One of the things that I love most about food is how certain flavors, smells and combinations have the power to evoke powerful reactions from us. For instance, a creamy, gooey mac n’ cheese makes me long for the comforts of my childhood, my sofa and a pair of really warm, comfy socks.
The smell of mushrooms slowly cooking in a Madeira Wine sauce calls to mind family dinners of Chicken Marsala, where we would just stand around watching the magic happen in my mom’s kitchen, waiting for dinner to be done. The aroma of a turkey roasting at Thanksgiving or the smell of a just-baked cake resting on the counter, each recalling wonderfully rich visceral memories.
Mujadarra is one of those dishes for me. This is simple to prepare, yet as flavorful and complex as were my college years. Going to college in New York City, learning who I really was, what I was capable of, exploring the wonders of one of the greatest cities in the world, while being introduced to new ideas in people, business, architecture, world cultures and, of course, food.
My college roommates and I often found ourselves trying to make ends meet in a city where exuberant extremes are almost commonplace. Luckily, a city where amazing food doesn’t always have to be expensive and is usually pretty accessible, if you learn where to look.
Mujaddara was accessible, cheap, filling and, for us, most importantly – delicious. A dish I longed for, looked forward to and was always satisfied by. The Mujaddara I came to know, love and need during those years was rice based, peppered with tender brown lentils, caramelized onions, topped off with crispy fried onions and sometimes parsley.
When my friend Faith from An Edible Mosaic announced that she was writing a Middle Eastern Cookbook based on some of her husband’s family favorites and cultural influences, I secretly hoped she would be including a recipe for one of my all-time favorite Middle Eastern dishes – Mujaddara.
Faith’s book is one I have been looking forward to for a long time and when I was offered to receive an advance copy to review, I couldn’t have been more excited! I had the book on pre-order on Amazon.com anyway and couldn’t get my hands on it soon enough.
Flipping through trying to decide on which recipe to cook for this review was brutal. Here I am tabbing through and trying to make a shortlist, and recipe after recipe looks amazing. But when I saw the Mujaddara, I was so intrigued. I had never seen it done with Bulgur instead of Rice and was trying to imagine the taste and texture. Combining my fond memories of this dish and my love of Bulgur, I just knew this is what I would be making.
This dish didn’t disappoint – it is a perfect rendition. Amazingly, I now prefer the bulgur to rice (which I didn’t think I would). The dish comes together more quickly with the bulgur and the texture is awesome.
If you are a Middle Eastern food fan like I am, you are going to love this book! Faith does a great job breaking down specialty ingredients and techniques and makes this food accessible for every home cook.
Some other dishes from Faith’s book I am really excited about making are…
- Mixed White and Yellow Rice
- Date Filled Cookies
- Sesame Seed Brittles
- Roasted Green Wheat (Farro) with Chicken
- Shawarma Chicken Wraps
- Shrimp in Aromatic Tomato Sauce
- Pistachio Sesame Cookies
In the meantime, here is the recipe for Mujadarra Burghul, courtesy of An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair by Faith Gorsky (Tuttle Publishing; Nov. 2012); reprinted with permission.
- To make this Vegan, omit the yogurt topping and use Earth Balance in place of Butter.
- To make this as 6 Weight Watchers Points Plus Per Serving instead of 7, reduce the Olive Oil and Butter to 1.5 T each.
- I didn’t add yogurt so that is not included in the Points Plus calculation.
- I was out of whole cloves so I used one generous pinch of ground cloves and it was still fabulous!
- 1 ¹/3 cups (275 g) dried brown lentils (or 2 cans brown lentils, rinsed and drained)
- 6 cups (1.5 liters) water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 large onions, quartered and thinly sliced
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 pods cardamom, cracked open
- 2 cloves
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup (185 g) coarse-ground bulgur wheat
- 1½ cups (300 ml) boiling water
- Plain yogurt (optional, for serving)
- Sort through the lentils to remove any small stones or pieces of dirt, and then rinse with cold water in a colander. Bring the rinsed lentils and the water to a boil in a lidded medium saucepan. Cover the saucepan, turn the heat down to a simmer, and cook until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more water as necessary so that they’re always immersed; strain and set aside.
- While the lentils cook, heat the oil and the butter in a large skillet over moderately-high heat; add the onion and sauté until completely softened but not yet browned, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Transfer half the onion to a small bowl and set aside. Continue cooking the remaining onion until deep caramel in color, about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a splash of water as necessary if the onion starts to get too dark. Set aside.
- Put half a kettle of water on to boil. Transfer the sautéed onion (not the caramelized onion) to a medium saucepan. Add the bay leaf, cardamom, clove, cumin, cinnamon, salt, and pepper and cook 1 minute.
- Add the bulgur and cook 1 minute more, stirring constantly.
- Add the boiling water, turn the heat up to high, and bring to a rolling boil.
- Give the bulgur a stir, then cover the saucepan, turn the heat down to very low, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes (do not open the lid during this time). Turn the heat off and let the bulgur sit 10 minutes, then ﬂuff with a fork and gently stir in the lentils. Taste and add additional salt, pepper, and olive oil if desired.
- Transfer to a serving dish and top with the caramelized onion.
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