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I was at Kalustyan’s the other day, looking through their spices, when I wandered up to the second floor to check out their tea selection. There is a small deli section up there, where they sell prepared foods, which I had never examined before. I glanced over, and the man behind the counter thrust a plastic spoon full of nondescript goop at me.

“You try this!” he insisted.

Who am I to argue? I put it in my mouth, and boy am I glad that I did. I tend towards a diet of meats and sweets, but this vegetarian mush was heavenly. So, I took Dave back there with me, when we were hungry and out shopping for more chipotle. We got a container of the mush and settled down at a table by the window with the carton and two plastic spoons.

An old man sitting between our table and the deli counter became very upset, seeing us like that. He tried to insist that we get a platter, a sandwich, something, not just eat it straight from the container. When we finally managed to convince him that this simple meal was all we wanted, he smiled. Dave asked the man if he had made the mush we were so happily devouring. Yes, he had, and he asked us if we wanted to know the recipe. Oh yes, indeed, please, thank you.

“Do not write it down,” he said, “just remember. Three, lentils. One, bulghur wheat. You put in salt and cover with water and cook like rice.”

“I don’t really know how to cook rice,” I admitted. I really don’t. That’s my weak spot. Luckily, Dave does. “He does, though. He’ll do this part.”

“You must know how to cook rice.”

“He can cook rice.”

“Okay, he will cook it. You cook it like you cook rice. Then, you pour on olive oil. Yes? And then onions.” Caramelized onions, obviously, and plenty of them. “He will cook, and you will eat. Sometimes only I cook, and my wife eats. But I never cook at home.” We laughed, and I assured him that I cook, too; I just rely on my rice steamer when I have to.

I was amazed. I asked him whether you add pepper, even, or any other spices, but he said no. It really is just this: three cups lentils, one cup bulghur wheat, salt, some caramelized onions (we used about two huge massive onions, and I want to use at least three and probably more next time), and some olive oil (quite a lot, really, and the taste of high-quality olive oil really shines through in so simple a dish as this). That is all it takes to make one of the most savory, satisfying vegetarian meals I have ever tasted.

According to the Torah, Esau sold his birthright as firstborn son to Jacob for a bowl of lentil soup (nizeed adasheem) when he returned hungry from the hunt. I have wondered all my life how stupid, how unbearably ravenous Esau must have been, to trade away his rights for something so unpalatable as lentil soup.

It turns out that some interpretations of the story are a little different – they say that Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of mujaddara (or mujadara, m’jadra, dargah, koshary, khichri, imdardarah, mojadara..). Now, that I can understand.

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17 Responses to “Mujaddara”

  1. K@w. says:

    I wonder if you could make it in the rice cooker after all – just toss in the lentils, bulgar, and water and separately caramelize the onions. Or maybe even pre-dice some Vidalias and toss them in the rice cooker too.

    Can you give a little more definition to “a lot” of olive oil?

  2. Danielle says:

    K – We actually did make the lentils and bulghur in a rice cooker, just like that. We caramelized the onions in a pan on the stove, and stirred them and the olive oil in once the lentils and bulghur were done cooking in the rice cooker.

    Adding the onions to the rice cooker without first caramelizing them on their own would be a mistake.

    A lot is a lot! Really, just add it to taste. If it doesn’t taste quite right, or is too dry, add more. I’m afraid I didn’t measure last time, and I suspect it somewhat depends on what kind of olive oil you use, in any case.

  3. Tanna says:

    I understand that many people would think this is a very strange dish not worth eating but I find this meal absolutely perfect in all manner!!

  4. Kathy says:

    Just stumbled on your site and I love it! Your pictures are enticing. So my response to this post is a bit late. Anyway, mujadarra is one of my favorite meals, and I am always excited when someone else discovers it. I had a Lebanese roomate who taught me how to make it and I just wanted to share with you the ideal sides (at least according to her, & my husband and I). I make it with brown rice, cooking the rice and lentils separately. The proportions are 2 to 1 lentils and rice; the only seasoning I put in the lentils is 2 whole garlic cloves, about a teaspoon of ground cumin, salt and pepper. I actually have to start the onions before everything else because I was taught to use 5 or 6 large ones, and to caramelize them slowly in a good amount of olive oil. The onion, olive oil mixture is added to the lentils and rice after being cooked. Anyway, to the sides – forgive my rambling – but you have to try this combination. We serve it with a big dollop of plain yogurt, pita bread for scooping and a salad of (sorry about the lack of specific amounts – just imagine a chunky salsa-like mixture): chopped tomatoes (use sliced grape tom. if they are not in season)
    sliced scallions
    chopped fresh mint & fresh flat-leaf parsley (more of the parsley)
    fresh lemon juice
    salt & pepper to taste
    The combination of the luscious mush, the tangy yogurt, and fresh herby lemony salad is to die-for – I promise!
    This meal is not only delicious but I always feel restored, especially at low-iron times (only women know what I mean). I remember the first time I served it for friends I was apprehensive because I thought it was too much of a peasant dish for them but they were so happy afterwards that everyone wanted the recipe. There are many versions of it, seems like every middle eastern country has a version, have tried many of them, and this by far is our favorite.
    Thanks again for your very enjoyable site, Kathy

  5. Danielle says:

    Tanna – I’m so glad you agree.

    Kathy – Oh, neat. Thank you for leaving this comment. I’ll have to try it your way next time! Honestly, I think peasant dishes are often the best – and my father always told me that my maternal ancestors were just like the peasants you see near the beginning in the original Dracula movie, after all.

  6. Jane says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I used to live on Kalustyan’s mujaddara when I worked in that area. I can’t believe you actually got the recipe!

  7. [...] Main Courses: Vegetarian Mujaddara [...]

  8. ha3rvey says:

    Okay, I know this is old news, but I’m caramelizing the onions for this right now. I’m not sure how much water to use for 1 lb. of lentis. Also, I don’t have any bulgur wheat, so I’m using pearled barley.

  9. ha3rvey says:

    Alright. I tried it. It’s awesome. I used some of the Spanish olive oil that my friend Maria Jose suggested I get. This is an absolutely awesome dish.

    I used a lb. of brown lentils, and about 1/2 a lb. of pearled barley. It was great. I’ve taken it to work for lunch two days in a row. The aroma as it was cooking was incredible.

    I’ll keep working on it to get the proportions right.

    I think I’ve been too harsh on Esau.

  10. ceviz says:

    A very similar version of this dish is common in Eastern Turkey, and very tasty! Except Turkish boil the brown lentils beforehand.

  11. ha3rvey says:

    Okay, I made this again this morning with bulgur wheat. My wife says she likes the pearled barley better. Now if I could just get my 8-year-old son to eat it. >sigh

  12. Danielle says:

    ha3rvey – I love how you’ve been updating me as you go along with this recipe. I’ll have to take your advice and try it with pearled barley at some point. Thanks for letting me know how it’s been going for you!

  13. guy says:

    Kalyustan also served Mujadarra as a sandwich. They would stuff a pita with it< Then top it with chopped tomatoe ,lettuce and some tahinna. i would usually ad some of there hot sauce.

  14. Lisa says:

    I now live away from NYC, but loved going to Kalutsyan’s duirng my lunch when I went to college in that area of the City. Yes, I always ordered the mujadara! I was very excited to see this website! Can anyone give a gluten free alternative to the bulghur wheat? I have celiac disease. Thanks!

  15. Maria says:

    I too lived in NY and loved Kalustyan’s for mujadara and so many other delightful things. I never visited Manhattan without a trip down to their store to shop for spices, grains and soooooo much more. After i left NY whenever I flew into NY a trip to Kalustyan’s was a must. I will never forget the time I bought all these wonderful items, preserved lemons, pomegranate syrup, the best olive oil all for a Moroccan meal I was preparing for my mom’s birthday….when we got to the airport they confiscated everything because of the liquid content……I was heartbroken.
    Thanks for sharing the recipe. Although most recipes call for rice I really do prefer the bulgur version the best! And I agree….lot’s and lot’s of onions

  16. Brad says:

    After bringing home some Kalustyan’s mujadara my wife loved them and requested that I make some. I checked on the web and found a few recipes — all of which said “More grilled onions.”

    So for a pound of lentils, I say 6 pounds of onions. I’M NOT KIDDING. Grill the onions slowly (SALT TO TASTE AND ADD PLENTY OF OLIVE OIL then some more) – takes about 90 minutes with a huge pan and constant attention. Or use the American Test Kitchen recipe for the Best Onion Soup and saute 6 lbs of onion with garlic then put them in a large Dutch Oven and cook at 325°F or less for a couple of hours – check and stir on occasion. When the onions are nearly done season them; AND BE BOLD WITH YOUR SEASONINGS. Season them Indian, Asian, Mexican, Peruvian but be bold and you will have no reqret.

    Add gently cooked lentils. Don’t soak. Cook gently to taste.

    Season the onions how you like. Add to lentils and season to taste.

    Accompany with riata, tamerine, yogurt, tomatillo sauce, chipolte or whatever you like. Oh yeah, lemon or lime.

    I once told two friends, a cook and a chef of the recipe and they said in tandem. “With that much onion, anything will taste great!”


  17. [...] Recipe inspired by the post at HabeasBrulee.com [...]

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