Loving those lentils

Mejadra, a dish that's beloved throughout the Arab world, is a combo of lentils and rice with a...

Mejadra, a dish that's beloved throughout the Arab world, is a combo of lentils and rice with a delicious overlay of spices and a rich contribution of fried onions. (Supplied)

ELIZABETH BAIRD, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:27 PM ET

The idea to feature lentils came one recent Sunday afternoon when authors Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi were in Toronto promoting their cookbook, Jerusalem, (Random House Canada.)

Both men were born in Jerusalem in the same year, Ottolenghi in the Jewish west side of the city, Tamimi in the Arab east side. Thirty years later they met in London where they discovered they shared a history, and when it came to great food, they spoke the same language.

The cookbook Jerusalem is a culinary love letter to their shared home city. Today, they are culinary leaders in London where they own five uber-popular food establishments, four deli/gourmet shops with cafes called Ottolenghi and a restaurant, NOPI. 
But back to the lentils. Ottolenghi and Tamimi were being interviewed live by publisher Robert McCullough before an audience of enthusiastic foodies, many of whom were familiar with Ottolenghi in London, or previous cookbooks, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook and Plenty.

The inevitable question came up, “What is your favourite recipe in Jerusalem?” Without missing a beat, the two replied, mejadra, a dish that’s beloved throughout the Arab world, and bespeaks comfort to both Ottolenghi and Tamimi. It’s combo of lentils and rice with a delicious overlay of spices and a rich contribution of fried onions.

As a tribute to this beautiful cookbook, I am excerpting mejadra, adding Canadian metric, plus recipes for a smoky slow-cooker lentil soup and vegetarian salad. 



Mejadra


Excerpted from Jerusalem (Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi; Appetite by Random House; $39.95).


Ingredients:

  • 1-1/4 cups (300 ml) green or brown lentils

  • 4 medium onions

  • 3 Tbsp (45 ml) all-purpose flour
  • About 1 cup (250 ml) sunflower oil

  • 2 tsp (10 ml) cumin seeds

  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. (20 ml) coriander seeds

  • 1 cup (250 ml) basmati rice

  • 2 Tbsp. (30 ml) olive oil

  • 1/2 tsp. (2 ml) ground turmeric

  • 1 1/2 tsp. (7 ml) ground allspice

  • 1 1/2 tsp. (7 ml) ground cinnamon

  • 1 tsp. (5 ml) sugar

  • 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) water

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper



Directions:

Place lentils in a small saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil, and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, until lentils have softened but still have a little bite. Drain and set aside.


Peel onions and slice thinly. Place on a large flat plate, sprinkle with the flour and 1 teaspoon salt, and mix well with your hands. Heat sunflower oil in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan placed over high heat. Make sure oil is hot by throwing in a small piece of onion; it should sizzle vigorously. Reduce heat to medium-high and carefully add one-third of sliced onion. Fry for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally with a slotted spoon, until onion takes on a nice golden brown colour and turns crispy. Use spoon to transfer onion to a colander lined with paper towels and sprinkle with a little more salt. Do same with other two batches of onion; add a little extra oil if needed.


Wipe saucepan in which you fried onion clean and put in cumin and coriander seeds. Place over medium heat and toast seeds for a minute or two. Add rice, olive oil, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon, sugar, 1/2 tsp. salt and plenty of black pepper. Stir to coat rice with oil and then add cooked lentils and water. Bring to a boil, cover with a lid, and simmer over very low heat for 15 minutes.


Remove from heat, lift off lid and quickly cover pan with a clean tea towel. Seal tightly with lid and set aside for 10 minutes.


Finally, add half fried onion to rice and lentils and stir gently with a fork. Pile mixture in a shallow serving bowl and top with remaining onion.


Makes 6 servings. 



Slow Cooker Lentil Vegetable Soup


This soup requires so little work to put together, bubbles away all day without your attention, and produces a satisfying supper, plus encores for lunch.


Ingredients:

  • 
2 cups (500 ml) brown or green lentils

  • 4 cups (1 L) each chicken broth and water

  • 2 large carrots, peeled and diced

  • 2 large tender stalks celery, diced

  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 
1 large onion, chopped

  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced

  • 8 oz. (250 g) thick-sliced bacon, chopped

  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) tomato paste

  • 1 Tbsp. (15 ml) smoked (or regular) sweet paprika
  • 
2 tsp. (10 ml) dried thyme

  • 1/2 tsp. (2 ml) each of salt and pepper

  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups (500 ml) lightly packed spinach

Directions:



In a medium slow cooker, stir together lentils, broth, water, carrots, celery, potatoes, onion, garlic, bacon, tomato paste, 2 tsp. (10 ml) of paprika, half of the thyme, all of the salt, pepper and bay leaves. Cover and cook on low until the lentils and vegetables are tender, about 8 to 9 hours. Remove bay leaves. If you like, mash soup just enough to break down some of lentils and potatoes and thicken broth. Stir in remaining smoked paprika and thyme. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. Add spinach; let wilt.


Makes about 8 to 10 servings. Good with yogurt on top.



Lentil Salad with Feta and Olives



Directions:

  • 1 1/2 cups (375 ml brown or green lentils

  • Water

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 1/4 tsp. (1 ml) dried thyme

  • 1 strip lemon peel
  • 2 Tbsp. (30 ml) olive oil

  • 1 each onion and clove garlic, diced

  • 1 large tender stalk celery, diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced

  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) diced sweet red pepper

  • 1 cup (250 ml) crumbled feta cheese

  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) minced parsley
  • 
1/4 cup (60 ml) quartered pitted black olives

  • 2 Tbsp. (30 ml) minced green onion
  • 
3/4 cup (175 ml) walnut halves, toasted and chopped


Dressing:


  • 3 Tbsp. (45 ml) wine vinegar

  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) olive oil (approximate)

  • 2 tsp. (10 ml) Dijon mustard

  • 1/2 tsp. (2 ml) salt

  • 1/4 tsp. (1 ml) freshly ground pepper

Directions:



In medium saucepan, bring lentils, water, bay leaf, thyme and peel to a boil. Cover; over low heat, simmer lentils until tender, but not mushy, about 12 to 15 minutes. Drain; let cool in large bowl.


Meanwhile in skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, celery, carrot and red pepper; sauté until slightly softened, 5 minutes. Let cool; add to lentils.


Dressing: Whisk together vinegar, oil, mustard, salt and pepper. Pour over lentils. Sprinkle feta, parsley, olives and onion overtop; toss gently. (Make-ahead: Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.) Taste and adjust seasoning. Top with walnuts.


Makes 6 to 8 servings. 



 


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