This is yet another recipe from ‘Jerusalem’. *Insert grumble about food blogger Ottolenghi hero worship here*. One of my favourite things about the book is how is explores recipes in Jerusalem from the perspective of the many different cultures and traditions that exist there. It shows what makes up a local traditional cuisine and where the different facets of a dish or type of dish came from. This is something I have thought about a lot when it comes to traditional Irish food. I’ve often been asked, what is traditional Irish food? Most European countries can point to a distinctive cuisine, whether regional or throughout the country. When I taught in Denmark, I used to supervise the school lunches, and became aware of just how many traditional Danish dishes there were that every kid could name. I’m not sure the same could be said in Ireland.
An article in this week’s Irish Times tried to tackle the issue of ‘what is Irish cuisine’ and came to much the same conclusions as I have. The article found that what really typifies Irish food is the freshness and quality of ingredients, rather than a huge selection of traditional dishes. If you ask any Irish person, they’ll give you a different answer as to what a traditional Irish dish is. Irish culinary traditions that I have introduced the Dane to include breakfast rolls and putting crisps into sandwiches, so I may not be the best ambassador. What do you think of when you think of Irish food?
Anyway, back to the dish at hand. Mejadra crops up in a lot of cookbooks, and seems to be traditional across the Arabic world. According to Wikipedia, the recipe was first recorded in 1226 in Iraq. To put this in perspective, the food that most people think typifies Irish cuisine, potatoes, weren’t even introduced in Ireland for another 300 or so years! Mejadra (or mujaddara) is a tasty dish of rice, onions and lentils. It is so much more than the sum of its parts and is easily a meal in itself. It’s quite easy to make and is a good foundation to build a mezze around (particularly with this fantastic hummus). Serves 6 as a side dish.
- 4 medium onions, thinly sliced
- 2-3 tablespoons of flour
- 250g green or brown lentils
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 2tsp coriander seeds
- 200g basmati rice
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 1½ tsp ground allspice
- 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
- Salt and black pepper
- 350ml water
- Neutral oil like sunflower or vegetable
- Greek yoghurt (optional)
- Cook the lentils in boiling salted water until cooked through but not completely soft (about 10-15 minutes).
- Sprinkle the flour on a plate and season well with plenty of salt and pepper.
- Toss the onion slices in the seasoned flour.
- Pour a couple of tablespoons of neutral oil into a frying pan.
- How much oil you use is up to you. You can get away with not that much if you’re very health conscious, but if you want really crispy and delicious onions, you’re going to need a fair few tablespoons.
- Depending on the size of your frying pan, either fry the onions all at once or in batches (there should only be one layer of onions in the pan at a time).
- Fry them in the oil over a medium high heat for 5-7 minutes until crispy and golden brown.
- Remove from the oil and drain on a plate lined with kitchen paper.
- Heat a large saucepan big enough to hold all the ingredients over a medium heat.
- Toast the cumin and coriander seeds for a minute or so until they start to pop.
- Add the oil and remaining spices and season well.
- Add the rice and toss in the spicy oil to coat.
- Add the cooked lentils and the water and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low.
- It won’t look like there is enough water, but there is.
- Simmer for 15 minutes covered with a lid.
- Take off the heat, remove the lid, cover with a towel and leave for 10 minutes.
- Serve topped with the onions, and a dollop of Greek yoghurt (if you like).