I no more hold with New Year’s resolutions than I do with the stupid, pointless holiday itself, but I do find myself wanting to eat slightly healthier this time of year purely out of fat and sugar fatigue. The impulse will wear off by the next major holiday (either my birthday or Chinese New Year, depending on the year), I assure you.
Until then, this is one of my favorite dinners, just right for these post-holiday, undo-the-damage, back-to-work busy days. Lentils are healthy and frugal, so if you are the sort who makes resolutions about either diet or finances, this fits both bills. If you’re also of a superstitious bent, Italians eat lentils in order to attract prosperity in the new year, and since all the economic signs point to a crappy 2009, it might not hurt to try observing the tradition.
This is a lazy modification of mujaddarah, a lentil, rice and caramelized onion dish found around the Levant. To save time, and also because I utterly adore and completely depend on it, I cook the rice separately in the rice cooker while I make the lentils and onions on the stove, then I mix the two together in roughly equal proportions. Doing it this way also means that any extra rice is plain and therefore suitable for other uses — say, rice pudding, if your holiday crapulence recovery time is quicker than mine.
This is a wonderfully satisfying main course with or without the optional garnish of hard boiled eggs, and it also makes a great side dish for a simply roasted chicken, fish, or other protein if you’re not a vegetarian.
Serves 4 as a main dish, or 6 as a side dish
2 cups basmati rice
3 whole allspice berries
1 cup lentils, preferably green or black
2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 large bay leaf
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions or 4-6 large shallots, sliced as thinly as possible
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1-2 teaspoons soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Hard boiled eggs for garnish (optional)
Cook the rice with several pinches of salt and the allspice berries in a rice cooker or on the stove, as you prefer.
Combine the lentils with the garlic and bay leaf in a medium pot. Cover with water, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a vigorous simmer and cook until tender, 20-30 minutes. Remove the garlic and bay leaf but do not drain, since the lentil liquid will be used for flavoring and moistening the rice later.
In a large skillet, cook the onions in the olive oil over medium-high heat until completely browned and beginning to crisp at the edges. Set aside a few tablespoons of onions for garnishing the final dish, and add the ground allspice to the remainder. Deglaze the pan with 1 to 1 1/2 cups of the lentil cooking liquid, then drain the lentils and add to the pan with 1 teaspoon of soy sauce and several grinds of pepper.
Turn off the heat and stir in half to all of the rice, depending on your prefered proportions. Add additional soy and/or pepper to taste.
Serve topped with the reserved onions and quartered hard boiled eggs, if desired.
Soy is not at all customary in this dish, but it adds depths of flavor salt alone does not, and compensates for the fact that the lentils and rice didn’t cook together.
No matter how many onions I caramelize for this dish, it never seems like too much, so if you’d like to up the quantity, you have my wholehearted blessing. Red onions or shallots will produce an even sweeter, darker garnish, but plain old yellow onions work fine.
If you want to be exhaustively virtuous, you could use brown rice in place of the basmati.