Megadarra: Lentils and rice soar

In Recipies on February 13, 2012 at 8:21 am

Megaddara (var. megadarreh) is a lentil and rice combination that is enjoyed across the Eastern Mediterranean region and farther east. In Greece, the dish has a pungent garlicky character. In Iraq and Iran it (the version offered today on Phyne Dyning) has a wonderful floral accent added with cardamom. In Israel, megadarra is flavored with cumin and turmeric. Bedouins prefer a “neat” version absent of spices that can be (in my opinion) a bit bland unless it is served, in the traditional manner, with a big dollop of strong yogurt.

We are particularly fond of the Persian version.

In my opinion, it is best to go gently when adding cardamom. You’re just after a bit of floral accent and cardamom can quickly overpower lighter flavors of the dish if it is used too generously.

My recipe is not entirely traditional and authentic, because I added a bit of texture (and color) with diced celery. Quite honestly, this is a very modest appearing meal that is mainly “brown” and it can stand a bit of color. A bit of added diced carrot could also brighten up its appearance without changing the flavors.

I recently took this to a Shabbat potluck where it met with rave reviews. The version below makes enough to feed a small army and I often cut it by over half for our own table.

A quick note about lentils: I use a mixture of green and brown lentils for megadarra. Any lentils must be carefully sorted for stones and then carefully rinsed. And, like beans, I do not add salt until the dish is nearly done. Adding salt early makes the lentils tough and chewy.

Let’s get started!

2 C green and brown lentils

2 C long-grain rice

4 TBS olive oil

2 C onion, chopped

4 C onion, thinly sliced

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground cardomom

4 C vegetable stock (or water)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 C celery, small dice

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Carefully sort and rinse the lentils. Place the lentils in a large, uncovered pot and cover with about 3 inches of water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. If a thin “scum” forms on the cooking water, skim it off using a small spoon. Cook the lentils for 25-35 minutes, or until just tender but still firm. Do not over-cook the lentils or they will turn to mush.

Heat 1 ½ tbs of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onions and cook until they are translucent. Stir in the celery and cook until the onions are just golden. Add the garlic, ½ tsp cumin, ½ tsp cinnamon, and ¼ tsp cardamom, and then the uncooked rice. Stir until the rice is coated with oil and just turning golden. Drain the lentils or ladle them out of the cooking water using a sieve or fine colander. Add the lentils to the rice and then add the water or stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer. Cover tightly and cook about 15 minutes or until the rice is tender. Check the pot about halfway through and add water if the pot is getting dry. Do not allow the pot to dry out or the lentils will scorch.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sliced onions and cook until they are deep brown, sweet, and crispy. You may need to add a bit more oil. When the onions are nearly done, sprinkle them with a bit of the remaining spices and then add the rest of the spices to the rice and lentil mixture.

Now, add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Toss the rice and lentils with a fork to fluff and then heap them in a serving bowl. Scatter the fried onions over the top and garnish with a bit of chopped parsley.

This can be served as a side dish or as a vegetarian main course.


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