Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Lebanese Lentil Pilaf - Mujaddara, with Lebanese Cabbage Salad

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there was a little Lebanese girl with long curly hair, who lived in a big apartment with her mum, dad, two younger brothers, and occasional pets such as street cats, lost puppies and fallen injured migrating birds. 
She and her brothers went to one of the city's nearby schools like every other kid in the neighborhood , and like everyone else, their mum picked them up in front of the school gates everyday at 2PM. On the way back home, the first question that would pop up in the old family car was: "Mum!! What's for lunch today?"
Now it might come as a shock to you to learn this, but the little girl a long time ago, is me! *Gush!*
And the one who popped the question in the car, every single day, was also me! *Louder gush!!*  
You see our mother takes things to heart when it comes to feeding her family. She is a working mum who always, always took time to prepare homemade, healthy meals for us kids every single day since we were born. Never did she feed us out of baby food jars when we were little, and never did she feed us take outs when we were older. The food on our table was, and always will be, made by her own sweet, loving hands. It quickly became a standard for us three, as we now strongly object to any idea of buying pre-made holiday pastries, or time consuming mezze bites. That would be utter absurdity! Heresy!  
And now that I have a family of my own, I can say that I truly am my mother's daughter!

If you're a mother and reading this right now, you might be starting to hate me, or my mum, or both of us upon my pretentious allegations of having the prefect do-it-all wonder mum, and us kids being the perfect, eat-it-all children. You might very well have barely enough time to feed your own self, and a kid who throws a phenomenal tantrum at the mere sight of a broccoli! I get it, really. But you see this is where you've got it all wrong! My brothers and I were, and still are to some extent, very picky little eaters! Our mum had to sometimes cook three different dishes just to have us three actually eat a healthy meal every day.
She never was a believer of force-feeding her children. 
Even if it meant having to re-introduce some dishes for the hundredth time over and giving us the freedom to re-discover it, eat it or not, while still having a backup meal plan under her sleeve.    

This is why, when the answer to the question "what's for lunch" when driving back would come within the lines of "You'll see when we get home", we knew we were in for either some really good news, or some really bad ones. 
The good news would be something like "mountains of french fries and rivers of soft drinks (because that's really every kid's dream). And the bad news would be one of those "reintroducing an unloved meal day with a dish like, well, Mujaddara! 
Oh the fits we threw on this one! Mujaddara is one of those dishes that Lebanese kids either loved, or hated. Unfortunately for our mum, we weren't exactly lovers.   

Then came the day when I moved out from the big nest, and flew all the way out to Europe. And the very first Lebanese dish I cooked there was Mujaddara. No joke. It was a full blown mujaddara with all its caramelized onion glory. Of course my mother didn't believe me when I told her what I've done, I mean why would she when she has spent more than twenty years trying to convince me to finish the plate that's in front of me! Even I still don't understand how that happened. Maybe it has something to do with the "You don't know the importance of something until you've lost it"? Maybe deep down I knew that I could have and cook all the Lebanese foods I wanted, but this one in particular I will not be made for me ever again?
But let me tell you, I am definitely grateful I cooked it, because really, Mujaddara is an outstanding dish with its rustic simplicity. 

It has a very earthy, discretely spiced taste, and cries for a bold, tangy, crunchy accompaniment such as the all so traditional Lebanese cabbage salad and spicy pickles. Since I've been living abroad, Mujaddara is maybe one of the Lebanese dishes that I cook the most, and one of the first to be scooped out and inhaled by my guests on Lebanese dinners or lunches. All of them ask for the recipe, and all of them praise the healthy and nutritious value this simple dish brings to the everyday dinner table. 
So to all of you my Mujaddara loving friends, here is my recipe, finally. 

Mujaddara with Lebanese cabbage salad:
Yield: 4 servings

There are two ways to make mujaddara, and two ways to serve it:
It can be either made with lentils and rice, the conventional way, or it can be made with lentils and burghol, southern Lebanese way. 
And to serve, it all depends on the families, some of them serve it "whole grains" as I did here, or pass it through a vegetable mill to form a smooth brown puree. I definitely love to have some texture in my food, and it breaks my heart to throw away all this nutritious lentil skin. Of course if you have toddlers around, pureeing is a great solution for you and your little one!
Mujaddara is traditionally served hot or cold, with an assortment of fresh vegetables such as: Radishes, tomatoes, lettuce, fresh sweet onion etc., and with homemade Lebanese cucumber pickles which are really briney and sometimes a little spicy.

  • 1 cup dry lentils, any kind. (My favorite is the small red one)
  • 1/2 cup burghol*, you can substitute burghol with the same amount of round white rice.
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin (optional, but recommended)
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 large onions
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
*Burghol consists of boiled wheat berries, that are later dried and cracked either fine or coarse. It can be purchased in big supermarkets or in Mediterranean specialty stores.

Lebanese cabbage salad: (serves 2)
  • 2 cups shredded cabbage
  • 2 tablespoons dried mint 
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small tomato (optional)
  • 1 small Lebanese/Japanese/Iranian cucumber 
  • Salt to taste

Start preparing the Mujaddara:
In a stock pot, put the lentils and water. cover the pot and cook over medium heat. Peel the onions and slice them to very thin wedges. Heat the olive oil in a shallow fry pan, and add the onions. Reduce the heat to low and let the onions slowly caramelize while stirring them every now and then. Both lentils and onions will take about 30 - 40 minutes to be cooked through, so you can start preparing the salad at this point (See salad instructions below)
When the lentils are almost cooked (soft on the outside, but still have a little bite on the inside), about 20  25 minutes through the cooking time, add the burghol or the rice, salt and all the spices. Cover the pot again and let them cook.  
Once the onions are caramelized, take them out of the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on a kitchen paper lined pan or dish. 
Turn the heat off from under the lentils when they are done, and stir in half of the caramelized onions. Keep the other half for garnish.

For the Cabbage Salad:
Finely chop/ shred the green cabbage and put in a salad bowl. Add the tomatoes cut to wedges and the cucumber cut the thin slices if using. Sprinkle with the dried mint and salt, then add the garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Toss the salad to evenly coat it with the dressing.
If you are planning to prepare the salad in advance, prepare the dressing in a bowl on the side and reserve. Add it only just before serving, to prevent the lemon juice from wilting the vegetables. 

To serve:
Serve the Mujaddara in a large bowl for everyone to dig in, or in individual bowls, garnished with the remaining caramelized onions. 
Arrange the accompanying vegetables on a shallow dish, and serve with the cabbage salad and some warm pita bread.


  1. Just made the mujaddara with green lentils and it was outstanding. Thank you so much for posting this recipe :) Only thing I changed was to add a little garlic during the last 10 minutes of caramelizing the onions, because I am a garlic fanatic.

    1. Hello there! I'm very glad you liked it!! You're absolutely right, I also am a garlic fanatic!! I will be posting a recipe soon of a killer garlic spread, be sure you stay in touch for the recipe!

  2. is there a way to make it low carb without the rice?

    1. Hi Kai!
      I have never tried Mujaddara without any rice or wheat, but I suppose you can always try to only add about a tablespoon of thickening agent during the last 15 minutes of the cooking time, instead of the full amount of carbohydrates. You can try cornstarch, potato starch, maybe even some rice flour diluted in 2 tablespoons of cold water. Let me know how it turns out!