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 🥲

The Spill: Food is Political

Food is political
In my country food changed from being a commodity into a tool used by the ever-ruling parties to tame all the citizens especially those who dissed those parties when October 17 felt like a breath of fresh air.

The Spill Political Food cookin5m2

Food is political.
And politics is now dictating what we eat and how we cook.
With the soaring prices of everything due to the inflation and the collapse of the local currency against the dollar, people resorted to looking for alternatives. Imported goods have tripled if not quadrupled in price, which affected most of the local industries as they heavily rely on imported raw materials, which caused their price to also spike, since their only way of getting dollars is at the higher black market rate that is almost reaching 6 to 7 times more than the official rate. With the –expected– lack of support from the government, it is the least described as hell. Continue reading

Scrambled Eggs with Desert Truffles

I remember one time walking out of Hamra street, a once vibrant street in Beirut, during the last days of winter and seeing a vendor with styrofoam boxes overflowing with lump-like things held together with clear tape.
The first time I saw these sandy-stone-like produce I thought they were the world prized truffles with the amazing flavor and the unique aroma. I made risotto and shaved* some of those on top. I even buried one in a jar of short grain rice to fragrance it for risotto.

*shaved, more like crumbled it on the box grater’s slicer side only to get grains of sand later with every bite because I didn’t clean them well

PIN- Desert truffle kema kama with eggs recipe - cookin5m2-0010

Only later did I learn that these truffles are not the same thing.
These beautiful spores are called Desert Truffles. They are harvested not using dogs or pigs like western truffles but by roaming the desert landscapes (not desert dunes, but bare lands with rare vegetation) looking for bumps and cracks in the land. They dig their hands down and pull out the sand hoping there’s a something worthy in there.

Desert truffle kema kama food photography - cookin5m2-0012 Continue reading

Zalabye; Fried Dough for Epiphany

PIN-Zalabye epiphany fried dough-3321

Some serious social media suicidal thoughts were spinning around my head.

I have neglected my social media accounts to a point that they might have died. I tried reviving my Instagram account. But still, I have reached a point where I do activities that I don’t want to share online. I meet people and rather not post a photo of us together.
Is this growth? Is this growing weary of social media? Is it social media suicide?

It is equivalent to leaving the big city and escaping to the mountains and seeing no one, sitting in between of beautiful high trees and waking up to the sound of roosters calling the sun to climb up from its slumber. It isn’t that bad if you think about it.

But for someone who is making a living from being online, sharing stuff online, and getting work from doing work and sharing it on the worldwide web… THIS IS SUICIDE!

Continue reading

Spicy Cheese Tripolitan Kaak and Salmon Cream Cheese Kaak

After touring all day with an Irish couple coming for the Taste Lebanon company I am part of and walking for more than 9.2 Kms, my family decided to go to Tripoli to the Ramadan daily special Iftar and sohour (the after midnight meal that should help you sustain an all-day fasting) that spread all over the city

PIN-Spicy Cheese Tripolitan Kaak and Salmon Cream Cheese Kaak - cookin5m2 -2027

After walking around in the old souk and Khan Al Aaskar, I was delighted by the liveliness of the city. Muslims break their fast at around 8 pm and after that, they’re out in the streets shopping and eating and drinking and playing cards in coffee shops and having a good time. Continue reading