Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mjeddra: New, Improved and Sprouted

Mjeddra is a traditional Syrian dish of basmati rice, lentils and fried onions, topped with yogurt or sour cream. My grandmother makes me mjeddra every time I come to visit, and it's been a beloved staple in every kitchen I've had. It's comforting, filling and addictive. A brief history of its evolution in my repertoire:

(1) After our last visit to Grandma's, my sister pointed out that she and I both make mjeddra with equal parts rice and lentils, while Grandma's mjeddra is more like rice studded with occasional lentils. I don't know when this deviation happened, since we both learned to make it from her, but I do prefer it with equal parts rice and lentils (shhh--good thing Grandma doesn't use the Internet!).
(2) When Phoebe and I first made the whole grain commitment, we started making it with long-grain brown rice instead of the traditional basmati rice.
(3) Wednesday night, we tried using sprouted lentils since we're obsessed with our Sproutman hemp sprouting bag.

The following recipe is for the third and final incarnation, which we think is the best yet. While I grew up eating this topped with just yogurt or sour cream, other Syrian & Lebanese cooks make a raita-type cucumber & yogurt sauce for the top, so we marinated some cucumbers in lemon juice and arranged them on top of the mjeddra. This is optional if you don't have time or cucumbers; just plain yogurt is delicious.

The Parts

1 cup (dry measure) sprouted brown or green lentils
1 cup long-grain brown or brown basmati rice
1 onion, sliced into thin rings
1/4 cup canola oil (or other high-heat oil)
1 English cucumber
juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
yogurt or sour cream

More Than Their Sum

A note on the lentils: We measured one cup of dry lentils, soaked them overnight, then left them hanging in the sprout bag for two days (rinsing 2-3 times daily). If you don't have a sprout bag, soak them overnight, then put them in a jar with a cheesecloth lid and turn the jar on its side to drain, covered by a cloth. Rinse a few times a day by filling the jar with water, swishing it around, and then turning it over to drain. One-day sprouts would work fine in this recipe but two-day sprouts have such cute little tails.

Rinse rice in a strainer while you boil 2 and 1/2 cups of water in a saucepan. When water has boiled, add rice, return to boil and then simmer until all water is absorbed, about 40-45 minutes. Meanwhile, if you're doing the cucumber garnish, chop the cucumber into small cubes and mix with lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Let it marinate while you cook the rice.

Another thing to do while the rice is cooking: onions! Heat oil over medium-high heat in a cast-iron skillet or heavy-bottomed frying pan. Add the sliced onions and fry, stirring occasionally, until they are crispy and brown. Remove them promptly with a slotted spatula to prevent burning (but keep the cooking oil). When the rice is mostly cooked, bring about four cups of water to boil in a second pot and boil the lentils until they are soft -- about five minutes.

When the rice and lentils are both finished, mix them together with the canola oil. Add a generous amount of salt and pepper to taste, then top with fried onions, cucumbers and yogurt.

Getting Old School:

If you don't want to sprout your lentils, you can make this the old-fashioned way. Cook 1 cup of dry lentils in with the rice, adding two more cups of water.


Kasha said...

Hannah and Phoebe - this blog is absolute heaven: delightful for the eyes as well as the palate. I'm so glad to see mjeddra get a sexy makeover. And I am highly intrigued by the sprouting bag - as I think I've renounced for the last time my "just rinse those smelly sprouts and pretend they're not mildewy" approach to makeshift jar sprouting. My question is this: do you think I really need to invest in sproutman's bag - I know they say on the website it doesn't mold and that cotton and other fibers do - is that true? Or will my $10 only buy me some hemp-cred with the berkleyites?

I Heart Kale said...

Well, Kasha, it looks like you have three options:
1) Make the arduous 2-block trek to our place, borrow the sprouting bag and judge for yourself.
(2) Kidnap some of the neighborhood hippies, cut off a square of their hemp clothing and make your own DIY bag.
(3) See if you can convince Aryn and Jonah to go three-way. On a Sproutman bag, of course...

aryn said...

Hannah and Phoebe. I just wanted to write in and tell you and your readers that I have long been a faithful devourer of mjeddra, and take this specialty with me everywhere that I go. In each location that I cook up a batch, it takes on a regional flavor. (For example, when I was living in Minneapolis Beth and I made it with wild rice from the White Earth Land Recovery Project. This highly nutritious grain is not actually rice, but an annual water-grass seed). Everywhere that I make mjeddra, the robust and unfettered flavors are much appreciated and tend to give the same satisfaction as meat—salty, greasy, heavy. Mjeddra will always remain one of my staples.