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?)