Where do cravings come from? Sometimes it seems they follow you for a lifetime, other times they come and go quite mysteriously. My little one is in the midst of a massive pickle phase at the moment which came on all of a sudden and seemingly out of nowhere. He’ll eat dill pickles any time of day (even breakfast) and steals the pickles off our plates when we’re not looking. My favorite junior foodie Ria made her grandparents keep a food diary on their last trip to Singapore, and paging through it reveals a very high frequency of Hainanese Chicken Rice. My older son has always craved the sweet stuff (the particulars change but never the framework), my husband the spicy stuff (or BBQ or chocolate covered bananas). Lately my cravings seem to lead directly to these spiced lentils and rice which are addictively sweet-savory and even more perfect with the tang of yogurt alongside. I’m getting hungry again just thinking about it!
The ease of making this dish is another reason to love it, especially if you plan ahead a bit and cook the lentils the night before. Then it’s really only a matter of a couple of minutes of toasting spices and then plunking everything else to season the rice while it cooks. Admittedly, frying the onions is a huge pain (you’ve got to do it in batches and you have to pay attention so they don’t burn), but it’s definitely worth the effort because they really make the dish. Luckily, like the lentils, you can make them ahead of time.
Yotam Ottolenghi’s Mejadra
(from his book “Jerusalem“)
The last time I made these I served some fried eggs on the side to bulk things up as well as some tangy yogurt and simple green veggies. If you’re careful not to burn the onions, you could reuse the onion-scented oil for other cooking projects.
- 1 cup green or brown lentils
- 2-3 medium onions, cut into quarters and thinly sliced)
- vegetable oil
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1½ tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 cup basmati rice
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 1½ tsp ground allspice
- 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp sugar
- Salt and black pepper
- 1 2/3 cups water
- In a saucepan, cover the lentils with a few inches of water, bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes (lentils should be a little undercooked and definitely not mushy). Drain and set aside. If you do this step ahead of time, cover and refrigerate the lentils until ready to use).
- In a small sauce pan, bring the vegetable oil to 350 degrees F (the oil should be a few inches deep). Fry the onion in batches until deeply golden (about 7-8 minutes per batch). Drain fried onions on a paper towel and set aside until ready to use. You can also do this step ahead if you like. Cover the onions and leave at room temperature until you are ready to use them.
- In a dry skillet (should have a cover and be large enough to accommodate the rice and lentils), toast the cumin seeds for 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant.
- Immediately add the rice, olive oil, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon and sugar, along with a big pinch of salt. and several turns of freshly cracked pepper. Stir to coat the rice well with the oil and spices. Then add the cooked lentils and water and bring to a simmer. Once it reaches a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes.
- Move off the heat and keep covered for another 10 minutes to allow the rice to continue to steam.
- Transfer rice and lentils to a serving bowl and fluff, stirring in half the fried onions. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if needed. Scatter the remaining onions on top and enjoy.