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.

Southern Fried and Syrian Passover

The real secret to good fried chicken is the marinade and authentic southern fried chicken is marinated in buttermilk. Since we keep kosher, I had to find another alternative to achieve the same tenderizing effect that buttermilk produces….. lemon juice. And, since we are not allowed to use flour during Passover, I used matza meal instead, and although it doesn’t stick as well as flour, it worked beautifully. This produces a nice lemony-garlic fried chicken. It is definitely finger licking good.

Passover Fried Chicken with Lemon and Paprika

Serving Size: 8

3/4 cup fresh lemon juice

6 medium garlic cloves, crushed

4 teaspoons sweet paprika

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 (3 pound) chickens, cut into eight pieces each

1-1/4 teaspoons salt

2 cups matzo meal (or more)

3 eggs, beaten

Canola oil

Combine first 4 ingredients in large non-aluminum dish. Add chicken, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, turning chicken pieces over twice.

Line 2 baking sheets with wax paper. Season matzo meal with salt and pepper.

Drain chicken pieces and blot dry with paper towels. Dip chicken into matzo meal. Next, dip chicken pieces into egg and, finally, dip again in matzo meal, coating completely. Shake off excess matzo meal.

Chill the chicken for 30 minutes.

Heat 1.5cm (1/2 inch) of oil to 180C (350F) in heavy large skillet. Add thigh and leg pieces of chicken to the skillet, taking care not to crowd. Cook until golden brown and springy to the touch. When cooked, place on paper towels to drain. Add chicken breasts and repeat procedure.

My husband decided to surprise me this Passover with a bag of potato flour. I have never cooked with potato flour in my life and cannot remember anyone in my family using it. So, I wanted to find something interesting to make with it. I once had a cake made with potato flour and really disliked the texture. I remembered seeing a recipe once for crepes made with potato flour and decided to marry those with a Syrian meat filling I found from Poopa Dweck. She just wrote a beautiful cookbook about Syrian Jewish cooking and I must buy this book. I saw it at our local bookstore and it has my name all over it. The meat filling is called Hashu and it is typically used to fill vegetables. My husband adapted the recipe by adding pomegranate molasses and hot paprika. It is delicious and worked nicely with my chive crepes.

How do you like the kosher squid to the right of the crepe? That is my husband trying to be clever with the leftover crepe batter. :-)

Syrian Passover Meat Crepes

Serving Size: 4

This recipe is adapted from Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews by Poopa Dweck.

For the crepes:

4 Tablespoons potato starch

1 cup water

4 eggs

3 tablespoons of chopped fresh chives

Salt and Pepper

Olive oil

For the Hashu (Aleppian Ground Meat and Rice Filling)

500g (1 pound) lean ground beef

1/3 cup short-grain rice (white or brown)

2 teaspoons ground allspice

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon hot paprika

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 onion, finely chopped (1/2 cup)

1 cup pine nuts

1/4 cup water

For the crepes:

In a small bowl, slowly add the water to the potato flour and mix thoroughly. Add the potato flour mixture, chives salt, and pepper to the beaten eggs and mix well. Heat a non-stick crepe pan over medium heat. When hot, add a little oil to coat pan. Stir batter and ladle about 4 tablespoons into the skillet. Immediately swirl batter to spread the pan.? Cook until bottom is light brown. Flip crepe and cook for about 1 minute until speckled. Fill the crepes with about 3 tablespoons of the meat filling and roll. Heat rolled crepes in a 150C (300F) oven for about 5 minutes or on a Shabbat plate until heated through. Do not over cook.

Syrian Hashu Filling

For the Hashu (Aleppian Ground Meat and Rice Filling)

Soak rice in cool water, enough to cover, for 30 minutes. Drain.

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix well with your hands. Add the meat mixture to a frying pan, add water and start breaking the meat in to small pieces. Cover until the rice is cooked through for approximately 10 minutes.

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