Mujadara is comfort food—filling, hearty, and utterly delicious. Rice and lentils are fortified with the warmth of cinnamon, cumin, coriander, and garlic before being heaped with caramelized onions. It makes a satiating meal on its own but you can add a side of tahini or cucumber yogurt.
Mujadara is everything I love about home-cooked Middle Eastern food. This delicious signature dish is made of flavor-packed layers of rice and lentils with heaps of caramelized onions on top. It’s nutritious and delicious and the perfect hearty meal. It also goes very well with a big side of deliciously creamy tahini.–Kirsten Kaminski
☞ Table of Contents
For the mujadara
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large (9 oz) yellow onion diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 3 cloves garlic sliced
- 1 teaspoon salt plus more if needed
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 cup basmati rice rinsed and drained
- 1 cup green lentils soaked in water 4 to 6 hours, then rinsed and drained
- 3 1/2 cups water
For the caramelized onions
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 large (24 oz) onions* sliced
- Pinch of salt
Make the mujadara
- In a medium pot over high heat, warm the oil. Add the onion and sauté until golden brown, 3 to 8 minutes.
- Add all the garlic and sauté until fragrant and softened, about 1 minute. Stir in the salt, cumin, cinnamon and coriander, and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute more.
☞TESTER TIP: If the garlic and spices are browning too quickly, reduce the heat slightly.
- Add the rice and lentils, sauté for 30 seconds, then pour in the water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the rice and lentils are tender, 17 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed.
Make the caramelized onions
- Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the onions and sauté, stirring often, until they’re caramelized and golden brown, 18 to 30 minutes. Season with salt.
- When the mujadara is cooked, either mix the onions into it or serve them on top.
*What onions are best for caramelizing?The difference between caramelized and sautéed, sorta-brown onions basically comes down to time and sugar. Caramelized onions notoriously take longer to cook but that's what makes them better than just sautéed ones. That and the sugar. Why did you think they're called caramelized, anyway? So, if you opt for sweet onions like Vidalias or Walla Wallas, that little bit of natural sugar will help to optimize browning. One final tip—don't overcrowd the pan. You'll just end up steaming your slices, rather than browning them.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
The rice & legume concoction is enjoyed in many cultures and I can see why—it is satisfying, healthful, and you can feed a crowd for a song. I’m happy I tried this tasty mujadara, a great example of the beloved combination. The heady aroma of garlic and spices was intoxicating (LOVED the cinnamon in this!), but the overall taste was surprisingly gentle with the flavors of the basmati and lentils well preserved. Not only did the caramelized onions add sweetness but also a nice juicy texture to the experience.
Thanks to pre-soaking, the lentils could be cooked with the rice in the same pot, and they cooked perfectly in 17 minutes (uncovered, stirring a few times). They weren't soggy, not dry, and there was no hint of scorching at the bottom of the pot. To counter the garlicky and tender mujadara, I served a cool and crunchy side dish: cucumber slices tossed with olive oil, salt, red pepper flakes, and chopped mint leaves.
We will make this mujadara again—it's simple to make and a pleasure to eat. The warm spices make this dish feel so homey and the onions were an important component to the overall flavor. This mujadara made an excellent main meal for us, with a simple salad on the side. It was lovely to cook the lentils and rice in one pot for simplification.
Though the recipe doesn't suggest it, I suggest stirring the lentils and rice once or twice to help ensure even cooking. I also caramelized my onions in a big cast-iron skillet, as I think that the cast-iron helps heat the onions a bit more evenly—I also had to turn the heat down a bit on the onions as they got further along in the process to make sure that they didn't get overly browned. I advise cutting your onions fairly thin and separating the pieces to speed the process, and don't worry if you get a few darker browned bits—they're super delicious too and provide a nice textural contrast.
Originally published May 18, 2021