Lentil Rice Pilaf with Caramelized Onions (Mujadara)
A warm and comforting lentil rice pilaf with caramelized onions. This pilaf is known as ‘mujadara’ in the middle east and is vegan-friendly and perfect as a side for holidays or weeknight dinners!
Soul-warming Lebanese mujadara.
Mujadara or middle eastern style lentil rice pilaf has been on repeat in our house for last week and a half, and we have gobbled up bowlfuls of this stuff without a single complaint. In fact, Anees polished off the last of it for lunch on Sunday, and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t mind having it again and again. This uncomplicated pilaf has warming spices, tender lentils, and boatloads of caramelized onions. It’s a vegan-friendly recipe that’s great as a main meal or as a side. It’s simple and flavorful, and in my world, those are always the best kind of dinners.
It’s about that time. You know, when you’re almost into the month of NOVEMBER, and you’re like, how did that even happen? Have you started planning your Thanksgiving menu yet? Are you an on the fly kinda person, or do you meticulously map your spread? Do you have a consistent menu year after year or do you experiment? I’d like to suggest this lentil rice pilaf, which is like red beans and rice but heavier on the spices and done middle-eastern style with lentils, as an option. If you’re in charge of showing up with a side, this is a good one. It’s gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan.
No matter the dietary restrictions, everyone can have a piece of this pie.
The last few weeks have been nice and cool in Houston, and we’ve taken full advantage with hearty meals loaded with spices and lentils and so, so many soups and stews. This weekend I made two batches of soup in my instant pot, and we devoured them all weekend long along with homemade lentils and rice.
I’ve noticed a trend when it comes to lentil recipes I’ve shared with you on the blog. Almost all of them are big in the flavor department, and nearly all of them are made using brown lentils. What can I say, I certainly do know what I like! Remember the Moroccan sweet potato soup with lentils? Or my favorite brown lentil daal? Or that autumn lentil salad with kale and parm? Brown lentils are a staple in our house because they’re so good in so many ways. But let me also mention that green lentils would work just as well for this recipe if that’s more your thing, but steer clear of red lentils. They aren’t going to work for this one.
Okay, let’s walk you through this lentil rice pilaf recipe. It’s not a difficult one, but when we hear things like ‘risotto’ or ‘pilaf’ often some major anxiety kicks in.
How to make bomb-diggity lentil rice pilaf:
- Lentils: As I mentioned, use either brown or green lentil (affiliate links) for this one. No need to soak your lentils. Just add them to a small saucepan along with water, you want there to be about 1-2 inches of water above your lentils, and you need to cook the lentils for 15-18 minutes or until they’re almost cooked through. If your lentils have been around for a while in the pantry, they’ll take more time to cook than if you’ve just purchased them recently.
- Rice: For this recipe, I highly recommend using good quality basmati rice. I like to use Indian basmati rice as it’s the most fragrant and it works beautifully with all the spices we’ll be adding to this recipe. You’ll need to soak the rice for about 20 minutes so right before you start on the caramelized onions, rinse your rice and soak them in a bowl of cold water. Here’s (affiliate link) the basmati rice I use in case you’re looking for a good brand.
- Caramelized Onions: take your time when you’re caramelizing the onions. You’ll need two medium onions for this recipe, and you’ll want to slice them thinly, about 1/4 of an inch in thickness. Use good quality olive oil (affiliate link) to fry the onions, trust me; it makes all the difference. Also, babysit the onions, they’ll take in the ballpark of 20 minutes. You’ll need to stir them quite a bit during the last 10 minutes so don’t go too far. Know that I’m not lying when I say, homemade lentil rice pilaf is so worth it.
- Spices: We’re using cumin, coriander, turmeric, allspice, and cinnamon in this recipe and the smells that come from this lentil rice pilaf are just a tad bit insane. It’s warm and hearty and smells just like fall.
If you’re looking for things to serve this with: how about a little homemade baba ganoush, hummus, or beef shawarma made in the instant pot? You could even make these shawarma bowls and swap out the vermicelli rice for this pilaf.
I serve my pilaf with a simple Shirazi salad. Just chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions, a glug or two of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, a pinch of salt and pepper, and a handful of chopped mint or parsley if I’ve got it on hand. Truthfully, this recipe will take you about 30 minutes of hands-on time, but it’ll be well worth it at the end.
May your cold winter nights be just a tad bit more comfy with this soul-warming lentil rice pilaf!
- 2/3 cup brown lentils, rinsed
- 1 cup basmati rice
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 medium onions, cut into 1/4 inch slices
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 3/4 teaspoon of ground allspice
- 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon EACH: sugar AND salt
- prep the ingredients: Add the lentils into a small saucepan and add water until the lentils are covered by at least 2 inches. Cook the lentils over medium-high heat until almost tender, about 15-18 minutes. Drain; set aside. Soak the rice in a bowl of cold water for 20 minutes while you caramelize the onions.
- onions: Add the olive oil into a deep, thick-bottomed pot (with a lid), like a dutch oven. Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Once it's hot, add the onions and stir them around to coat with the oil. Set a timer for 20 minutes and cook the onions for a total of 18-22 minutes, stirring often, or until the onions are a deep orange or brown color. If the onions start to brown before the 10-minute mark, lower the heat. Ideally, they should start developing color around 12-15 minutes. And from that point on, you'll need to stir the onions often so that they don't burn. Remove the onions to a plate lined with a paper towel.
- rice pilaf: Drain the soaked rice thoroughly and add it to the oil remaining in the pot (if you have less than a tablespoon, add a little more). Sauté the rice in the remaining oil for 2 minutes. Add the lentils to the pot and season with the cumin, coriander, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon, sugar, and salt. Add 1 1/2 cups of water and let the water come to a rolling boil, cover, lower the heat to the lowest setting, and let cook for 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the stove. Grab a piece of paper towel large enough to cover the pot. Add the caramelized onions to the top of the rice and place the paper towel flat on the pot before placing the lid on top. Let sit for 10 minutes (your stove should be off at this point). Fluff and mix in the onions before serving.
- I serve my pilaf with a simple Shirazi salad. Just chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions, a glug or two of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, a pinch of salt and pepper, and a handful of chopped mint or parsley.
- Here are some of the ingredients that may be difficult to find in your area: brown lentils, green lentils, basmati rice, good olive oil.