It takes me about 15 or 20 minutes to slowly coax chopped onions into a blissful state of dark caramelization. And it’s worth every second.
I recently made Mjudara (pronounced “mm-jud-da-ra”), a Lebanese dish of brown lentils, rice or bulgur, seasonings, and you guessed it, plenty of caramelized onions.
I used two giant yellow onions, thinking that would be plenty. It wasn’t.
It meant chopping onions by hand, which makes my eyes burn and water. It’s still worth it.
This particular dish suggests reserving half the caramelized onions for topping and leaving the rest in the pan with the other ingredients. But I’ve decided that if the topping is that tasty, I’ll call it a side dish and make as much as I want.
Mjudara recipe from the Food Network website:
Lebanese Lentils, Rice and Caramelized Onions (Mujadara)
1 cup brown or green lentils (not lentils du Puy), sorted for debris and rinsed
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
3 medium red onions, thinly sliced
3/4 cup basmati rice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 (1-inch) cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons pine nuts, optional
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Greek yogurt, for serving, optional
Throw the lentils into a medium saucepan. Fill with enough cold water to cover the lentils by about an inch. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn down to a simmer and cook until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, as the lentils cook, grab a large skillet. Pop it over medium-high heat and add the oil. Allow the oil to warm for a minute, then drop in the cumin seeds and cracked peppercorns and cook, shaking the pan once in a while until the cumin seeds darken a touch, about 1 minute.
Add the onions, sprinkle with a dash of salt and cook until they turn dark caramel brown, stirring often. This will take about 15 minutes. Splash the onions with a little water if they stick to the bottom of the pan. You’ll know they’re done both by their deep chestnut color and by the slight crispiness developing on some of the onions.
Using a slotted spoon or spatula, remove about half of the onions to a paper towel-lined plate; these are for garnish later. Sprinkle in the ground cumin, cayenne and then add the cinnamon stick; saute about 1 minute.
Add the rice and cook, stirring often (but gently so you don’t break the rice!) until some rice grains start to brown. Quickly, add the cooked lentils, 3 cups of water and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt; bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low so that the pan is at a simmer, cover and cook 30 minutes. The water should be completely evaporated and rice should be tender. (If there’s still too much water in the bottom, put the lid back on and cook for another 5 minutes.)
Turn off the heat, keep the lid on, and allow the rice to steam undisturbed for about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts, if using, in a small skillet over medium-low heat, shaking often, about 5 minutes.
Taste the rice for seasoning. Serve with the reserved caramelized onions, toasted pine nuts, if using, and a little squeeze of lemon.