Lentil Rice Pilaf with Caramelized Onions (Mujadara)
Mujadara is a warm and comforting Lentil Rice Pilaf topped with caramelized onions. Mujadara is a common dish made in Lebanon and all over the Middle East. It’s 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 the last week and a half. We’re gobbling up bowlfuls of this stuff with whipped yogurt and tons of Salad-e Shirazi.
As someone who grew up eating a boatload of brown lentils, till this day it’s one of my favorite comfort dishes. Not only is it loaded with protein, fiber, and nutrition, it’s also such a hearty and comforting meal. When I’m under the weather, most of the time I make brown lentil daal. It’s this quick, garlicky daal tempered with garlic cloves and onions that I serve over rice. Of course, there’s a Pakistani salad to accompany the daal. And if you’re thinking lentils… salad.. rice..
You would be right in thinking that Mujadara is a dish that hits all of my comfort food requirements.
This too is loaded with warming spices, tender lentils, and boatloads of crispy fried onions, all served with long grain white basmati rice and you guessed it – a crunchy, lemony salad. Not to mention that it’s naturally dairy and gluten-free.
And the best part is that this meal uses mostly pantry staples. So if it’s been a while since you’ve gone grocery shopping, or if you’re snowed in, this mujadara recipe is here to save the day with warming spices, a handful of rice, and some lentils.
Ingredients for Authentic Mujadara Recipe
- Lentils: I always use brown lentils for this recipe. You can easily find them on Amazon or at bulk ingredient stores. Almost all Middle Eastern and Indian or Pakistani grocery stores will also carry this type of lentil. Brown lentils are the most common lentil variety, so I do think that you should be able to find them easily!
- Onions: We’ll need a couple of onions for this. Slice the onions thinly and then try them in oil until they’re golden and caramelized. The onions add such a delicious taste to the dish along with the seasonings and spices! If you’d like to make sure that all the onions brown at the same right, it’s helpful to use a mandoline slicer for this step.
- Olive oil: You’ll want to use a good quality extra virgin olive oil for this recipe. No need to splurge on extra virgin olive oil, the regular stuff will do.
- Basmati Rice: Make sure you don’t use a short grain rice for this recipe. For best results, I suggest using long grain white basmati rice. This is my absolute favorite basmati rice, it’s the only one my family uses and we’ve been using it for over 10 years. If you want to use brown basmati rice, it could work. I do suggest soaking the rice and you may need to cook the rice for slightly longer to make sure it’s done. I haven’t tested the recipe with brown rice, so you will need to play around with it a bit to ensure the rice is cooked through. The method we use for this rice recipe is partially the same that I use when making basmati rice. We’ll soak the rice and allow it to soften a bit before cooking it with the spices.
- Spices: For the spices you’ll need ground cumin, ground coriander, ground allspice, and cinnamon. In the past, I’ve also used ground turmeric, but in recent years, I’ve cut back on using turmeric in this recipe. It will work if you’d like to add some though! You could also add some fresh black pepper to give it a little bit more spice. These spices add such a delicious flavor to the dish.
- Sugar: We’ll use a hint of sugar to add sweetness and balance the salty elements.
- Kosher Salt: You’ll need at least a teaspoon salt for this recipe. I like to use kosher salt or a flakey sea salt.
- Serving suggestions: Lemon wedges or a homemade salad are always a good idea. I also like to serve this with whipped dairyyogurt. You could make Mast-o-Khair which is a cucumber and herb yogurt that’s similar to Greek Tzatziki.
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 Mujadara (aka lentil rice pilaf)
- Prep the ingredients. Start by picking through the lentils. Then give them a good rinse in a sieve under cold running water. Add them to sauce pan and then cover with enough water so that the lentils are submerged by at least 2 inches. Boil the lentils until almost tender. Drain the lentils and set them aside for later.
- Soak the rice. Rinse the basmati rice under cold running water until the water runs completely clear. Then soak the rice in a bowl with cold water while the onions caramelize in the next step. You want to give the rice at least 20 minutes so that the grains have a chance of expanding and they’ll cool much quicker in the pot this way.
- Caramelize the onions. Add a few glugs of olive oil to a deep, thick-bottomed pot with a lid. Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the onions and stir them to coat in the oil. I like to set a timer for 20 minutes, just so I know when I’ve reached the halfway mark and to check and see if my heat might be too high and the onions are cooking too quickly. Ideally they should start developing color around the 12 minute mark. And from that point, you want to stay close and stir often. Once the onions are past a golden brown, remove them to a paper-towel lined plate and set them aside while you simmer the rice and lentils.
- Stovetop Mujadara is easy. Drain the rice well, you don’t want it to splatter once it hits the hot oil. Add it to the remaining oil in the same pan. Sauté the rice in the oil until you start to hear a gentle popping sound. Add the lentils to the pot and season with cumin, coriander, turmeric, all spice, cinnamon, sugar, and salt. And water and let the water come to a rolling boil. Cover the pot with a lid and lower the heat to the lowest setting.
- Steaming. Once the timer goes off, remove the pot from the stove. Grab a sheet of paper towel, remove the lid, and sprinkle the caramelized onions over the top of the rice. Lay the paper towel over the pot and then place the lid on top. This allows the excess moisture to be soak into the paper towel as the rice steams. Fluff the rice with a fork and serve warm!
FAQs about this recipe
Green lentils would work for this recipe, but Iprefer to use brown. You can easily find brown lentils in Middle Eastern or Indian and Pakistani grocery stores.
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, parsley, or both if I’ve got them 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.
Keep leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. This is a great recipe for meal-prep.
If you like this recipe, you might also like:
- Ghormeh Sabzi (Persian Herb Stew)
- Lebanese Garlic Sauce (Toum)
- Easy Persian Chicken Kebabs
- Chicken Shish Tawook
- Batata Harra (Spicy Lebanese Potatoes)
- ⅔ cup brown lentils, rinsed
- 1 cup basmati rice
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 medium onions, cut into 1/4 inch slices
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric (optional)
- ¾ teaspoon of ground allspice
- 1½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Prepared Shirazi salad, for serving
- PREP: 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: Soak the rice in a bowl of cold water for 20 minutes while you caramelize the onions.
- CARAMELIZE: 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 hot, add the onions and stir them to coat with the oil. Set a timer for 20 minutes. Cook the onions for a total of 18-22 minutes, stirring often, or until the onions are a deep orange or a light 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 paper towel-lined plate; set aside.
- MUJADARA: 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.
- STEAM: 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.