Rice and Lentils

rice and lentils with spices

After tasting the rice and lentils served at my favorite Middle Eastern restaurant, I was inspired to give my old recipe a facelift.  Sofra, in Cambridge Massachusetts,  serves their rice and lentils with plenty of spice, making it complex and modern.  My new recipe is moderately spicy and just delicious.
Humble rice and lentil pilaf is eaten throughout the Middle East. It’s ancient peasant food which dates back to Biblical times, specifically the book of Genesis. It’s referred to as Esau’s favorite. The arabic name for it is mujadara. Golden-brown onions are what make this dish so special. Their sweetness complements the earthy lentils.  A blend of warm spices, common  to Middle Eastern cooking, are key.  As you’re cooking it, the aroma of frying onions and warm spices fills the kitchen. Lots of tender, but not mushy, lentils are also essential to the success of the dish. There should always be more lentils than rice.
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Rice and Lentils is Middle Eastern comfort food.  A wonderful vegan supper can be enjoyed by making this dish and pairing it with my Persian Chopped Salad. You can also serve it with yogurt and mint sauce, spice-infused tomato sauce (recipe below) or just a couple of chopped fresh tomatoes. I love it with the spiced tomato sauce on top.
It reheats well. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Warm it up in the microwave or serve at room temperature.  This recipe makes a large batch, so you will have leftovers. It packs great for work week lunches.
rice and  lentils 4

Rice and Lentil  Recipe

Makes a large bowl full

Some Notes:
You can make this recipe in stages. I usually cook the lentils the night before I’m planning on making the dish. Store them in an airtight container in the fridge.
I provide recipes for yogurt-mint sauce and spiced tomato sauce below. They’re great sidekicks to this dish.
Aleppo peppers are also known as Near East peppers. Moderately hot, the crushed, dried chili peppers are sometimes described as a cross between cumin and cayenne. You can use cayenne pepper instead of the Aleppo pepper but you must use less of it.  Aleppo pepper is also wonderful sprinkled on grilled steak, pork chops, chicken, pizza and scrambled eggs. I buy Aleppo pepper in the Middle Eastern markets by my apartment or online.
I have several Indian grocery stores near my apartment, where I can find all sorts of brands of rice. I tend to go with the best quality my budget can afford. I like Tilda brand which can be viewed here: http://www.tilda.com/our-rice-range/tilda-dry-basmati-rice

Vietnamese cinnamon is the richest, and sweetest cinnamon around. I adore it! I find it at Penzeys Spices online store. Regular cinnamon will work just fine too!  

  • 1-1/2 cups of French green lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 6 large yellow onions, sliced into very thin half moons
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon of Aleppo pepper or a 1/2 of a teaspoon of cayenne pepper (see notes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground Vietnamese cinnamon or regular cinnamon
  • 3 dried bay leaves
  • Sea salt or kosher salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Olive oil for cooking
  • Cooked basmati rice (recipe below)
  • Serving Suggestions: Ground Aleppo pepper, drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, lemon wedges, ground sumac (found in Middle Eastern stores or online), yogurt and mint sauce (see below), Greek yogurt, light or regular sour cream, fresh parsley, spiced infused tomato sauce (recipe below)


Instructions For the Basmati Rice:

  • 1 cup of basmati rice
  • 1- 1/2 cups of water
  • sea salt to taste

Rinse one cup (measured with a dry measuring cup) of basmati rice in several changes of  water. I do this in a large bowl. Rub the rice between your fingers to release the starch. Strain the rice and set aside. Heat 1 1/2 cups of water (measured with a liquid measuring cup) in a pot with a tight fitting lid, add some salt and bring to the boil. Add the rinsed and strained rice, bring back to a boil, cover. Turn the heat down to the lowest possible setting. Simmer, covered, for 15- 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside in the covered pot.


 Instructions for the Lentils and Onions:

Place lentils in a pot with enough water to cover(about an inch or so over the lentils). Add the dried bay leaves. Turn up heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer on low, partially covered, until the lentils are cooked and tender but still holding their shape. Don’t overcook them into mush. Adjust the heat as you go, keeping a gentle simmer. Add more water if needed. Drain the lentils in a colander, discard the bay leaves. Set the cooked lentils aside and toss them with salt and pepper and a little olive oil.
Meanwhile, put a large nonstick fry pan on the stove. Saute the onions with salt, pepper and plenty of olive oil. Cook the onions over medium heat, stirring them occasionally. Keep an eye on them. Once they’re golden brown with some crispy browned edges, add the cumin, allspice, cinnamon, coriander and the Aleppo pepper.  Saute the spices for about 30 seconds to release their flavor. Stir in the reserved lentils, adding a drizzle of olive oil. Warm everything through. Put the rice in lentils in a large bowl. Stir in the reserved rice.  Serve with suggestions and enjoy!

Yogurt and Mint Sauce

A nice addition to my rice and lentils, grilled chicken kebabs, Greek burgers, lamb dishes, Moroccan and Indian food, stuffed grape leaves and much more.
1 cup of full fat or 2 percent Greek yogurt. I like Fage brand.
1 teaspoon or more of dried spearmint.  I like to use Penzeys brand.http://www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzeys/p-penzeysmint.html
Sea salt or kosher salt to taste

Place the yogurt in a bowl. Add the mint by rubbing it between your fingers as you sprinkle it into the yogurt to release its flavor. Add salt to taste and serve. It can be stored in the refrigerator for 3 days.
Note: You must use dried spearmint in this recipe. It’s used all over the Middle East in salads, tabbouleh etc. Do not use peppermint. Peppermint has a different flavor and is used mostly for candy making and baking.  

tomato sauce

Spiced Tomato Sauce Recipe

Some Notes:

This sauce is scrumptious served over the top of my rice and lentil pilaf for added moisture and tangy tomato flavor.

Pomi Brand tomato product are the best!  They come in a box instead of a can.  If you can find them, grab them. I find them in my regular supermarket. They’re 100 pure Italian tomatoes with a garden fresh taste. Processed near the fields immediately after harvesting. 100% Natural seedless and ready to use. 100% BPA free. 100% GMO free.  No preservatives.


2 small onions, diced

1 26.46 ounce box of Pomi Strained Tomatoes or two 15 ounce cans of best quality tomato sauce.

1 teaspoon of ground cumin

1 teaspoon of ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon of ground allspice

1 teaspoon of dried oregano

Drizzle of honey or a few pinches of sugar to balance the acid in the tomatoes.

Salt and Pepper to taste

Olive oil for cooking


In a small pot heat some olive oil and add the onions, salt and pepper. Saute the onions until soft. Once the onions are soft, add the cumin, coriander, cinnamon and allspice. Toast the spices for about 30 seconds to release their flavor, stirring the entire time. Add the tomatoes, honey and oregano. Adjust the salt and pepper. Bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 25-30 minutes.


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