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.


Frank Irwin said...

I ate a grapefruit and popcorn for dinner, tonight.

Liz T. said...

At least that's real food, Frank!

Frank Irwin said...

Oh, I forgot my protein. Dark chocolate-covered peanut cluster.

Liz T. said...

That's it, you win. Even Lucky Charms can't beat that. :)

Karen Frisa said...

I'm so happy when I can make a vat of beans & rice and eat it for a week. I need food that I don't have to think about. (I'm really just writing to say hi. Hi Liz!)

Liz T. said...

Hi, Karen! So good to 'see' you again!