How To Make Mujadara, a Powerhouse Blend of Rice, Lentils, and Deeply Caramelized Onions

updated Apr 29, 2021
How To Make Mujadara

This classic Lebanese dish of rice, lentils, and caramelized onions is deeply nourishing and flavorful.

Serves8

Prep10 minutes

Cook1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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mujadara sits in a bowl topped with greens and yogurt
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

I wish I could tell you that mujadara, the classic pilaf made with lentils, deeply caramelized onions, and rice or coarse bulgur, has always been a favorite dish in my Lebanese American family. But while I always marveled at my mother’s affinity for her mujadara (pronounced mm-JHUD-druh), lentils never appealed to us kids.

It wasn’t until my years as a vegetarian in my early 20s that I actually gave it a real chance. I was cooking for myself for the first time, and mom was concerned about my nutrition. Instead of asking me how I would survive without kibbeh (a traditional Lebanese meat dish) or her famous oven-fried chicken, she gave me a vegetarian cookbook and the recipe for mujadara. I needed to make and eat it regularly, she said, because the combination of lentils with rice or coarse bulgur forms a complete protein, and it was packed with fiber and other nutrients that are much needed in any diet.

These days, whenever I’m asked which Lebanese recipe I recommend making as a foray into the cuisine, mujadara is one of the first to come to mind. It’s vegetarian and vegan, protein- and fiber-packed, and a true Mediterranean diet powerhouse. Plus, it’s absolutely delicious. Here’s how to make it.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

4 Tips for Excellent Mujadara

One of the great things about mujadara is that you can make it on a whim with pantry staples (once you’ve got the right lentils on hand, that is). This is peasant food that was developed out of need. But in the hands of the Lebanese women who, throughout history, have known instinctively how to make all food taste great, the ingredients were transformed into a dish that can please any palate.

To be honest, my first batches of mujadara were just okay, producing a mush that tasted fine, but gave off a burnt onion aroma that was so strong it permeated the woodwork. (I’ve since discovered that in some areas of Lebanon, mujadara is in fact puréed, so my mush could probably have passed for something other than a mistake.) Excellent mujadara by my mother’s standards, however, is distinguished by distinct rice and/or bulgur and lentils — making a pilaf that doesn’t stick together — as well as the dark brown color that comes from very deeply browned onions. Here’s how to get it right.

  1. Use small, hard lentils (Spanish brown or French green). Standard grocery store lentils (light green or light brown) will turn into mush.
  2. Par-cook the lentils. You’ll want to give the lentils a head start before adding them to the pilaf. Par-cooking them ensures they won’t overcook when they’re heated with the remaining ingredients.
  3. Take the onions far beyond caramelized. Brown the onions in neutral oil, far beyond typical caramelized onions. We’re talking a football field beyond. Some, but not all, of the onions should even be blackened (yes, charred).
  4. Add water to the dark onion mixture. After the onions are done cooking, you’ll add water and let it all simmer for a few minutes. This will extract the dark color and flavor so it permeates the entire dish.
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

How to Serve Mujadara

Mujadara is delicious as is, served hot, warm, or at room temperature. But I also love it served on a bed of dressed arugula, topped with a dollop of labneh and a drizzle of olive oil. You can also serve it on a platter with greens, avocado, and tomato, top it with an egg, or stuff it into a pita for a satisfying sandwich.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell
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Here's how to make the best mujadara at home.

How To Make Mujadara

This classic Lebanese dish of rice, lentils, and caramelized onions is deeply nourishing and flavorful.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes

Serves 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 cup

    small brown or green lentils, such as Spanish Pardena or French Le Puy

  • 1 cup

    long-grain white rice or coarse cracked wheat (#3 grade)

  • 3 1/2 cups

    water, divided, plus more for rinsing

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt, divided, plus more as needed

  • 2

    large yellow onions

  • 1/4 cup

    neutral oil, such as canola or safflower

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground cumin (optional)

  • Arugula, labneh, and extra-virgin olive oil, for finishing

Equipment

  • Fine-mesh strainer

  • Small bowl

  • Small saucepan

  • 12-inch frying pan or large saucepan with lid

  • Chef’s knife and cutting board

  • Measuring cups and spoons

Instructions

  1. Sort and rinse the lentils and rice. Place 1 cup small brown or green lentils in a fine-mesh strainer. Pick through the lentils, discarding any broken or discolored ones. Rinse under cool water until the water runs clear. Drain well and transfer to a small bowl. Place 1 cup long-grain white rice or coarse cracked wheat in the strainer and rinse under cool water until the water runs clear. Drain well.

  2. Par-cook the lentils. Bring the lentils, 2 cups of the water, and 1/2 teaspoon of the kosher salt to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils are par-cooked, about 7 minutes or until less than al dente and still resistant to the bite. Remove from the heat and set aside, keeping the lentils in the water.

  3. Cook the onions. While the lentils are cooking, dice 2 large yellow onions (about 4 cups). Heat 1/4 cup neutral oil in a large frying pan or saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onions and season with 1/2 teaspoon of the kosher salt. Cook, stirring frequently to avoid burning, though some charring will occur in order to get them all thoroughly browned, until very deep golden brown (darker than caramelized onions), about 30 minutes total.

  4. Add the water. Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. The liquid will take on the deep golden color of the onions and the onions will continue to soften.

  5. Add the rice and lentils. Add the rice and par-cooked lentils and their liquid to the onion mixture. Season with a few grinds of black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, if desired. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking, covered, until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice and lentils are tender but firm and not mushy, 20 to 25 minutes.

  6. Serve the mujadara. Remove from the heat. Taste and season with kosher salt and black pepper as needed. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, drizzled with olive oil. Serve over a bed of dressed arugula and top with a dollop of labneh, if desired.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 5 days or frozen up to 2 months. Reheat with a sprinkle of water and a drizzle of olive oil to help loosen.