Yotam Ottolenghi’s Mejadra (Rice and Lentils)

Mejadra - A Little Yumminess

A Little Yumminess_Mejadra

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.

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Lentils, Lentils Everywhere!

Since we are on the topic of lentils and I finally posted our dhal recipe, I thought I’d share some of my recent “lentil” experiments.  Our little one is such a big fan and they are so good for you, why not try some new/unique twists on the humble lentil?

Of late, I am taking a page from Mark Bittman’s strategy and trying to eat vegan once a week. Mark is in the business of eating good food (lucky guy!) and I can imagine that it can take a toll on your health and waistline. Risks notwithstanding, I would kill for his job and skill as a writer. Mark decided to go “vegan before dinner time everyday”, to get his health and weight back on track.  What that means is from the time he wakes up until dinner, he eats only fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.  And then starting at dinner, he eats like his job and passions require him to.  Within a few months, he lost 35 pounds, and his health issues (blood sugar levels, cholesterol and sleep apnea) largely resolved themselves.  Sounds like something I could actually do and far better than all those fad diets floating around.

My plan is a partial adoption of Mark’s.  Just to give my system a weekly break. I have noticed that when I eat vegan for a few days and avoid gluten and processed food, my skin actually looks and feels better.  Forget weight loss, glowing skin is worth a whole lot more! 🙂

Curried Lentils with Paneer/Tofu adapted from Sunset Magazine

Serves 4

You can find cooked lentils at Trader Joe’s. The Indian mama in me could not buy the pre-cooked lentils, though I am told, the Trader Joe’s stuff works well.  You can find paneer–a fresh Indian cheese that’s pressed until firm–at well-stocked grocery stores or Indian markets.  Tofu works just as well and is a healthier option.  A good dish to bring to a potluck with some basmati rice and perhaps, our current top favorite, some carrot raita.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large carrot, shredded
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 2 cups cooked lentils
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 ounces paneer or extra-firm tofu, cut into cubes (I cubed and fried this separately.  Used tofu to keep the dish vegan)
Method
  1. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Add spices and toast until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  3. Add onion and garlic and cook until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add carrot, peas, lentils, salt, and remaining 2 tbsp. oil, stirring to combine. Stir in paneer and cook 2 minutes.

Lentil Salad

This recipe is from my friend Lena’s blog, A Happier Meal and I made it for a July 4th family reunion.  Lena’s blog has a bunch of other lentil recipes which you should check out.

Serves 4-6

Mix 2-2.5 cups of cooked lentils (french or beluga lentils would be best here, or a mix) with 1-2 cups of mixed chopped vegetables. In my version, I used zuchinni, peppers and red onions roasted in the oven.

According to Lena, English or sugar snap peas would also be perfect additions (for a more spring feel), as would fresh corn, cucumber, bell peppers, etc. Add a combination of chopped herbs you have some on hand: parsley, cilantro, mint and tarragon would be great choices.  Toss with lemon juice or your favorite vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. If desired, add crumbled goat cheese, feta or Mexican cotija cheese.  Obviously, cheeses should be omitted for a vegan dish.

Please do share some of your favorite lentil recipes below, we’d love to give them a try.