comfort food

Comfort from the Levant

Everyone Needs A Little Comfort Once in a While: When I lived in Germany, one of the things I missed most was the comfort food from back home. Coming from south Texas, that food was Mexican food, but more specifically, rice and beans. None of the dubiously named “Mexican” restaurants in the area where I lived served food tasting even remotely like what I was used to so I would cook my own and never be disappointed.

Warm Comfort: In Jerusalem: A Cookbook, author Yotam Ottolenghi discusses how he and his co-chef and co-author, Sami Tamimi, can easily waste many hours arguing over what makes the best comfort food and why but they can always agree that mejadra is true comfort food. Mejadra, a lentil and rice dish elevated with the addition of fried onion, is popular throughout the Arab world and after tasting it I know exactly why. Pure comfort. I have a theory that one of the most common ingredients found in the various dishes that people think of as comfort food is rice.

Simple Ingredients, Simple Process: None of the ingredients are super exotic or difficult to find. The only thing I didn’t have on hand or find at my local grocery store were the cumin seeds, but I just substituted ground cumin. 

  • Brown or green lentils
  • Basmati rice
  • Onions
  • Oil (for frying)
  • Water
  • A little flour, sugar, salt and pepper
  • Allspice, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin and coriander seedsMejadra ingredientsSimple but not Quick: When I say that it’s a simple recipe, I’m not saying it’s a quick one but nor is making it going to take up half your day. Boiling the lentils is quick and painless but I can’t say the same for slicing all of those onions and then frying them in three separate batches. But it is worth it because the onions really make the dish sing!

Lentils boiling

Sliced onions 2

I might have cried a little in the process of slicing these onions.

Onions frying

One of the three batches of onions frying.

Bringing it All Together: Once I cooked the lentils and fried the onions, I toasted the spices before stirring in the rice, lentils, and water then covering it to let simmer after bringing it to a quick boil. After that, I lifted the lid briefly to cover the whole pot with a tea towel and then quickly placed the lid back on and waited for ten more minutes before getting to stir in half of the fried onions, plate it, and top it with the remainder of the onions.

The Finish Line: The chefs advise serving it with a dollop of Greek yogurt. I ate mine with it and the creamy tanginess complemented the mejadra beautifully. I had the same problem I always have when eating legumes and grains: I couldn’t stop. The good news is that this is healthful dish so I didn’t feel any quilt about grabbing seconds (or thirds). The warm, generously spiced flavor of mejadra is addictive.

Make It Yourself! You can find the recipe to make mejadra here. Warning: Unless you are lucky enough to have a spice kitchen, your house will smell of the toasted spice for a day or two!