This recipe for mujadara is a fantastically flavorful vegetarian dish. Also spelled mejadra, this Middle Eastern lentils and rice recipe is easy to master and is made with simple, inexpensive ingredients. Don’t be fooled, though — one taste of this lavishly seasoned feast is enough to make you swoon.
Mujadara is one of those culinary creations that covers all bases. This traditional Middle Eastern comfort food will tantalize your taste buds, nourish your body, and comfort your spirit.
Table of Contents
This humble but mighty recipe is brought to life with toasted coriander and cumin seeds, plus an all-star lineup of fragrant, aromatic spices like cinnamon, allspice, and turmeric. However, the real star of the show might just be the crispy fried onions! They add a potent pop of flavor and texture to an already delicious meal.
- Lentils – Choose green lentils for their earthy, peppery flavor and hearty texture. Brown lentils can be substituted but avoid red or yellow as they will end up mushy.
- Onions – Add pungently sweet flavor and a crispy texture. Yellow or white are great options.
- Flour – Gets the onion nice and crispy. If needed, you can choose a gluten-free alternative or saute the onions without flour.
- Oil – Choose a vegetable oil with a high smoke point like canola, sunflower, or avocado.
- Spices – From toasted coriander and cumin seeds to turmeric, cinnamon, allspice, and pepper, get ready for a flavor bomb!
- Basmati Rice – Fragrant and fluffy, basmati rice is the classic choice for lentils and rice. You can use another variety, but avoid sticky rice or those with super long cooking times.
- Prepare the Lentils. Pick through lentils to clean and remove any debris. Transfer the lentils to a saucepan, cover with plenty of water, and bring to a boil. Cook for about 12-15 minutes before draining and setting aside. You want the lentils to soften up but still be a little firm.
- Prepare the Onions. Peel and thinly slice the onion. Spread them out on a large platter, then sprinkle with flour and a teaspoon of salt. Use your hands to toss and evenly coat.
- Heat the Oil. Place a medium, heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat to heat the vegetable oil. Once a small piece of onion sizzles vigorously when tossed in, turn the heat down to medium-high.
- Fry the Onions. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Carefully transfer ¼ of the sliced onions to the hot oil. Watch out for oil splatters! Stirring occasionally with a slotted spoon, fry the onions for about 5-7 minutes. Remove the cooked onions with tongs, transfer them to the baking sheet, and repeat with the other 3 batches of onions.
- Toast the Spices. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the oil from cooking the onions. Place the skillet over medium heat and toss in the cumin and coriander seeds. Toast for about 1-2 minutes.
- Add Spices & Rice. Stir in the rice, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon, sugar, remaining salt, and pepper. Mix well to cover the rice in oil, then stir in the cooked lentils and water. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to very low. Simmer for 15 minutes.
- Remove & Cover. Have a clean tea towel handy and remove the skillet from the heat. Working quickly, lift the lid off the pan, place the tea towel over the dish, and then secure the lid back over the top. Set aside for 10 minutes.
- Add the Onions. Gently stir in half of the fried onions into the lentils and rice. Transfer to a shallow serving dish and pile the rest of the onions on top. Serve and enjoy!
The earliest accounts of mujadara come from Mesopotamia, which is modern-day Iraq. All the way back in 1226, a recipe for this delectable lentils and rice dish was recorded in the Kitab Al-Tabikh or the “Book of Cooking.” That’s almost 800 years ago!
And, mejadra is still going strong! The dish is vastly popular throughout the Middle East including Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and beyond. Recipes will vary slightly from region to region, but the basic ingredients remain the same.
Soaking your lentils is not necessary for this mujadara recipe. Lentils are quite small and don’t require a very long cooking time like other legumes. A simple rinse is usually all you need.
However, if you’d like to soak your lentils to remove phytic acid and improve digestibility, go right ahead. Start with about 2-4 hours and increase your soaking times if you see fit.
Keep in mind, though, that soaking will decrease the cooking time of your lentils. Adjust the time as needed in step one of this recipe to avoid mushy, overcooked lentils.
You can read more about cooking with lentils here.
For a dynamite vegetarian meal, serve mujadara with Cucumber Yogurt Salad (Mast o Khiar), these Zesty Cauliflower Fritters, and a fresh batch of warm Zaatar Bread (Manakish).
Looking to add some protein to your meal? I recommend Persian Meatballs (Koofteh) or Marinated Tahini Chicken, but this versatile dish will work with any of your favorites.
Toasting the Spices
If you run into a lack of flavor, it could be because you skipped toasting the cumin and coriander. So much of the bold taste comes from this step. Be sure not to skip or rush it, so you get the best results every time.
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Mujadara Lentils and Rice (Mejadra)
- 1 1/4 cups green lentils
- 4 medium onions (1 1/2 lb before peeling)
- 3 tbsp flour
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt (divided)
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 cup basmati rice
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 1/2 tsp ground allspice
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- Clean and pick through lentils, removing any debris. Place the lentils in a small saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil, and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, until the lentils have softened but still have a little bite. Drain and set aside.
- Peel the onions and slice thinly. Place on a large platter, sprinkle with the flour and 1 teaspoon salt, and toss to mix well with your hands.
- Heat the oil in a medium heavy-bottomed skillet placed over high heat. Make sure the oil is hot by throwing in a small piece of onion; it should sizzle vigorously. Reduce the heat to medium-high and carefully (it may spit!) add a quarter of the sliced onion. Fry for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally with a slotted spoon, until the onion takes on a nice golden brown color and turns crispy (adjust the temperature so the onion doesn’t fry too quickly and burn). Use tongs to transfer the onion to a baking sheet lined with paper towels and sprinkle with a little more salt. Repeat with the other three batches of onion.
- Discard oil, leaving 2 tablespoons in skillet (See Note 1). Place over medium heat and toast the cumin and coriander seeds for a minute or two. Add the rice, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon, sugar, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and black pepper. Stir to coat the rice with the oil and then add the cooked lentils and the water. Bring to a boil, cover with a lid, and simmer over very low heat for 15 minutes.
- Remove from the heat, lift off the lid, and quickly cover the pan with a clean tea towel. Seal tightly with the lid and set aside for 10 minutes.
- Finally, add half the fried onion to the rice and lentils and stir gently with a fork. Pile the mixture in a shallow serving bowl and top with the rest of the onion.
- I like to use the oil after frying the onions for added flavor, but you could discard and use 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
- Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem.
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.