Mujadara is a simple and delicious dish of lentils, rice, spices and fried onions. The first-known recipe of this popular Middle Eastern dish can be found in a 13th-century Iraqi cookbook. This vegetarian meal was once considered to be “food of the poor” — as its inexpensive and readily available ingredients can feed many people. It gets its rich, infused flavour by coating the rice in olive oil and spices before cooking it. If you have leftover rice, you can improvise a cheat version of mujadara and fold it in with the lentils and onions at the end. But it’s always best to start with a traditional recipe from scratch before you begin experimenting with shortcuts — so you know how it’s meant to turn out. This recipe is adapted from methods from my favourite Middle Eastern chefs, who bring Israeli, Palestinian, Egyptian and Syrian influences to their recipes. I remember trying mujadara for the first time as a little girl and savouring the crispy onions — and now, when I make it for my own children, they also eat the onions first!

Vegetarian Mujadara

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6 (depending on if it’s a main or side)

Ingredients:

1 cup vegetable oil
3 large or 4 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced as evenly as possible
1 ½ cups water
1 ¼ cups brown or green lentils
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 cup basmati rice
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sugar (optional)
1 bunch of parsley, picked off the stems and roughly chopped (optional)
1 lemon, quartered for serving
Sea salt and black pepper

Serve this mujadara recipe warm or at room temperature, with a side of plain Greek yogurt or labneh, lemon wedges, parsley and a chopped salad of tomato and cucumber.

Directions:

1. Heat the vegetable oil on medium to high in a heavy-bottom saucepan with a lid or a Dutch oven. Once the oil is hot, add half of the onions. Fry for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions turn a rich golden brown. Some dark bits are fine, that’s where you’ll get the bitterness. If the onions are all the same size, they will cook more evenly. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the onions to a colander or plate lined with a paper towel to absorb the excess oil. (Act fast— the onions crisp up quickly at this stage and it’s in the last seconds where they’ll go from brown to black if you’re not careful). Season with salt. Repeat with second batch and set aside.

2. While the onions are frying, add the lentils to a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and then cook for 12 to 15 minutes, until the lentils are soft, but slightly firm in the centre. Drain and set aside.

Related: 25 Healthy Middle Eastern Recipes You’ll Make on Repeat

3. Drain the oil from the saucepan you fried the onions in and wipe it clean. Add the cumin, coriander, turmeric, rice, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Stir to coat the rice with the oil and spices. If you’re adding sugar, now is the time to put it in as well. Bring to a boil before simmering on low heat for 15 minutes. (Be patient and don’t open the lid — you don’t want any of that steam to escape).

4. Remove from heat, take the lid off and immediately cover with a clean tea towel and put the lid back on, sealing tightly. This will allow the mujadara to keep steaming gently. Let rest for about 10 minutes.

5. Transfer the rice and lentils into a large mixing bowl or straight into your serving platter and then gently fold in half the fried onions.
Top with the second half of the fried onions and garnish with parsley.

Like Claire’s vegetarian mujadara? Try her mother’s recipe for seven-vegetable Moroccan couscous.