Mjaddra Hamra – LENTIL PILAF WITH CARAMELISED ONIONS 

One of the dishes that always causes a dispute is mjaddara. There are so many variations to the recipe, but the uniting elements are lentils, onions, and bulgur or rice. The debates range from which lentils are used and are they creamed, to whether you use bulgur or rice or spices and is it mjaddara or mdardara? The list goes on… To me, mjaddara is when the proportions of lentils to bulgur/rice is higher. Mdardara uses almost equal proportions and is flavoured with cumin and fried onions on top. Mjaddara safra uses split yellow lentils; mjaddara hamra uses whole ones and gets its flavour from deeply caramelising the onions. Msaffaye means ‘strained’ and is made by pureeing cooked brown lentils, then cooking the rice or bulgur with them until thickened. A recipe in Kitab al-Tabikh, a cookbook compiled in 1226 by al-Baghdadi in Iraq, stated that this beloved vegetarian dish was served with minced (ground) meat in rich people’s celebrations, while the meatless one was the food of the poor. 

Mjaddara hamra is what my family used to make. It is common in South Lebanon and Palestine. My grandma called it the ‘nails of the knees’ because of the high iron content. Pair it with some fresh bread, a zesty salad, green olives and lots of fresh veggies. 

Last year, at the beginning of 2021, I had made Mjaddara and shared it on Instagram and, to my surprise, so many of my friends also made it the same week.
This year I decided to make it official and annonce the tradition of Mjaddara Week as the first week of every year.

The reason behind everyone making Mjaddara on the first week of the year is because we just want something quick and easy that has nothing to do with the holidays food that we’ve been having for the past two week, and Mjaddara comes to the rescue with its nutritional value and affordability and for the fact that we’d serve lots of seasonal veggies and pickles with it.

Italians have lentils on the new year and consider it a symbol of good fortune for the upcoming year for they resemble little coins and we have Mjaddara.

Therefore, by the power vested in me, I declare the first week of every year to be The National, or rather International, Mjaddara Week.

This recipe is from my book Bayrut The Cookbook, published on October 2021.

Mjaddara Hamra

Serves 2 persons

Ingredients

  • 500 g (1 lb 2 oz) whole red lentils, rinsed
  • 2.25 litres (9 cups) water
  • 600 g (1 lb 5 oz) onions, finely chopped
  • 120 ml (½ cup) olive oil
  • 150 g (scant 1 cup) coarse bulgur wheat
  • 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • soft Arabic bread or markouk/saj bread, for scooping
  • Zesty Cabbage Salad
  • fresh veggies and herbs
  • pickled chillies & green olives

Procedure

  • Add the lentils to a large saucepan, cover with 2 litres (8 cups) of the water and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  • Place the onions in a cold sauté pan with the olive oil, set over a medium–high heat and fry until they start to caramelise. Stir often to make sure they are browning evenly, and keep them on the heat until they turn from caramelised to very dark brown – almost but not quite charring. The burnt onions are what gives this dish its special flavour. Once the onions reach this stage, add the extra cup of water and bring to the boil.
  • Pour the onion mixture into the cooked lentils, then stir in the bulgur.
  • Season to taste with the salt. Bring to the boil and cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring often, until the bulgur has soaked up the extra liquid.
  • Ladle onto plates and let cool slightly before serving with your chosen accompaniments. I love to scoop this dish up with soft Arabic bread.

Note on the photo:
I have spent all my morning looking for the photos of Mjaddara I have from 2018 to no avail. I have a chunk of my 2018 photos and recipe, which i have uploaded to the blog then, missing from my storage. I had to resort to the header uploaded back in September 2018 as my recipe photo which is of the lentil porridge mjaddara that is puréed and strained 🥲

One thought on “Mjaddra Hamra – LENTIL PILAF WITH CARAMELISED ONIONS 

  1. So glad to see you again hisham ! Those few weeks after the holidays are always confusing foodwise aren’t they? I tend to eat whatever is left in the fridge/freezer and cook simply which is very weird being an avid cook . I’m happy to learn i’m not alone . I recently heard of a german recipe from a friend that involves boiled eggs and potatoes with a mustardy creamy sauce “senfeier” . I will be making that tomorrow . check it out

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