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.