There are several dishes bearing that name in both Lebanese and Syrian cuisine but this one really deserves it. It is easy to prepare, (I will point out shortcuts), and is economical, healthy, and extremely delicious.
Adding pasta to lentils is a very old tradition in the Near East; my grandmother would do it when she fixed lentils for her family, with an easy homemade dough (flour and water); it was called rishta. In fact, Clifford Wright, the author and researcher, wrote that pasta was actually an Arab invention and goes back to the Tunisians. I am not a historian and totally unqualified to debate this theory, but just mentioning it for the sake of trivia.
This is simply lentils cooked for a while, flavored with cilantro, onion, garlic and pomegranate molasses. The added pasta can be homemade or any small boxed pasta or even pita bread cut into croutons.
- INGREDIENTS: 4 servings (can multiply the amounts)
- 1 cup brown lentils
- 6 cups water
- Spices: salt, to taste
- 1/2 tsp black pepper or allspice or seven-spice seasoning
- To make the pesto:
- 1/2 cup olive oil+ 1 tablespoon
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro, leaves chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed (1 tablespoon mashed garlic paste)
- 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses or to taste
- Homemade pasta: 1 cup flour, a dash of salt, enough water to form a soft dough (about 1/4 cup or more)
- or substitute 1/2 cup small shell pasta or 1 cup of pita croutons (cut pita with scissors)
- 1 cup oil if using homemade pasta or pita croutons
1. Place the lentils in a Dutch oven and pour the water; bring to a simmer and cook uncovered for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the pasta by mixing the flour with some water and a dash of salt; shape into a ball and set it aside for 30 minutes. Fry the onion in olive oil till softened, about 10 minutes, then add the cilantro and garlic and fry a few seconds till the cilantro wilts and gets fragrant, stirring a bit to combine with the garlic.
2. Add the pomegranate molasses, spices and half the cilantro mixture to the lentils; stir a bit and bring back to a simmer. If using boxed pasta, add it now; if using homemade pasta, roll it out and cut it into ribbons or small squares (or have fun with it as I did using cookie cutters), and drop half the pasta into the lentils. Simmer the lentils and pasta for another 15 minutes uncovered, stirring from time to time until the stew gets thick. Meanwhile, heat the frying oil and drop the other half of the pasta in it and fry till golden. Drain on paper towels; use the fried pasta as garnish on top of the lentils or as croutons in a small serving bowl. Garnish the dish with the remaining cilantro pesto.