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Recipe for starchy side dish of lentils, rice and onions

Mujaddara, the rice and beans of the Middle East, is a hearty one-dish vegetarian rice and lentil pilaf containing brown lentils and crispy fried onion strings. Mujaddara is the Arabic word for pockmarked and refers to the way that the brown lentils dot the grain. This legendary ancient dish was said to be the one that Jacob traded with Esau for his birthright. When served alongside some Greek yogurt, the sweetly spiced rice and lentils strewn with soft fried onion is as comforting as it gets. It is best served warm but is also fine at room temperature. Precooking the lentils and soaking the rice in hot water before combining them ensured that both components cook evenly. This recipe pares down the typically fussy process of batch-frying onions in several cups of oil to a single batch of onions fried in just 1 1/2 cups of oil. The trick: removing a good bit of the onions’ water before frying by tossing them with salt, microwaving them for a few minutes, and drying them thoroughly.
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated


  • 1¼ cups green or brown lentils, picked through for stones and rinsed

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

  • 1¼ cups basmati rice

  • 1 recipe Crispy Onions, plus 3 tablespoons reserved oil

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice

  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • ¼ cup fresh minced cilantro


  1. Bring lentils, 4 cups water, and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat to low and cook until lentils are tender (15 – 17 minutes). Drain and set aside.

  2. Meanwhile, place rice in a medium bowl and cover by 2 inches with hot tap water (allow to stand for 15 minutes). Using your hands, gently swish the rice to release excess starch. Carefully pour off water, leaving rice in bowl. Repeat adding and pouring off cold water 4 to 5 times, until water runs nearly clear. Drain rice through a fine-mesh strainer.

  3. Heat reserved oil, garlic, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, ¼ tsp pepper, and cayenne in a Dutch oven over medium heat until fragrant (about 2 minutes).

  4. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally until the rice begins to turn translucent (about 3 minutes). Stir in 2¼ cups water, sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil.

  5. Stir in lentils, reduce heat to low, cover and cook until all the liquid is absorbed (about 12 minutes).

  6. Off heat, cover, laying clean dish towel underneath lid, and let sit for 10 minutes. Fluff rice and lentils with fork. Stir in cilantro and half the onions.

  7. Transfer to serving platter and top with remaining onions.  Serve with yogurt sauce.

Crispy Onions

  • 2 pounds onions, halved and sliced into thin pieces (less than ¼ inch)

  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt

  • 1½ cups vegetable oil

  1. Toss onions and salt together in a large bowl. Microwave for 5-10 minutes until onions have begun to shrink and shed their moisture. Rinse thoroughly. Drain and then transfer to a salad spinner. Spin as much water as possible from the onions. Using paper towels and your hands, continue to squeeze as much water from the onions as possible.

  2. Heat vegetable oil on high in a Dutch oven until the oil begins to shimmer. Add onions and stir frequently until onions turn golden brown (25 – 30 minutes or more).

  3. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with paper towels. Remove onions from the Dutch oven with a slotted spoon, transferring them to the baking sheet in one even layer.

  4. Drain remaining oil through a fine mesh strainer, reserving it for later.

Yogurt Sauce

  • 1 cup whole-milk Greek yogurt

  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

  • ½ teaspoon minced garlic

  • ½ teaspoon salt

Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve.

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