Mujaddarah When You Can't Even

Almost a year since my last post? Really? Wow. Time flies when you're.. well, when shit happens. Can we agree 2014 never happened? Cooking-wise, the last fiscal quarter sure didn't happen; from Thanksgiving till New Year's I pretty much lived on cereal and pumpkin pie. My New Year's pseudo-resolution is to get an effing grip and get back to making Food-with-a-capital-F.

But, as my Inner Brat constantly reminds me, it's JANUARY. Getting Inner Brat to agree to expend any mental or physical energy before the Spring Equinox is a lot like dragging a screaming toddler through a grocery store. (That's not even really hyperbole. It really is that exhausting.)

How to break the deadlock of me vs. me? I discovered a great way to force the issue: Hit myself square in the checkbook, because I am cheap. I stopped by Trader Joe's this morning and forced myself to pay money for stuff I swore I'd never buy prepared because it's so easy and inexpensive to make. Yikes, it really stung! But if Inner Brat balks at cooking staples that usually cost me pennies, then I am going to buy them cooked until she recants. Trader Joe's frozen brown rice and ready-to-eat lentils to the rescue.

I took this in 2012, no lie.
I did the onions separately that time.
So, mujarddarah? WTF is that? It's a potential comfort food for us rice 'n' bean lovers; just lentils, brown rice, and a whole mess of super-caramelized onions. Super simple, way greater than the sum of its parts. Sure, it's carb-rich, but it's a better choice than, say, cereal and/or pumpkin pie.

The shopping list is ridiculously short: Onions (I buy frozen chopped now. Yes, I am that lazy), lentils (the little green ones, aka French green lentils, work best), and brown rice. If you're feeling the veggie love, add a couple of carrots and a handful of chopped spinach. Spices are your call, but I like cumin and smoked paprika. If you buy the three main ingredients frozen/pre-cooked, you can have this put together before Inner Brat realizes she ain't gettin' Lucky Charms OR Costco pumpkin pie tonight.

Google mujaddarah (or m'jaddarah) and you'll find a butt-ton of recipes with innumerable variations, but the one point of agreement is the heavily-caramelized onions. The lentils and rice, no matter how exquisitely spiced, ain't nothing without those onions.

Mujaddarah (for When You Can't Even)
Adapted from: everyone, mainly this one
Makes: 2-4 servings
Takes: < 30 mins with precooked rice and lentils

1 to 2 cups sliced or chopped onion (frozen is fine)
2 cups cooked brown rice
2 cups cooked lentils (preferably French green)
1 Tblsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
Olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper
1 cup chopped carrot (optional)
A handful or two of chopped fresh spinach, or even an equivalent amount of frozen chopped spinach (optional)

Heat a non-stick skillet (large enough to hold 4+ cups with room to spare) over med. heat. When hot, add a tablespoon or two of olive oil and the onions, sprinkle with a little salt. Spread them out in a uniform layer and turn the heat down a bit so they can cook slowly without constant attention.  Stir occasionally while you do other things.

Chop the carrots and spinach, if using. If the lentils and/or rice are chilled or frozen, nuke them in the microwave to get them to at least room temperature. If using carrots, add them and a little more salt when the onions are mostly cooked through, stir to combine, then spread out in a uniform layer. Let the onions (and carrots) cook slowly as long as you can. At a minimum, the carrots should be cooked through and the onions should have some good brown edges. If you have the time and patience, let them go until the onions are really soft and caramelized.

When you can no longer stand the suspense, bump the heat back to med., add the spices to the onions (and carrots), and stir to combine. Clear a spot in the center of the pan and add another tablespoon or two of olive oil, add the lentils, rice, 1/2 cup water, some more salt, and spinach (if using). Stir to combine. If the mixture doesn't seem to have enough liquid to allow it to heat through without scorching, add another 1/4-1/2 cup water. If you added spinach, remember that it will release some liquid. Partially cover the skillet, lower the heat to med. low, and heat the mixture through as long as you can, stirring occasionally, for at least 10 minutes. Add ground black pepper and more salt, if needed.

If it's dinner for one, good luck trying to eat no more than half of it in one sitting.
Is it authentic? No. Is it satisfying? Oh hell yes. Most importantly, Inner Brat is eating real food, although she may get Lucky Charms for dessert. Just a little. Small steps.


Dangerous Knowledge

There is some things a person should not be able to make at home at 8pm on a Saturday night. This is one of them. I am not responsible for what you do with this recipe. Especially if you drop a couple of these in a mug of hot milk with some extra sugar. I know NOTHING.
Photo courtesy of Hannah
Honey Jack Bittersweet Truffles

8 oz (1/2 lb) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
2-3 Tblsp Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey or liqueur of choice (opt.)
High-quality dutch process cocoa powder or powdered sugar for coating (opt.)

Place finely chopped chocolate in a glass or ceramic bowl. Heat heavy cream just to boiling in a small pan or in the microwave. Immediately pour cream over chopped chocolate, cover bowl with lid or a piece of aluminum foil. Let sit for 10 minutes or so, or until chocolate is melted.

Once chocolate is melted, add the liqueur and slowly whisk the cream and melted chocolate together till smooth. Cover bowl and place in fridge for a couple of hours until set. If you can.

Scoop the solid ganache (yes, that's what you just made) approx. 2 Tblsp at a time onto a lined sheet pan. If it's warm and the ganache starts to melt, place the pan in the fridge and let the ganache re-solidify before proceeding.

Roll the scoops into balls, then roll the balls in the cocoa powder, or powdered sugar, or anything else you can think of. If you don't want to coat them -- like, say, if you doubt they'll be around long enough to warrant the extra attention -- you can wrap them individually in plastic wrap.
Like I said, I know NOTHING. You're on your own.


Wow, that was a year! Also, ginger.

Whelp, as you can see, the Year of Beans & Rice project didn't go quite as planned. I did have an excuse: A week after my last post, I subbed for a bass player in a local band, which led to playing bass in another band, which led to A BOYFRIEND! And we're even still together, almost ten months later. Who knew that leaving my couch could have such extensive repercussions?

Between that, and the fact that I am now the "weekend parent" and only have to cook for the boy a couple times a month, I spent much of 2013 not-cooking, a situation I am slowly trying to rectify. It's going to be painful -- I am so very used to not-cooking -- but there are several compelling reasons *cough* financial *cough* to nut up and get back in the kitchen.

This pic is from David Lebovit's blog.
Isn't it gorgeous?
To start off the new year (and hopefully new habits) I gotta share what I made yesterday. I was home sick from work and through some random combination of firing neurons and a questionable stomach, I decided to make ginger tea from the ginger root I had in the freezer*. First attempt was lackluster, but a little more searching turned up David Lebovitz's recipe for Fresh Ginger Syrup.

David Lebovitz has never let me down, and the perfect combination of just enough ginger on hand and way too much free time led to success. The only tricky part was determining when it was reduced enough. Next time I'll measure the depth of the water in the pan with a bamboo skewer and mark the halfway point to use as a gauge.

So far I've only used it to sweeten cups of green tea, and it's brilliant. I want to try it in sparkling water and in hot lemonade, but I have a feeling it's not going to last long enough for me to go buy lemons. I blame the virus, not my complete lack of self-control. :)

Long story way short, if you like ginger, this is well worth a try.

 *NOTE: Oh yes, you can keep whole ginger root in the freezer for a LONG time in a freezer-weight zip-top bag.


Müceddere: Rice Pilaf with Onions and Stuff

Can't believe February is halfway over already. I'd best get something posted! I hope two posts per month doesn't turn out to be an overly optimistic goal. That would be embarrassing.

Mmmmm... Müceddere!
This recipe is a newcomer to my bean-and-rice repertoire. I've not cooked much Middle Eastern cuisine, and I've been pleased to discover some very tasty offerings, especially lentil dishes. Lentils are lovely because they (usually) take way less than half an hour to cook.

And that brings up a point I am learning (the hard way, as usual) about beans. If you are cooking dried beans/legumes/whatever, the stated cooking time is a suggestion, a rough guess at best. I think Those Who Write Recipes put a number down because it would be silly to say the cooking time is anywhere from an hour to a day, which, in some cases, isn't far from the truth.

You may be thinking, "But why so variable? It's just a bean. How hard can it be?" Ha! That is exactly the point: How hard (read: old) is your bean?

I am not a bean scholar, but the age of a bean can affect its cooking time, even with as tiny a morsel as a lentil. Unfortunately, there might be no way to know how old that bag of lentils in the store is. Older beans are drier and they take longer to cook. That's one of the reasons bean recipes usually direct you to soak beans overnight, to level the playing field.

Long story short, Know Your Lentils. When uncorking a new bag of lentils, allow plenty of time to cook that first batch. Let them simmer 15 mins. then start checking. Make sure there is no crunchy stuff left in the middle before calling them done. Store the rest of the bag in a sealed container. Lentils are usually exempted from the pre-soaking requirement, but if you find your lentils take much longer to cook than advertised, pre-soak those bad boys next time.

Coincidentally, last night on America's Test Kitchen I happened to catch the last few minutes of some bean-cooking tips, just in time for this post! Brining beans (soaking in salt water) is supposed to be even better than soaking in plain water. I must try that.

Recipe? Oh yes, the recipe. There is a recipe, I promise. Couple of notes: This is relatively simple, seasoning-wise, so the caramelized onions, cumin, and smoked paprika are key. You can't go wrong with more onions or cumin. Be sure to see the note at the end about slicing onions.

Müceddere: Rice Pilaf with Onions, Lentils, Chickpeas, and Orzo
Adapted from this recipe
Makes: 2-4 servings
Takes: 45 mins., depending on how cooperative the lentils and onions are.

2 cups cooked brown rice, warmed

1/4 cup lentils (preferably green)
1/4 cup orzo pasta

2-4 Tblsp oil
1.5 cups sliced onion* (1 med. lrg.)
2 tsp sugar
1 Tblsp lemon juice
Salt & black pepper, to taste
1 - 15 oz can chickpeas, drained
1 - 15 oz can's worth of tomato products (diced, crushed, sauce, or a combo)
1 Tblsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 cup chopped cilantro or parsley (opt.)


Add the lentils to 2 cups water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer until they are just about done, 15 mins. in a perfect world. Add the orzo and some salt, bring to a boil, and cook for about 8 more mins., or until the orzo is just done. Drain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a med. saucepan (I use a deep 12" skillet) over med. heat. Add the onions, sugar, a 1/4 tsp of salt, and black pepper to taste. Cover the pan and sweat the onions over med. low heat until they're tender, about 5 minutes. Remove the lid, turn the heat to med., and stir in the lemon juice. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden brown. Moderate heat for a longer time produces better results. If you need to raise the heat to get them done NOW, just don't let them dry out, scorch, or burn.

When everything is ready, stir the rice, lentils, orzo and chickpeas into the onions. Add the tomatoes, cumin, smoked paprika, and salt to taste. Mix well. Add a couple Tblsp of water, cover the pan, and let warm through over med. low heat for at least 15 mins. Stir occasionally, don't let it scorch.

Top with chopped cilantro or parsley if desired.
Copyright 2012 America's Test Kitchen

* Random Food Tip 

This is another trick I just learned from America's Test Kitchen. If you're cutting onions to caramelize for onion soup or a dish such as this, slice them pole-to-pole (end to end) instead of crosswise (around the equator). They will be shorter and prevent the sensation of trying to eat really long, stringy noodles.

It amazes me that after cooking for decades, I can still see or read a tip that is so obvious it really makes me wonder why the hell I didn't already know that. This onion tip was one. At some point I'll show you what I just learned about vegetable peelers. That was a real "D'oh!" moment.

Oh, I almost forgot...


Red Beans and Rice

This is the one that started it all, the very first beans and rice recipe I ever made.

I didn't grow up eating beans and rice, unless you count the Taco Bell that opened up between my house and the high school in the mid 1970s. I'm sure that was my first encounter with refried beans, since the closest thing we had to Mexican food at home was the Ortega box dinner with the hard taco shells and pouch of 'taco seasoning.' Hey, it was Central Indiana. What can I say, other than I loved the heck out of it (and Taco Bell, too.)

Red beans and rice. Very nice!
The first time I ate anything resembling real beans and rice was probably in the 1990s. Somewhere around that time I picked up this recipe. I've been working off the same index card (in my illegible scrawl) so long that I can't remember where this recipe came from or when I first made it. But it's been a family favorite for at least 20 years. I think that 's a good sign.

When this recipe first went into heavy dinner rotation, there was a shop in town that made divine garlic and fennel sausage. It was perfect in this dish! These days I'm pretty much stuck with the ubiquitous Johnsonville sweet Italian, but if I add some extra garlic and crushed fennel seeds, it comes pretty darned close.

Disclaimer: Just so you know, this is not supposed to be an authentic recipe of any regional or ethnic cuisine. It's a simple recipe that everyone in my house will eat, and I can get it on the table in less than an hour under ideal circumstances.

Red Beans and Rice
Makes: 2 - 4 servings
Time: 45 - 60 mins. depending on how fast you can chop and how long you can let it simmer.


Cooked brown rice

1 lb Italian-style sausage, removed from casing (see note)
1 Tblsp oil
1 cup onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup bell peppers*, diced (your choice of colors)
1/2 cup carrot, diced (opt.)
1 Tblsp garlic, minced/crushed
1 Tblsp ground cumin
1.5 cups chicken stock or water
1 - 14.5 oz can red or pink beans, drained (see note)
1 - 14.5 oz can diced or crushed tomatoes (don't drain)
2 Tblsp tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 tsp crushed fennel seeds (opt.)
1+ Tblsp Worcestershire sauce (use more instead of adding salt)
1 tsp garlic powder (opt., if your sausage isn't garlicky enough)
Ground black pepper, to taste
Hot sauce, crushed red pepper flakes, or Asian chili garlic sauce to taste (see note)
Note: You can tweak the proportions of sausage and beans. When I was in full Flexitarian mode, I cut the sausage as low as 1/4 lb and added another can of beans. As for heat, add crushed red pepper flakes with the rest of the seasonings, but if using hot sauce or chili garlic paste, wait until the mixture has cooked down to preferred thickness, then add to taste.

Cook sausage in 1 Tblsp oil over medium heat until the pink is gone and it's nice and crumbly. Leave as much of the the grease in the pan as  you want.
Add the onions, celery, peppers, carrots, and garlic; cook until everything is really softened and starts to caramelize. The finer you chop your vegs, the faster this will go. Stir in the cumin and cook for a few seconds until you can really smell it.

Add 1.5 cups chicken stock, beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, and remaining seasonings; heat to boiling then reduce to a simmer. Add more stock/water if needed so it can gently simmer, uncovered, until the tomatoes are broken down and the "sauce" is about as thick as heavy cream, at least 20-30 mins. Longer is better.

Serve over warm brown rice.
As with most liquidous dishes that require simmering, it is always better the next day. Freezes and defrosts very well.

*Random Food Tip:

I buy the bags of frozen mixed bell pepper strips instead of fresh bell peppers. (I pick out the green ones because I hate them, but don't tell, ok?) I started this behavior some years back when the price of bell peppers was ridiculously high, and I never got around to doing another cost comparison. I love having bell peppers available at all times, though, so I doubt I'll go back to fresh anytime soon.



A Year of Beans and Rice: Intro

Howdy, y'alls! It's been awhile, I know. If it's any consolation, I think of you often but I have a hard time putting virtual pen to paper. Believe me, it's not you, it's me. But I'm sure you've heard that line before.

ENNY-hooze, I eat a lot of beans and rice. They're cheap, it's easy to keep the main ingredients on hand, and I can usually get the meal on the table in less than 45 minutes if I have frozen cooked (brown) rice on hand (see below.) I have a short attention span and my main motivation to cook is to eat (as quickly as possible) something that qualifies are real food and tastes good, and most anything made with already-cooked rice and canned beans is going to meet that criteria. As a bonus, leftovers can (usually) be frozen, so make a double batch and get two meals for the effort of one.

If this sounds like a good idea, read on, my friend.

Since this a year of anything qualifies as A Project, I have to have A Plan, right? My plan is to post twice a month. Many of my favorite rice/bean recipes are already posted here, but I'm going to revisit them and tweak them if necessary. That will give me a few weeks' grace if the well starts to run dry. Not that that would ever happen... ahem. There may even be photos!

About that rice thing:

I've mentioned before that long-grain brown is my rice style of choice (most of the time.) Brown rice takes significantly longer to cook than white rice, and this is where my rice cooker shines. Every couple of weeks I set up a batch of brown rice in the cooker, wander off and get into all sorts of trouble, and when I remember to check it, it's done. I've also mentioned that I cook my brown rice at a straight 2:1 water to rice ratio so it's just done -- the individual grains aren't blown out. Then I freeze it in two cup portions in quart zip-top bags. Dump it in a bowl with a little bit of water, cover loosely, heat in the microwave for a few minutes, and it comes out quite nicely, thank you.

No rice cooker? Try this oven technique from Alton Brown.

And then there's the Dried Bean Issue. I've struggled over the years with varying degrees of success, but I've recently made some progress in this area, so maybe we'll talk about that, too.

Ready? Let the Year of Beans and Rice begin! I'll be back by the end of the month with a recipe, I promise.
(we all know how good I am at honoring those, don't we?)


Project Weeknight: Kinda-Brazilianish Beans & Rice

Since I stopped posting regularly I've had a devil of a time keeping up with new recipes I've tried, what I've liked, changes I made, and so on. I tried a new dish tonight that worked out so well that my son declared that it's going into the regular dinner rotation. I can't let this one get away!

It came to me via my friend Matt's blog* (where he linked to this recipe.) It's one of those dishes that is many times greater than the sum of its parts. Simple, fast, and delicious, just the way I like it.

Pinto beans, which we know and love, and bacon combine to almost remind one of the classic canned bean & bacon soup, always a favorite. The rice, cooked pilaf-style with onion, is a nice surprise.

I can rarely make a recipe as written, and this was no exception. Since this was our main dish, I used more bacon than called for but drained off half the fat before adding the garlic. You could omit the oil altogether and just rely on the bacon grease. I doubled the beans and added some refried beans (hey, they're pintos too!) instead of the traditional spoon-mashing step. I also used pre-cooked brown rice* I had in the freezer instead of cooking white rice from scratch, and it worked out great.

But be sure to read through the original recipe so you get the idea of how it should be done, ok? Check out Matt's blog, too, because he and his wife Holli are hilarious, adorable, and amazing. And I'm not even related to them, so you know it's true.

Geez, it's already taken me almost as long to write this as it did to make it, so let's get to it already!
Kinda-Brazilianish Beans & Rice, aka Matt Beans
via The {UN}eventful Life, adapted from Authentic Brazilian Cuisine

Serves 2, with some beans leftover.

Brazilianish Rice

1 Tablespoon oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cups pre-cooked brown rice, thawed if frozen
1/4 - 1/2 cup water
Salt to taste

Heat oil in non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until it just starts to brown. Add rice, stir until heated through. Add water, bring to simmer. Reduce heat, partially cover, and cook (stirring occasionally) until water is absorbed. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside.

Brazilianish Beans

1 Tablespoon oil (opt.)
2 teaspoons (1-2 cloves) minced garlic
2 (thick) or 3 (thin) slices (uncooked) bacon, diced (or even more if you're so inclined)
2 cans pinto beans, rinsed well and drained
1/4 - 1/3 can refried (pinto) beans (opt.)
1/2 - 1 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat, add bacon, and cook until almost done. Add garlic, cook another minute, then add pinto beans. You can mash some -- maybe 1/4? -- of the pintos with a spoon to thicken the dish, or you can add the refried beans. Add water, bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, for at least 15 minutes, longer if you have time, to let the bacon-y essence permeate those beans. Add more water if necessary to keep it from scorching. The "gravy" should be at least as thick as heavy cream. Salt and pepper to taste.
I served it with completely un-traditional grated Monterey jack cheese and diced tomato. I'd have added avocado if I'd had one. We eat a lot of faux-Mexican so I knew these familiar touches would bring the dish squarely into my son's comfort zone. And it did!

* Oh yeah, about the rice: The amount of water you'll need depends on how 'cooked' your rice is. I make large batches of brown rice, portion it in two-cup bags, and stash them in the freezer. I use a straight 2:1 water:rice (brown rice usually calls for more water) so the rice grains are intact and are not clumpy at all, just barely done, I suppose. I used 1/2 cup of water in my pilaf and probably could have used more. If your rice is fully done and the grains are "blown-out" you may have to modify the pilaf-ing of it. Or just follow the original recipe. It's all good. Oh, so good.