This is another one of my childhood dishes, widely cooked and eaten in the Levant. As is often the case with dishes like this, poor man's food to feed the family with (no meat, hence cheap to make, with ingredients local to the region), there are as many recipes as there are cooks, and each family seems to have (at least one) favourite ingredient. Some say it is the cinnamon that defines the flavour of the dish, other swear by the ghee traditionally used to cook and flavour the dish. For yet others, the dish absolutely must have a garnish of crispy deep-fried onions. While I agree with the onions, I must disagree with the deep-fried. Mine were done in the oven and while they are not the same thing, they have loads of onion-y flavour and are generally a joy to behold, even without the deep frying.
The recipe here is far from claiming any definitive status or authenticity, rather, I celebrate the liberty to add and omit, tweak and adjust. This is what cooking is about for me: creativity, experimentation, making dishes to your own liking, not to a rigid recipe. So this recipe is my take on my mother's recipe for m'jaddara, and of course I have made it healthier and lighter (all that ghee - that was never going to happen Chez Green...). I also serve it up with a very refreshing tomato salad, which I think complements the dish beautifully, but which would receive more than a few raised eyebrows were I to present it to folk in Damascus.
I don't feel at all bad about changing my mother's recipe - hers is an adaptation of my grandmother's, her mother-in-law's, recipe for m'jaddara. In change and evolution improvement lies, and I am sure that after much huffing, my grandmother would have polished off a healthy bowlful of this.
This recipe is still evolving, as while I liked the spicing as was, Little Boy Green eloquently objected to the amount of cinnamon ("blagh") used here, and Mrs Green was convinced there was coconut oil in the dish. There wasn't, but she insisted that the cinnamon made the dish taste like coconut (err... OK). So, next time 'round cooking this I will likely reduce the cinnamon and maybe consider another spice/ flavouring either to replace or complement the cinnamon. I would also like to see if I cannot introduce a crispy texture to the dish to make up for the deep-fried onions. So, watch this space - there is likely to be a revised and improved take on this sometime in the future.
Ingredients: (serves 4 adults, as a main with salad)
- 1 X cup brown lentils
- 1 X cup burgul
- 4 1/2 cups water, divided
- 3 X large white onion
- 1 tbs cumin
- 1 tbs cinnamon
- 1 tsp cracked black pepper
- 1 tbs bouillon
- 30g pine nuts
- 1 tbs olive oil
- 1 tbs rapeseed oil
- Preheat oven to 200C and line a large baking tray
- Slice 2 onions and mix with rapeseed oil (or other high temp cooking oil) and a pinch of salt
- Spread on baking tray and and bake for 40 min.
- Stir the onions every 5 minutes after the first 20 min.
- Allow to cook completely before using. This will also allow them to firm up and have a little crunch.
Lentil and burgul mix:
- Finely dice one onion and place in a sauce pan with 1/2 cup of water and the bouillon. On a medium heat allow the onions to soften.
- Add the lentils and 4 cups of water and boil, uncovered for 15 minutes.
- Add the bulgar, cinnamon, cumin, black pepper and a pinch of salt. Return to boil, reduce heat to reach a simmer, cover and cook for another 5 minutes and then turn off the heat. Let stand for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, gently dry-fry the pine nuts until browned. (keep an eye on'em, these guys burn easy).
- Stir pine nuts and olive oil into the lentil and burgul mix.
- Top with oven baked onions and serve with a salad (ours was simply tomatoes and parsley in a lemon and olive oil dressing)