WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS: Essentially the “rice and beans” of the Middle East, mujadara might be the most spectacular example of how a few humble ingredients can add up to a dish that’s satisfying, complex, and deeply savory.
Though every household and restaurant differs in its approach to this dish, it’s simple to throw together. Basically this mujadara recipe involves boiling basmati rice and lentils together until each component is tender but intact, then work in warm spices such as coriander, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, and pepper, as well as a good measure of minced garlic.
But the real showpiece of mujadara is the onions—either fried or caramelized—which get stirred into and sprinkled over the pilaf just before serving. Their flavor is as deep as their mahogany color suggests, and they break up the starchy components.
The addition of Orchard Choice or Sun-Maid California Dried Figs in this mujadara recipe underscores the mix of sweet spices. Finished with a bracing garlicky yogurt sauce, this pilaf is comfort food at its best.
When it comes to the types of lentils to use, we suggest skipping red lentils which fall apart and are wonderful in soups. On the opposite end of the spectrum are French or DePuy lentils which keep their shape. Instead, opt for green or brown lentils—the kind you can easily find in any grocery store aisle among the legumes. We like green or brown lentils in mujadara because they mostly keep their shape but soften and mesh best with the basmati rice.
When it comes to the spices, make sure to use fresh spices for the boldest flavor. If you buy them ground, plan to use your spices within 6 months. Otherwise, if you buy your spices whole, you can grind them as you need them for the freshest flavor.
Mujadara Recipe with Figs & Crispy Onions
- 2 pounds onions halved and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch thick pieces
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
- 1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Rice & Lentils
- 8 1/2 ounces green or brown lentils picked over and rinsed
- Salt and pepper
- 1 1/4 cups basmati rice
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 cup Orchard Choice® or Sun-Maid® California Dried Figs stemmed and quartered
- 3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
Make Crispy Onions
- Toss onions and salt together in large bowl. Microwave for 5 minutes. Rinse thoroughly, transfer to paper towel-lined baking sheet, and dry well.
- Heat onions and oil in Dutch oven over high heat, stirring frequently, until onions are golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Drain onions in colander set in large bowl. Transfer onions to paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain. (Reserve 3 tablespoons onion oil for cooking rice. Store remaining oil for future use).
Make Yogurt Sauce
- Whisk all ingredients together in bowl. Refrigerate while preparing rice and lentils.
Make Rice & Lentils
- Bring lentils, 4 cups water, and 1 teaspoon salt to boil in medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to low and cook until lentils are tender, 15 to 17 minutes. Drain and set aside. While lentils cook, place rice in medium bowl and cover by 2 inches with hot tap water, let stand for 15 minutes.
- Using your hands, gently swish rice grains to release excess starch. Carefully pour off water, leaving rice in bowl. Add cold tap water to rice and pour off water. Repeat adding and pouring off cold tap water 4 or 5 times, until water runs almost clear. Drain rice in fine-mesh strainer.
- Heat reserved 3 tablespoons onion oil, garlic, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, cayenne, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in Dutch oven over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until edges of rice begin to turn translucent, about 3 minutes. Add 2 1/4 cups water, sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt and bring to boil. Stir in lentils and figs, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until all liquid is absorbed, about 12 minutes.
- Off heat, remove lid, fold dish towel in half, and place over pot; replace lid. Let stand for 10 minutes. Fluff rice and lentils with fork and stir in cilantro and half of crispy onions. Transfer to serving platter, top with remaining crispy onions, and serve, passing yogurt sauce separately.
- When preparing the Crispy Onions, be sure to reserve 3 tablespoons of the onion cooking oil for cooking the rice and lentils.
- It is crucial to thoroughly dry the microwaved onions after rinsing. Be sure to reserve enough oil to use in Mujadara or Koshari. Remaining oil may be stored in an airtight container and refrigerated for up to 4 weeks; it tastes great in salad dressings, sauteed vegetables, eggs, and pasta sauces.