Mujaddara (Vegetarian lentils & rice pilaf with caramelized onions)

For the month of October, Sawsan from chef in disguise challenged us to prepare a rice based main meal that represents our own culture, or one from a cuisine that we would like to explore

Yup! I was the host of this month’s daring cooks challenge. I extended an invitation  to the daring cooks to get creative with rice. I gave them two options: They could share a rice based family recipe and tell us about its history and the occasions it is served in or they could step outside their comfort zone and explore a recipe from a different cuisine, using the experience to learn a little more about that culture . 

Why rice?

Rice is one the most widely consumed staple foods. It is actually the agricultural commodity with the third-highest worldwide production, after sugarcane and maize. That meant that it is an ingredient that is readily available to all the daring cooks but the real reason behind the challenge is that rice plays an important cultural role in many parts of the world. In Asia, for example they have many festivals that are centered around rice harvest time. In the Arabic culture and many others, rice is a symbol of fertility, that’s why they throw it at the bride and groom in weddings

Mujadara (lentil rice)

Despite the fact that rice is a simple grain,the addition of spices, nuts, dried fruits, vegetables or herbs can transform it into  an extraordinary meal. Throughout history it has been on royal menus of various cultures as the main dish. From the pilaf of Turkey, polou of Persia, paellas of the Mediterranean to the Biryani of south Asia.

I offered the daring cooks 2 recipes, Makloobeh and mujadara. They could choose one of them or they could cook their choice of rice based recipes

You can think of Mujadara as the Middle Eastern ultimate pantry recipe.A main meal based on nothing more than rice, lentils, onions, olive oil and of course, spices. The first recorded recipe for mujaddara appears in Kitab al-Tabikh, a cookbook compiled in 1226 by al-Baghdadi in Iraq. Containing rice, lentils, and meat, it was served this way during celebrations. Without meat, it was a medieval Arab dish commonly consumed by the poor. Slowly the vegetarian “poor” version became the norm and is now one of the staples in the Levantine cuisine

Mujadara chef in disguise

Servings: 4
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes

1 1/2 cups (300 grams) short grain rice
1 cup (200 g) brown lentils
4 cups (1000ml) water
1/2 (1.3 grams) teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon all spice (2.6 grams)
1/2 teaspoon (1.3 g) dried coriander
1/2 teaspoon (1.3 g) cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon (0.5 g)cardamom
1 and 1/2 teaspoons (8.5 g)salt
1 big onion cut into strips
4 tablespoons (60 ml) olive oil


1.In a pan saute your onions in olive oil until they are golden brown, drain and reserve the oil.

2.Wash the rice and soak it in water for 10-15 minutes

3.In a pot place your lentils and add 4 cups of water

4.Bring the water to a boil and cook then lower the heat and allow to cook until the lentils are done.

NOTE: Lentils, like all dried beans, vary in their cooking time depending on several factors, including age. Yours may take longer to become tender, but they shouldn’t take much more than an hour. Hard water can also affect the cooking time—if your water is hard, use bottled water.

Drain the lentils reserving the water

5.In a pot place the lentils, rice, spices, the oil you reserved from the onions and the salt.

6.Add 2 cups of the water you cooked the lentils in.
Note Some types of lentils absorb most of the cooking liquid, if you don’t have enough lentil cooking water left, add regular water

7.Bring to a boil then lower the heat and cover the pot until the rice absorbs all the water

8.Fluff with a fork.

9.Serve topped with the caramelized onions.


Mujadara lentil rice

Storage & Freezing Instructions/Tips:

Mujadaracan be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days, it can’t be frozen

Notes:  All spice is ground all spice berries, also known as Jamaica pepper, pepper, myrtle pepper, pimenta, turkish Yenibahar, English pepper or newspice. You should be able to find it in Middle Eastern stores