My recent search for an authentic Mjadra was as intriguing as it was frustrating. There must be hundreds of variations online, not just of ingredients but even how to spell the traditional Lebanese dish.
I supposed I'd know what to do if I learned my way around a kitchen from a beloved sitti, but my culinary heritage includes a thoroughly Americanized bubbie who was not much of a cook and a mother who did not relinquish kitchen control. To paraphrase the old line about what some people make for dinner - reservations - I started to wonder if this was strictly take-out fare.
Not unlike a family Bible, the pages of his dog-earred copy of Lebanese Mountain Cookery are inscribed with notes and calendared accomplishments. Indeed, one of his favorite recipes, for broiled kefta, was marked with a 1999 N.C. State University football ticket. A winning game, no doubt.
The first batch was topped with a dollop of warmed tomato sauce mixed with savory homemade caponata. I opted for a more subtle but full-flavored twist the next time by poaching a large, bone-in chicken breast and using the resulting stock to boost the simmering water. Shreds of moist meat joined the tender onions for a simple but luxurious finish.
I can't boast that my Mjadra is authentic, but it is delicious. I found that a fat sweet onion and bulbous Spanish one worked equally well, but I'm told that a Lebanese cook would favor the former. Don't skimp on the fat when you caramelize the slices and, if you like lot of onion, cook even more if it makes you happy.
Mjardra (Lentil Pottage)
1 cup uncooked French lentils
4 cups water or stock
1 1/2 large onions
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. salt
1/2-1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 cup uncooked brown rice
Maldon sea salt, to taste
Coarsely chop 1/2 onion and sautee over medium heat in 1 tbsp. olive oil with 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper and desired amount of cumin until tender but not browned, about five minutes. Rinse lentils and brown rice, then add to onion and stir to coat. Add water or stock then cover and simmer about 30-35 minutes, or until rice and lentils are tender.
In medium skillet over low heat, sautee the remaining onion, sliced, in 3 tbsp. olive oil. Season with 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper. Stir occasionally until well browned and tender. Allow yourself a bite of candied goodness, but do save the rest for serving.
Spoon portions of Mjadra onto plate and top with generously caramelized onion slices and a pinch of Maldon.
Optional: Dollop equal parts warmed tomato sauce and caponata over Mjarda, or top with shreds of poached chicken.