‘You have to cook with your sense of smell too, not just your sight and your taste’ my mother says, ‘your Teta Farha could always tell when the food was ready just by smelling it’. This is certainly true for Mujaddara, where you want the onions black but not burned.
Mujaddara is a humble ‘peasant food’ cooked by generations of farmers and my mother still giggles when she tells how when she ‘cooks it for people now, they think it is luxurious and interesting’. It’s hard to imagine the once peaceful idyll of a Palestinian farmer eating this under his olive trees when the reality now is one of settler harassment and state sponsored violence for farmers merely trying to work their land and feed their families.
Mujaddara has never let me down; I ate it when I was a picky eater as a child, I ate it when I was a student on a budget and now I serve it as a quick supper when I am unorganised and unprepared with a hungry family to feed. It was also the first thing I ever made my husband when we first started courting. I still have the recipe that my mother typed up and emailed me when I asked what I should cook for a vegetarian (Christo is no longer a vegetarian). It doesn’t include any times or measures, which is just like my mother; cooking by eye, smell, instinct and taste alone.
Growing up, my mother always cooked it with bulghar wheat, which is what I still mainly do today. However, some people cook it with rice and you increasingly see it that way.
You serve this with onions that have been fried for ages into crisp, black caramel strands, and serve with tomato salad and yoghurt. This is a dish of always.
½ cup brown lentils
1 cup bulghar wheat
1 white onion
½ teaspoon of cumin
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
- Put the lentils in a saucepan with water and boil for 20 minutes, once the lentils are soft to bite and add the bulghar wheat and 2 cups of water, cumin, salt and pepper.
- Put on a high heat and boil, once boiling, reduce the heat and let simmer with a lid until all the water is all gone (about 15-20 minutes)
- Meanwhile, thinly slice the onions into strips or rings (I use a mandolin) and fry in olive oil for a very long time (I often put them on first thing and leave them on the heat for 30 minutes)
- Once everything is ready, serve the mujaddara, cover with onions and serve with yoghurt and tomato salad.