Monday, October 13, 2008

Lovely Lentils

Lentils in my household are usually used in a common lentil soup made by Greeks that varies slightly from family to family. I usually combine the lentils with plenty of finely chopped onion, garlic, celery, carrot, bay leaf, olive oil, tomato paste, water or vegetable broth and a splash of vinegar once done to make a hearty soup my children thankfully gulp down. During the cooler months of fall, winter and early spring this soup is a weekly staple which I turn into a meal alongside plenty of bread, some Feta, lots of olives and maybe a little melitzanosalata (eggplant spread) or other dip.

The other night I was in a no meat kind of mood and was just about to begin preparing my fakes (that's Greek for lentils, pronounced fah-KES) when I decided I wasn't in a "soupy" kind of mood either. I remembered some friends of mine who come from Cyprus usually make their fakes along the same lines I do (only without the celery and carrot) with the addition of rice. So I started to look up some Cypriot recipes using lentils and rice and through my browsing learnt that this dish is known as Moukentra in Cyprus (Ivy of Kopiaste will obviously know more about this, so correct me if I am wrong Ivy!) but I couldn't find a solid recipe to use as a starting point. I believe it is probably made differently across the island, with coriander used in most cases to primarily flavor the dish.

I did find that a staple of Lebanese cuisine is Mujaddara, lentils and rice topped with caramelized onions. I was extremely intrigued by all the spices the varying Lebanese recipes called for and went on to adapt one to my liking. The cinnamon, cumin and allspice in this dish were so amazingly fragrant while cooking -- they really set the stage for what I found to be a very satisfying meal.

Lebanese Inspired Lentils and Rice with Caramelized Onions
Serves 4 to 6

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 cup lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 cup rice
3 large onions, thinly sliced

Heat olive oil in a saucepan; add the one large onion chopped and the minced garlic and cook until soft. Add the cumin, cinnamon and allspice and sauté a minute more. Add lentils and saute another minute. Stir in the broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the rice along with the water and return to boil. Simmer, again covered, until the rice and lentils are done, about 20 minutes or so.

Saute the 3 onions that have been sliced in a couple of tablespoons olive oil until a deep golden color, 18 to 20 minutes. Top individual servings of lentils and rice with caramelized onions and serve.


Ivy said...

Maria, I have posted fakes moudjentra a long time ago and the way we make it in Cyprus is similar to the Dodekanese where it is called fakoryzo. The Lebanese version is similar but in Cyprus we only use salt and pepper and "tiganisi" which is the caramelized onion or "syvrassi" as they call it in Greece, which we incorporate in the lentils whilst cooking.

Peter G said...

Delicious Maria! In the winter months my mother adds "hilopites" to the mix to make it more hearty and filling.

Peter M said...

Very exotic, a salute to the abundance of spices that have entered and heightened Greek cuisine.

Elly said...

I absolutely LOVE mujaddara. This looks fantastic. Mmmm.

Johanna said...

I might give these a try, but I am not a great lentil fan

Bellini Valli said...

This sounds perfect for when I don't feel like eating meat and need lighter fare.

Maria said...

Ivy, I just got to look at your post on fakoryzo--my grandmothers, mother and aunts ahve always made it the plain old soupy Greek way, never added rice. I had only heard of adding rice through my Cypriot friends. I will be making it this way more often as we all enjoyed it very much.
Peter, I've added small pasta to fakes at times as well. It sound slike such a "blah" food but I really like it no matte rwhat anyone else might say!
Peter M. the spices were really great, so unbelievably fragrant.
Elly, this has become one of my favorites too.
Johanna, thanks for stopping by. I love lentils, but if oyu're not a big lentil fan combining them in a dish with rice is perfect as they blend together well.
Val, it really is a great "light" meal. You can top it with a little Greek yogurt and it's even better.

Ivy said...

Maria, I forgot to mention that we as well make fakes with pasta instead of rice.

Rosie said...

Hi Maria, I have some lentils in and must try this recipe out. I am not a huge meat eatter and for me this would be perfect :)

Rosie x

Maria said...

Rosie, you should really give this recipe a try. The spices really worked so amazingly well in this dish.