Thou shalt not pass." I have been compared (unfavorably) to Eddie Campbell's Angry Cook.*

So I have a reputation in my house.


Maybe because my kitchen can be something of a war zone, I having been finding inspiration in this amazing cookbook Zaitoun, which is a perfect introduction to Gazan cuisine. The recipes in this book are perfect for subverting the Zionists in my family trying to occupy my kitchen.


I first tried mujaddara in a restaurant in Daliyat al -Karmel, a Druze town in Israel. My husband told the waiter that he did not know Druze cooking, and was immediately invited into the kitchen, where Mom the chef offered him a taste of everything. Maybe not the most hygienic restaurant practice, but we ended up having a wonderful meal, and felt the love in all the food she made for us that day.


Versions of mujaddara are found throughout the Middle East, but all of them are made with rice, lentils, and spices, and topped with onions. Mujaddara is generally accompanied by salad or yoghurt. The Zaitoun recipe is very good. I also liked Ottolenghi's version.

My version is made with black barley, which gives it a nice nutty flavor. Brown rice would work, too. Black barley is not easy to find but well worth the search. I once bought some at Fairway in Manhattan, and when I went back to buy more, some shifty store manager told me that they did not have it, had never carried it, and, in fact, tried to convince me that there was no such thing as black barley. I did not appreciate the grain gaslighting and took my business to Kalustyan's, which has mail order.


Some versions are made with fried onions, but mine is topped with carmelized onions, because I never miss an opportunity to eat onions this way.

This recipe has cumin and coriander seeds. They are also hard to find, but worth stocking in your cupboard as they deliver so much flavor and open up so many more possibilities for cooking out of Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines, both rich in vegetarian and flexitarian recipes. You can get them mail order from Kalustyan's or Patel Brothers.


Ingredients

1 cup of black barley

1 cup of green or brown lentils

1 tsp of cumin seeds

1 tsp of coriander seeds

1 tsp off allspice

1 tsp of cinnamon

cooking oil or butter

salt and pepper to taste

half an onion, diced

1 large onion, sliced

1/3 cup of parsley


Instructions

1. Cover the barley with 2 cups of water and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to low.

Barley takes longer to cook than rice. This may take about 45 minutes, and you need to keep an eye on it as water may evaporate before the barley is cooked through. Drain any remaining water and return to the pot.


2. Rinse lentils and then cover in a pot of water and bring to a boil. Simmer the lentils until cooked, about 20 minutes. Drain the lentils and add to the pot of barley.


3. While the lentils and barley are cooking, start the onions. Thinly slice a large onion.


4. Heat oil in a saute pan with the heat on low, and add the onions. Cook the onions on low heat until they turn golden brown and start to carmelize. This may take as long as 40 minutes, so patience is required! About half way through sprinkle a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of sugar.


5. Toast the cumin seeds and coriander seeds in a dry cast iron or nonstick pan. When they are toasted, remove from the pan and grind in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.

6. Heat some cooking oil (this is a great vegan recipe, but you can add some butter to the oil if you like) and add the cumin and coriander, as well as the other spices to the oil and cook for a few minutes.

7. Add the spiced oil to the lentil and barley mixture and toss with salt and pepper.


8. Heat some oil in saucepan and saute chopped onion. When onion starts to soften, add the lentil and barley mixture.


9. Cook the mixture for about 15 minutes, adding some water if it gets too dry. Add some chopped parsley for the last few minutes.

10. Spoon the carmelized onions over the rice to serve.



* Eddie Campbell is a graphic novelist who is mostly famous for drawing the comic about Jack the Ripper, From Hell, but his more personal work is essential reading, even if you aren't a fan of comic books or graphic novels. They are real works of literature. I highly recommend the brilliant and Proustian Graffiti Kitchen, as well as the charming stories about family life in Brisbane, Australia, Little Italy and After the Snooter.

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