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Mjeddrah as prepared in the Post-Dispatch kitchen

Mjeddrah (Middle Eastern Lentil Pilaf). Photo by Johnny Andrews, jandrews@post-dispatch.com

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

1/2 cup brown or red lentils, picked over and rinsed

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, halved vertically and thinly sliced crosswise

2 carrots, chopped

1 rib celery, with leaves, finely minced

1/2 cup long-grain brown rice

1/2 teaspoon whole or ground cumin

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 small dried red chile, stemmed and broken in half

1 1/2-inch piece of cinnamon stick

Seeds from 2 to 4 whole cardamom pods

Salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

1. If using brown lentils, soak by bringing 2 cups of water to a boil in a large pot, adding the lentils, turning off the heat and letting the lentils soak for a few hours. If using red lentils, pour 4 1/2 cups water into a pot (do not heat) and add the lentils.

2. At least an hour before serving, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté, stirring, for 4 to 5 minutes. Add carrots and celery and sauté for 3 minutes.

3. Scrape the vegetables into the pot containing the lentils. If using the presoaked brown lentils, add 3 cups water. Add rice, cumin, garlic, chile, cinnamon and cardamom seeds.

4. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, checking occasionally and adding water as needed, until lentils and rice are tender, about 1 hour. The result should be moist but not soupy. Pour off excess water, if necessary.

5. When lentils and rice are tender, add salt and quite a bit of pepper to taste. Remove the chile and discard, or chop it finely and return to the mixture for a spicier dish. Remove the cinnamon stick. Serve immediately or refrigerate covered overnight, then reheat.

Per serving (based on 6): 195 calories; 8g fat; 1g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 6g protein; 26g carbohydrate; 3g sugar; 6g fiber; 25mg sodium; 35mg calcium.

Adapted from "Bean by Bean," by Crescent Dragonwagon (Workman, 2012)