Mujadarah – Esau’s Bowl of Goodness

One day Esau, the biblical Jacob’s elder brother, came home one day from hunting in the desert with no game at all. He walks into the family tent and Jacob, the stay-at-home mommy’s boy, looks up at him and says, “hey bro, what’s wrong?” Esau looks daggers at him and says, “I have had a bad hare day. In fact, I didn’t manage to catch a single hare and I am absolutely starving. What is in the pot?” “Lentil stew” replies Jacob. “Could I have some?” says Esau. “What’s it worth to you?” says Jacob. “Name your price.” says Esau, and that was how the children of Israel ended up with the inheritance of Esau and Jacob’s father, Isaac, the son of Abraham. And the rest, as they say, is history.

We don’t know how accurately this little screen play reflects what happened in that tent some 4,000 years ago. But, then, as now, lentils were a key part of the Middle Eastern diet — perhaps tasty enough for Esau to give up his birthright to his younger brother — and although mujadarah probably didn’t exist at that time, this lentil- and rice-based dish is one of the most distinctive and loved parts of Middle Eastern cuisine.

Mujadarah, moujadara, mejadra, mudardara or megadarra: no matter how you spell it or pronounce it, it is a simple poor man’s dish composed of cooked lentils with groats, wheat or rice, and garnished with fried onions. Many claim it as their own and it is made  throughout the Middle East.  Middle Eastern Jews typically served this dish twice a week: hot on Thursday and cold on Sunday. You can order this as a side dish in every grill restaurant in Israel and find ready mixes in the supermarket. But, homemade is the one and only true way to enjoy mujadarah. It is easy to prepare; the only time consuming part is slicing the onions and frying them.

I think the best way to slice the onions is using a mandoline, but you can also use a slicing blade on a food processor. The onions should be dark brown. The caramelised sweetness of the onions marries well with the rice, spices, and lentils. You can also use 2 teaspoons of Baharat instead of the cinnamon and allspice, if you wish.

Mujadarah - Lentils and Rice

Serving Size: 4

Recipe from Casa Moro by Sam & Sam Clark

For Mujadarah:

1 cup white basmati rice

1 cup small brown lentils

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground allspice

Salt and pepper

For caramelised crispy onions:

300ml (1-1/4 cup) canola oil

2 large onions, sliced thinly using a mandoline or food processor

For Mujadarah:

Place the rice in a bowl and cover with cold water. Rub the rice with your fingertips until the water becomes cloudy. Drain the rice in a sieve and repeat the process three times or until the water is clear. Place the drained rice back in the bowl and cover with warm water, and stir 1 teaspoon of salt. Set aside to soak for 20 minutes to 1 hour. The salt prevents the rice from breaking up when it is cooked, and the soaking reduces the cooking time by half.

Place the lentils in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for about 10 minutes or until the lentils are still a bit hard. Drain and set aside. Make the crispy onions while the lentils are cooking.

To complete the dish, add the olive oil to the pan and add the spices plus 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Stir in a third of the crispy onions, the lentils, and the drained rice. Gently mix them together. Cover with rice and lentils with 1/2 cm (about 1/8 of an inch) above. Season with salt to taste. Cover the top of the water with parchment paper or foil and cover the pan with a lid. Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer after 5 minutes. Cook for an additional 5 minutes. The dish is ready when the all of the water has been absorbed.

Serve with a generous amount of crispy onions.

For caramelised crispy onions:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. You may have to fry the onions in batches.

When the oil is hot, add enough sliced onion to make one layer, and fry over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is a golden to mahogany color. Remove the onion with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining onion.

Tip: The oil can be reused and will impart a flavor of the onions.

Chicken Hamin with Israeli Couscous and Butternut Squash

As the weather get warmer here, I like to start lightening up the dishes. My husband just returned from a two week trip where he only had fish, so I had to make a chicken dish before he started growing scales and gills. After the first successful attempt at making a hamin, I decided to try a summer recipe from Sherry Ansky’s Hamin cookbook.

This recipe just calls for chicken legs, israeli couscous, onions, and water, which sounded too bland for our taste, so I kicked it up a notch and added garlic, slices of butternut squash, Hungarian paprika, and ras el hanut. The dish was delicious and the sweetness of the butternut squash was a perfect addition. This dish can be made overnight or you can cook it for 4 hours and serve it on Friday night like I did. The best part of this dish is that you line the pan with parchment paper, so there is easy cleanup; no muss and no fuss.

Chicken Hamin with Israeli Couscous and Butternut Squash

Serving Size: 4 to 6

Adapted from a recipe in Hamin (in Hebrew) by Sherry Ansky

1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces

1 small butternut squash

1/4 cup olive oil or canola oil

2 large onions, coarsely chopped

6 whole cloves garlic

2 rounded tablespoons Hungarian paprika

1 rounded tablespoon ras el hanut

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

500g (1lb) Israeli couscous (ptitim)

4 cups of water and another 1/2 cup

Preheat oven to 100C (200F) for overnight cooking or 150C (300F) for 4 hours cooking.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan that has a lid over medium high heat. Add the onions and saute until lightly brown. Add the whole garlic, paprika, ras el hanut, salt and pepper; stir for a couple of minutes. Add the Israeli couscous and lightly toast it, stirring constantly. Add the water, cover, and cook the couscous for 8 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed.

Meanwhile, cut the butternut squash in half vertically, keeping the peel on, and seed it removing all of the stringy parts. Then, cut the squash horizontally into 6mm (1/4 inch) slices. Set aside.

Line a large clay pot, or other large roasting dish that has a cover, with parchment paper. Place half of the couscous mixture in the bottom of the pan, patting it down to make sure you have an even layer, and then add a layer of butternut squash slices. Add all of the chicken on top of the butternut squash, and then layer with rest of the butternut squash. Place the rest of the couscous mixture on top and add the remaining 1/2 cup of water. Place a piece of parchment paper on top of the pan and cover tightly with the lid.

Place in the oven and cook overnight or for 4 hours at the higher temperature. Invert on a platter for presentation.

Assyrian Inspired Hannukah

I know I should have made something Greek for Hannukah if I wanted to make something from the relevant ancient enemy of the Macabbees, but I couldn’t find anything that sparked my interest. So, I decided to make an Assyrian dish. They did conquer Israel in 772BC and scattered the tribes throughout the Middle East. But don’t worry, I don’t harbor any bad feelings towards the Assyrians. They are our brothers and still speak a variation of the language of my forefathers, Aramaic. The Assyrians have been Christian for almost two thousand years and make up a small, persecuted, minority in Iraq; many of them fled during the period since the fall of Saddam Hussein because of the violence between the different Muslim factions in Iraq.

Mr BT forgot that we would not be eating at home on Thursday and had taken out some ground beef from the freezer. So, I had to figure out what Hannukah inspired dish I was going to make with ground beef. I didn’t want to make kebab or stuffed vegetables like I normally do. I remembered that I had seen recipes for potato patties stuffed with ground meat, but was always afraid that they would be lead bombs in the stomach. But, in the spirit of Hannukah, I decided to give it a try. Potato patties are eaten in a variety of countries, using a variety of spices or no spices at all. The Russian version are quite bland, while the Algerian and Iraqi versions are quite flavourful. I decided to make a fusion version from Algerian and Assyrian recipes for potato patties filled with minced beef or lamb. The potato exterior is from an Algerian recipe and the meat mixture is Assyrian.

Mr BT calls this type of cooking “Con-fusion” cooking. Con, as in Congress, the opposite of progress. Okay, I know, stop with the bad jokes and get back to cooking.

The potato chaps were surprisingly light and full of spicy goodness. The spices are quite subtle, so make sure you taste the meat before making the patties. If you want to see a good step-by-step pictorial of how to make them, see Mimi’s photos from Israeli Kitchen.

Chag Hannukah Sameach from Mr BT and Baroness Tapuzina!

Potato Chaps or Potato Kibbeh

Serving Size: 4-6 as a main course

Potato Mixture:

1kg (2lbs) white potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters

2 eggs

1 medium onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped

Meat filling:

1/4 kg (1/2lb) lean ground beef

1 small onion, minced

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/4 cup parsley

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

1 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

Pinch of ground cloves

Pinch of ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup canola oil or oil of your choice

Flour for dredging

Cook potatoes in water, until tender. Drain the potatoes and mash them until smooth. Add eggs, onion, garlic, salt, turmeric, cinnamon and parsley.

In a frying pan, saute the onion and garlic in a little olive oil. Add the ground beef, parsley, pine nuts, and all of the spices. Cook until the meat is cooked through. Set aside to cool.

Moisten your hands with water, and take a couple of tablespoons of the potato mixture, flatten it in the palm of your hand. Place 1 tablespoon of the the meat mixture in the middle. Carefully bring the sides of the potato over the meat mixture. You may have to add a little more of the potato mixture to the top of the patty. Close the patty and flatten it. Moisten your hands in cold water before you make each patty. Place the patties on a tray and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Dredge the patties lightly in flour before frying.

Middle Eastern Flatbread

I have to admit that I haven’t been really inspired to blog lately. I have been very busy at work, I am worried about the economy, and the horrific terrorist attack in Mumbai took the wind out of my sails for over a week.

I made this flatbread as I was watching the news that announced the shootings at the train station in Mumbai. Somehow making this bread wasn’t so important anymore.

This is a very quick and easy recipe and the dough produces a nice chewy dough. I sprinkled the bread with a zaatar mix on one, and rosemary & sesame seeds on another.

Middle Eastern Flatbread

Yield: 4 individual round flatbreads or 1 large one

Adapted recipe from Faye Levy

1/2 tablespoon dry yeast

3/4 cup hand hot water

1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tablespoon olive oil

Sift flour into a bowl and make a well in center. Sprinkle yeast into well. Pour 1/4 cup water over yeast and let stand for 10 minutes. Stir until smooth. Add remaining 1/2 cup water, oil and salt and mix with ingredients in middle of well. Stir in flour and mix well to obtain a fairly soft dough. If dough is dry, add 1 tablespoon water. Knead dough, slapping it on work surface, until it is smooth and elastic. If it is very sticky, flour it occasionally while kneading.

Lightly oil a medium bowl. Add dough; turn to coat entire surface. Cover with plastic wrap or a lightly dampened towel. Let dough rise in a warm draft-free area about 1 hour or until doubled in volume.

Preheat oven to 225C (425F). Lightly oil 2 baking sheets or place baking stone in oven.

Divide dough in 4 pieces. Roll each to an 18 cm. to 20-cm ( 7 to 8 inches) round slightly over 3 mm (1/10 of an inch) thick. Put on baking sheets . Rub a teaspoon or so of olive oil and the bread and sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the topping of your choice evenly over each flatbread, leaving a 1-cm (1/3 of inch) border. Let breads rise for about 15 minutes.

Bake bread on baking sheets or baking stone for 8 minutes or until dough is golden brown and firm. Serve warm. If not serving breads immediately, cool them on racks. Wrap them tightly in plastic wrap or plastic bags.

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