The older I get the more I like my own food. At pot-lucks, I grab a nice plateful of my dish before others get to it. At restaurants I order food with similar spices and flavors. I recently accepted the dark reality that I have become my mother --- when it comes to food.
The first time I had Mujaddara, it was love at first bite. It tasted very similar to my favorite Afghan dish Shohla but not as filling. I recently sought a recipe for this dish popular in Arab countries and settled on a recipe from the Food Network since I had the ingredients in my pantry. To my children's annoyance, I have made this dish every week in the past month to perfect the recipe to my taste, my waist line and to my kid's palette.
It occured to me that most of us struggle with new and innovative Thanksgiving side dishes. If you want to jazz up your Thanksgiving meal, perhaps you might want to consider Mujaddara or some of following Afghan dishes:
Sabzi - Slow cooker Afghan spinach
Kadoo - Afghan braised pumpkin
Gulpea - Tender Afghan cauliflower
Sweet Potato Bolani - Yummy turnover
Lghataq - Creamy Afghan eggplant dip as a starter
Carrot pudding - Rosewater carrot pudding
Mujaddara means pock-marked in Arabic, referring to the the black or green lentils mixed in with rice, onions, coriander and cumin. I have to admit, I did make the dish with Trader Joe's steamed lentils which turned out fabulous and it cut the cooking time in half. However, in this recipe I use dry green lentils so those who are not near a TJ's can still make the dish.
May the cooking fairies make your Thanksgiving day a fabulous one. This year I give thanks for my family, for my health and for my community (that includes all of you). I also remember my father Ghulam Farouq Ghilzai, who celebrated Thanksgiving with great enthusiasm every year since it was his favorite American holiday. He always reminded us to be thankful for living in this fabulous country, the United States.
A Rice and Lentil Dish
1 cup small green lentils
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. cumin seeds
3 red onion thinly sliced
1 cup short grain or calrose rice rinsed
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper or skip if you have kids
1 tbsp. salt (adjust to your taste)
1 tsp. ground black pepper
3 cups water
In a pan, add lentils and cold water. On high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Cook until lentils are soft, around 15-20 minutes. Don't over cook the lentils since they will simmer with the rice.
While the lentils are cooking, place a deep frying pan on high heat and add olive oil. After a minute, add cumin seeds and stir until the seeds turn slightly brown and fragrant, around 2 minutes. Add the onions to the pan and reduce heat to medium high. Stir frequently, cook the onions until slightly brown and crispy, around 15 minutes. Scoop out a quarter of the caramlized onions onto a plate to use as granish later.
Add the rice to the pan, stir consistently so it doesn't stick to the pan or break. Once the rice is translucent, around 3-4 minutes, add the cooked lentils, the spices, salt, pepper and the water to the pan. Stir well and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to low, place a lid on the pan, let the ingredients simmer until the rice is cooked through and all the liquid is absorbed, 20-30 minutes. Remove the pot from heat, let is sit for an additional five minutes before serving.
Serve the dish on a bed of lettuce, topped with the carmalized onions, a wedge of lemon or a dollup of plain yogurt.
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