I’m half Middle Eastern; my father comes from a line of Palestinian Roman Catholics who immigrated to Central America almost 80 years ago. As a young girl, food was always a big family affair and the epicenter of all our gatherings. We would always enjoy a big family meal on Sundays, and by “big” I mean it felt like Christmas every week. There was so much food, it was nearly impossible to try it all. My grandmother would always be the last one to sit down at the family table… As we each started tackling our plates and making some steady progress- she would still be walking around (spoon in hand) piling on more food to each grandchild’s plate. Thus to empty the plate was a near supernatural effort, but nobody wanted to get her “finish your food” icy cold glare. There was no notion of moderation, but all the fare was incredibly healthy and made from scratch. The women in my family all took great pride in their superb culinary skills, as our matriarch (my grandmother) would be the proud judge on which dish(es) stole the show.
I think there’s something to be said about the so-called “Mediterranean Diet”. They eat in a very plentiful manner,; yet they are rarely overweight. It’s a diet that’s rich in grilled meats, nuts, proteins and legumes. Staples consist of lamb, chicken, pine nuts, yogurt, chickpeas, fava beans, rice, lentils, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, etc. I have so many favorite Middle Eastern dishes it’s hard to know where to start. Today I am going to feature a slightly modified version of Mujadara; I added almonds, tomatoes, and tamari sauce.
Let me say something very quickly about Tamari sauce…. Much like soy sauce, they both come from soybeans but Tamari is naturaly gluten free and it’s an excellent alternative to traditional soy sauce. My grandmother would sometimes add vermicelli to Mujadara, but I decided to try almonds for a healthier “crunch factor” and a protein boost. For any vegetarians or vegans; the almonds and the lentils make this an incredibly balanced meal.
Serves 4- You Will Need:
- 1 cup of basmati rice ( you could pick any rice you like. I just really enjoy Basmati and the loose grain texture works well with this dish)
- 2 cups of water
- 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup of brown lentils
- 2-3 cloves of finely chopped garlic
- 1 handful of parsley
- 1 large white onion thinly sliced
- 3 ripe tomatoes gently crushed
- 1 tablespoon of tamari sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon of cumin seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
- 1/2 cup of raw, unsalted almonds
*Optional- 1 tablespoon of chilli flakes. I love spicy things!
For the Lentils:
Throw the cup of lentils into a sauce pan and cover them completely with cold water. I then add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt & pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat, cover the pan and let them simmer for about 25 minutes. They need to soften, but be careful not to overcook them to the point where they are soggy. Once cooked, drain the water and let them sit in a pan, away from the stove.
For the Rice:
Although I do use a rice cooker quite often, for this particular dish I always prefer a sauce pan. Bring a rice pan to medium to high heat and add a tablespoon of olive oil, the cumin seeds and the diced cloves of garlic. Once everything is hot and you hear crackling, I add the cup of rice and stir it around to try to toast it a little bit for at least 2-3 minutes. It’s such a simple little trick but it always yields perfectly cooked rice with an amazing texture. I then add the 2 cups of water, lower the heat, and let the rice simmer for 25-30 minutes or until the water is fully absorbed.
Tomatoes, Onions & Almonds
In a separate non-stick pan, I add another tablespoon of olive oil. the onions, the tomatoes, the tablespoon of tamari, the cinnamon and the roasted almonds. I let this cook until the onions have caramelized and browned (5-10 minutes) while stirring often.
I add the lentils to the rice after they’ve both cooled enough not to stick together as they’re mixed and blended in. This is a lose rice, it’s not supposed to clump together. I top the mixture of rice and lentils with the tomatoes, onions and almonds. You could garnish with fresh parsley, enjoy! It’s so incredibly delicious, filling, packed with protein and good for you.