I love Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks: Plenty, Plenty More, Ottolenghi, and Jerusalem, from which this fragrant rice dish hails.
But I may never have discovered this dish if not for the opening of Chef John Gorham’s Mediterranean Exploration Company (MEC) in Portland, Oregon in August 2014.
We ordered the Tomato Fritters, Moroccan Brick Chicken, Mejadara, and Rose Water Panna Cotta with Pistachio Caramel. All of the dishes were perfection, but the Mejadara sent me running to my cookbook shelves in search of a recipe. And sure enough, there it was in Jerusalem.
I modified the original recipe to make it easier and faster to prepare, as MauiJim now begs for Mejadra at least once a week. And the flavors and textures in this dish practically scream for currants and toasted nuts, so those are now options.
The most time consuming aspect of the preparation is the fried onions, but they aren’t absolutely essential. If you are in a rush, either leave the onions out altogether, or chop an onion and brown it lightly in the olive oil before adding the rice. The dish will still taste heavenly.
Almost Yotam Ottolenghi’s Mejadra
This is one of Yotam Ottolenghi’s favorite dishes. You’ll see why after you taste it. It’s both heavenly and earthy, a dish fit for royalty and peasantry alike. It can be eaten hot or cold, plain, or spooned over Greek yogurt. I like it even without the onions, but they really do take it to celestial heights.
I recrafted the original recipe for ease and speed, as this dish now makes regular appearances on our dinner table.
Technique Note Rather than simmering the rice on the stove–and taking a cue from the way it’s prepared at MEC–I sometimes steam the rice, spices, cooked lentils, and water in an electric rice steamer. Very easy and frees space on the stove for other dishes.
Frizzled Onions (recipe below)
Mejadra Spice Blend (recipe below)
½ cup French green lentils (or brown lentils)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup basmati rice or jasmine rice
3-4 teaspoons Spice Blend (recipe below)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
½ cup currants, optional
1½ cups water
Additional fine sea salt, to taste
½ the Frizzled Onions, optional
½ cup toasted, skinned hazelnuts or toasted chopped almonds, optional
- Prepare the onions, and reserve.
- To prepare lentils, put them in a small saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil, and cook for 12-14 minutes, until lentils are just tender with a bit of bite remaining. Drain into a sieve.
- To prepare rice, set a medium saucepan or stovetop casserole over medium heat, and add oil and rice. Toss rice briefly to coat with oil.
- Add 4-5 teaspoons Mejadra Spice Blend, sugar, and salt. Stir to distribute.
- Add cooked lentils, optional currants, and water.
- Bring to a simmer, cover, and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes.
- Remove from heat, lift lid, and cover pan with a clean tea towel. Return lid to pan and let rest for 10 minutes.
- To serve, scoop rice and lentils into a large mixing bowl. Add half the frizzled onions and toasted nuts if using, and toss gently with a large fork.
- To serve, mound into a broad, shallow serving bowl and top with the remaining onions.
Frizzled Onions (Tobacco Onions)
Use these addictive fried onions as a garnish for all kinds of dishes. For Mejadra, they go both into and on top of the rice.
2 medium-large yellow onion, skinned and thinly sliced
1 cup vegetable oil
fine sea salt to taste
- In a large, heavy skillet, heat the oil until a drop or two of water sprinkled on the surface crackles.
- Add onion, a few strands at a time, in order to maintain the temperature of the oil. If your skillet is large, you should be able to frizzle about ½ an onion at a time. In any case, don’t overcrowd the onions.
- As the strands begin to turn a golden brown, remove them to drain on a stack of paper towels. Don’t let the onions become too dark, or they will taste burnt.
- Continue until all of the onions are frizzled. As they drain on the paper towels, they will become crisp. When thoroughly cool, you can keep the onions at room temperature, covered, for several hours.
Makes a heap.
Mejadra Spice Blend
This interesting spice blend is a simplified cross between LunaCafe Baharat and Moroccan Ras el Hanout. It contains all of the spices specified in the original Ottolenghi recipe for Mejadra, but rather than toasting and measuring spices each time you make the dish, my version yields enough for several batches.
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon allspice berries
1 cinnamon stick, broken
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
- Set a medium skillet over medium heat, and add cumin seeds, coriander seeds, peppercorns, allspice berries, and broken cinnamon stick. Toast spices for about a minute, just until you get a whiff of fragrant cumin. (Don’t overdo it, or spices will taste bitter.)
- Add toasted spices and ground turmeric to a small coffee grinder used only for grinding spices.
- Pulse the grinder to begin and then let it run to grind the spices to a powder.
- Cool completely, and then store airtight, in a cool, dark location. Use within 6 months.
Makes about ½ cup.
Cookin’ with Gas (inspiration from around the web)
- A Little Yumminess: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Mejadra (Rice and Lentils)
- Cooking by the Book: Kosheri [Rice and Lentils] from Ottolenghi
- Delicieux: Jerusalem & Being Ottolenghi Obsessed!
- Examiner: Mediterranean Exploration Company Preview
- Pechluck’s Food Adventures: Mediterranean Exploration Company
- Serious Eats: Mejadra from Jerusalem
- The Guardian: Little Marvels: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Lentil Recipes
- The Guardian: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Mejadra Recipe
Copyright 2014 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.
Prepping the Frizzled Onions smoked up the kitchen quite a bit, but the rest of the recipe was smooth sailing! I browned up some diced chicken thigh and added it to the pan along with spices and water, and it all came out very nicely. The flavor was excellent and rivaled what I have had at good Middle Eastern restaurants. Thanks so much for the great recipe!