A long time ago (uh, probably about 2 years ago) my (Iain's) mother sent me a recipe for a dish that involved lentils, rice and onions that had turned up on the internet. A very simple affair, but it sounded good. Despite its relatively simple concept, the first several times I and my housemates tried to make it, it seldom neared the superbly scrumptious, no matter how I tarted it up with various spices and seasonings. After finally realizing that something just plain wasn't quite right, that I was missing something in the execution, I put this dish on the back burner for well over a year.
[No, I did not literally place it on the back burner for over year, although now that I typed that sentence, the concept does sound rather amusing. One can hardly have one's deposit reimbursed on a burned down house.]
A couple months ago, Bozzie, who had previously written down my doctored-to-the-point-of-butchery recipe as "Lempke's Lentils and Rice Thingy" in his recipe notepad, stumbled across a different version of the recipe. By a different version of the recipe I mean it was almost the same in almost every way. The main difference was that at this point, we were much better cooks than we had been those almost two years ago. This version got written down as "Esau's Favorite" in the notepad, that being an alternate name for the dish. He prepared it as instructed (although substituting Bulgar for rice), and the results were sublime. I've prepared it a few times since (without the help of a recipe, as I quickly became unable to find the one he used) with Bozzie, with Emily and by myself, and with the basic addition of liberality and patience, the ugly duckling of a recipe had turned into a... oh good grief, I'm not really using that cliche am I?
Lentils and Rice/Mujaddara/Esau's Favorite
A little more than a cup of dry lentils
About 3/4 of a cup of rice (preferably white) or Bulgar wheat
About a quart of water or broth
2 medium to large onions
3/4 cup olive oil
Music Listened To:
The sound of onions sizzling in olive oil
1. Put the lentils in a pot and cover them with water or broth so that the broth goes at least an inch over the top of the lentils. Cover and set them to boil on medium high heat.
2. As the lentils do their thing, cut the onions in half, and then into thin slices (ideally actually a little thinner than shown in the picture below). Meanwhile, heat up the olive oil in a skillet (yes, you really will want the whole 3/4 cup listed above - the onions and oil are where the majority of the flavor comes from, so don't skimp!) and toss the onions in to sizzle. Turn down the heat and stir them occasionally for the next 20-40 minutes until they are crispy and a nice caramely color. This is one of the ways I went wrong earlier - skimping on the onions (only putting in one, with only a little oil) and rushing them (I think the original recipe said to let them do their thing for about 10 minutes. For the size of the strips I had cut, this was too short a time).
3. Once the lentils have gotten nice and soft, put in the rice and add at least a cup and a half more broth. If this doesn't cause the rice to be well-covered by liquid, add more until it is sufficient. Add salt and pepper, cover and boil on medium heat for 15-25 minutes, or until the rice is soft. With this dish, the softer the better, so gauge your proportions semi-liberally and carefully (I know, it sounds contradictory, right?) and try not to check on it until it is likely to already be done, as uncovering or stirring may interrupt the cooking process. This is the other way in which I went wrong before. I did not always give the rice enough water or broth, and I only let it boil as long as I would boil ordinary rice. The idea is to get it quite soft.
4. Put it together. Add about half the onions and oil to the lentils and rice and stir them in. Use the remaining onions and oil to top each serving. Season with a little salt and pepper.
As you've probably gathered, the procedure is quite simple, but requires a delicate hand. I encourage you to give it a try, and if it doesn't work the first time, try, try ag... more cliches? Seriously?