Lentils in my household are usually used in a common lentil soup made by Greeks that varies slightly from family to family. I usually combine the lentils with plenty of finely chopped onion, garlic, celery, carrot, bay leaf, olive oil, tomato paste, water or vegetable broth and a splash of vinegar once done to make a hearty soup my children thankfully gulp down. During the cooler months of fall, winter and early spring this soup is a weekly staple which I turn into a meal alongside plenty of bread, some Feta, lots of olives and maybe a little melitzanosalata (eggplant spread) or other dip.
The other night I was in a no meat kind of mood and was just about to begin preparing my fakes (that’s Greek for lentils, pronounced fah-KES) when I decided I wasn’t in a “soupy” kind of mood either. I remembered some friends of mine who come from Cyprus usually make their fakes along the same lines I do (only without the celery and carrot) with the addition of rice. So I started to look up some Cypriot recipes using lentils and rice and through my browsing learnt that this dish is known as Moukentra in Cyprus (Ivy of Kopiaste will obviously know more about this, so correct me if I am wrong Ivy!) but I couldn’t find a solid recipe to use as a starting point. I believe it is probably made differently across the island, with coriander used in most cases to primarily flavor the dish.
I did find that a staple of Lebanese cuisine is Mujaddara, lentils and rice topped with caramelized onions. I was extremely intrigued by all the spices the varying Lebanese recipes called for and went on to adapt one to my liking. The cinnamon, cumin and allspice in this dish were so amazingly fragrant while cooking — they really set the stage for what I found to be a very satisfying meal.
Lebanese Inspired Lentils and Rice with Caramelized Onions
Serves 4 to 6
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 cup lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 cup rice
3 large onions, thinly sliced
Heat olive oil in a saucepan; add the one large onion chopped and the minced garlic and cook until soft. Add the cumin, cinnamon and allspice and sauté a minute more. Add lentils and saute another minute. Stir in the broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the rice along with the water and return to boil. Simmer, again covered, until the rice and lentils are done, about 20 minutes or so.
Saute the 3 onions that have been sliced in a couple of tablespoons olive oil until a deep golden color, 18 to 20 minutes. Top individual servings of lentils and rice with caramelized onions and serve.