Lentil and rice pilaf (Mdardara)

There are McDonald’s billboards everywhere in Beirut and the caption says: “YOU DON’T WANT TO EAT MUJADDARA EVERY DAY, DO YOU?”. The photo on the billboard is of a breaded (fried) shrimp sandwich.

Call me contrarian, but that billboard immediately made me long for mujaddara or its sister, mudardara. Simpler to make, it is just a pilaf of lentils and rice, crowned with fried caramelized onion rings. A recommended side with this is simply a tomato salad or raw veggies and some yogurt. 

INGREDIENTS: 6 servings 

  • 2 cups of lentils (preferably the large green ones)
  • 1 1/2 cups of long-grain rice (Uncle Ben’s or similar)
  • 4 large yellow onions
  • Salt, as needed
  • 2 1/2  tsp of seven-spice mix or 1 tsp of cinnamon, 1 tsp of allspice, 1 tsp of cumin, 1/4 tsp of white pepper
  • vegetable oil, as needed
METHOD:
  1. Slice the onions into rings, place in a bowl and sprinkle the onions with  2 tablespoons of salt, tossing them a bit to spread the salt evenly; set them aside for at least 20 minutes or longer. 
  2. Place the lentils in a large pot, add 6 cups of water and bring to a simmer; simmer the lentils for 20 minutes or so until they are cooked but still firm.
  3. Squeeze the onions and drain them well; heat 3 cups of oil in a skillet and fry the onions until golden-brown. Drain the onions and take half of the fried onions and add to the lentils. Add the rice and bring the mixture to a simmer, adding the spices. Cover and let the lentils and rice cook for another twenty minutes or so until the rice is cooked. You may need to add one cup or more of water before cooking the rice if the lentil mixture looks too dry. Keep in mind that there should be 3 cups of liquid to cook the rice in. (Alternatively, you can cook the rice separately and add it to the lentils, which can be drained of water).
  4. Serve the mdardara  warm with a garnish of the rest of the fried onions. 
NOTES:
  1.  Some people like to use Italian rice or Egyptian rice to cook the mdardara; personally I find that these rice with their high-starch content make the mdardara too heavy. I prefer long-grain like Uncle Ben’s or jasmine rice.
  2. Traditionally, half of the oil was added to the rice and lentil mixture; I find that two tablespoons of oil (which will be part of the fried onions) is plenty and delivers that smoothness characteristic of this dish.
  3. The reason I sprinkle the onions rings with salt is so that the salt drain them of their water and they become crispier when fried. 
  4. As mentioned by Samir (see comment), the lentil water does take on a bit of color and some people drain the lentils and add fresh water to cook the rice in;  it works either way.
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41 Comments

  1. Posted March 5, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Why not eat this every day?? Much better than any fast food…

  2. Posted March 5, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Oh yes, why not Mudjadara each day? It’s surely much better than a MacDonald and at least you know what you are eating. I like this recipe Joumana. Have a nice day.

  3. Posted March 5, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Who wouldn’t want to eat Mujaddara every day. Nothing more wholesome than lentils and rice! I love your presentation with the onions circling the bottom. :)

  4. Angel of the North
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    I have read a lot of different recipes for this (non- Lebanese and based in UK) but this version seems to be the clearest and mosy informative. Can also be scaled down.

  5. Posted March 5, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Looks and sounds a lot healthier than the shrimp burger!

  6. Kinda
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    My grandmother invented a new name for Mjadarra so that when my grandfather asked she could keep him guessing. She called it Couzalia! LOL! This is my favorite meal…just add some fatouch or pickled turnips and I’m in heaven!

  7. Mark Wisecarver
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Awesome. I make this, very similar, at least once a week, my 3 kids love it.
    Curious, my family being from Beirut, I’m often left surprised by some of the new menus.
    With the heritage, several main religious beliefs there, are things like Shrimp really getting that popular? Just curious. ;)

  8. Posted March 5, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Je suis contente de dcouvrir ton blog ! La cuisine libanaise est une cuisine que j’adore ! Il me hâte de tester une de ces recettes alléchantes !
    Bisous

  9. Joumana
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    @Mark: You would be surprised! Sushi is big here too.

  10. Posted March 5, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    I’ve made something similar for years, Joumana..but like your spices better. It’s a perfect meal.

  11. Posted March 5, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    One of my biggest personal satisfactions, that makes me hope for the future of this planet, is that when McDo opened in style in my partner’s hometown in Southern Italy, it had to close quite quickly. There is only one left, and I don’t think it’s making any money: nobody goes there. The local street food (that would probably include durum wheat bread filled with tomatoes, calzoni – bread filled with tomato sauce and mozzarella and fried -, fried aubergines, fried rice croquettes, ice cream) is just so much better and cheaper.

  12. Posted March 5, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    So, in being blatant, that billboard seems to have delivered a subliminal message?
    I love this dish, amazingly simple yet ticks all the boxes! Love your pic, what’s that white thing with blue rings in the background?

  13. Posted March 5, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    This sounds so good. I love finding new dishes to enjoy lentils and rice. Pinned and saved this to try very soon!

  14. Joumana
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    @Linsfood: It is a glass I filled with yogurt, best side for this dish with a salad!

  15. Joumana
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    @Caffettiera: Here people LOVE American-style fast-food!

  16. Posted March 5, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    I saw the billboard and believe me i prefer mdardra to the burger ;)

  17. Posted March 5, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    I agree – I far prefer this over what they got on that billboard – it’s healthy, fresh, and full of flavor!

  18. Mark Wisecarver
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Interesting you mention Sushi, I make a lot of Sushi Nori. :)
    btw, You’re the best. ;)

  19. Posted March 5, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    There’s a reason we grow so much rice on this planet … so many things to do with it. Cheers!

  20. Posted March 5, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    I agree, I would much rather have this beautiful lentil and rice dish than a deep fried sandwich! I’m sure even the fish sandwich is swimming in fat and calories.

  21. samir
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    an all time classic. earthy, fragrant, healthy,,simple and yet sublime, we make it with or without spices.., sometimes long grain/ sometime short,just depends on mood..,,,,.fast food cant compare, silly fools who think otherwise..

  22. Posted March 5, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    I would rather have the Mdardara too. A plate of this beautiful dish would be a welcome sight at the end of the day. Thanks for sharing the photo and narrative about the McDonald’s sign. It was perfect for this post.

  23. Posted March 5, 2012 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    ooooh….I would take your dish over that McD burger! Both, actually. I could gobble both with my hands. :-)

  24. samir
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    ps forgot to mention,regardless of grain used or spices,in our family and many others throughout the Levant we discard the lentil coooking water after they have cooked al dente and add fresh water to the lentil rice mixture..the lentil water has a heavy overpowering taste and murky coloring..by doing so you have much more refined easier to digest dish and the flavors meld better and yet remain distinct.if u insist on usuing the cooking water, save a bit( ladleful) and mix with fresh..

  25. Joumana
    Posted March 6, 2012 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    @Mark:You are too kind!

  26. Joumana
    Posted March 6, 2012 at 12:09 am | Permalink

    @Samir: You’re right about the lentil water; thanks so much for mentioning it/ I will edit the post.

  27. Posted March 6, 2012 at 5:43 am | Permalink

    What a beautiful dish!
    I prefer pilaf than burgers
    I also like your fried caramelized onion rings on top of some dishes.
    Yogurt is the best choice for side for me.

  28. Posted March 6, 2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Actually…yes I WOULD happily eat this every day! McDonalds and their ridiculous ads don’t know what they’re talking about.

  29. Posted March 6, 2012 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Interesting how McD’s caters to different cultures… a shrimp burger… I on the other hand like your suggestione much better of course. Those caramelized onion rings…

  30. Posted March 6, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Oohh…this reminds me of the conical piles of fresh spices that loved in the markets of Marrakech when I visited a few years back….lovely.

  31. Posted March 6, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    It is great post.I am felling glad about this post.Can you more share with me.I have many ideas about it.I will come back as soon.

    Thanks for more info…………….

    Gourmet Secrets

  32. Posted March 6, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    I could definitely eat this yummy dish everyday!

  33. Posted March 6, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    Ugh, stupid McDonald’s billboard. I’d rather eat either lentil dish instead ANY day.

    Your photos are lovely, as always. You’ve found a way to make a difficult-to-photograph food look great.

  34. Posted March 6, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    This looks so flavorful. It has protein and carb , all in one bite. Love it!!!

  35. Ed Habib
    Posted March 8, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    Let see , Mjadarra with rice, Mjadarra with wheat, lentil soup with noodles, lentil soup with batata or a processed mystery meat with maybe a little shrimp. I will go with any of these rather than the McDonalds option.

  36. Posted March 8, 2012 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    What a thing to say on a billboard for McDos? Really? I think I would want to eat it everyday compared to the fried food at a chain. Wow! And it sounds like a stupendous dish – but I love lentils and I love pilaf and oooh the fried onions are great in this! Perfect. Next time I crave McDonalds I’ll make this :-) Love your recipes, Joumana!

  37. Anonymous
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    1 teaspoon of cumin is a bit too much. Typically, cumin is not a main spice in this dish. I recommend cutting it down to 1/2 or 1/4 teaspoon.

  38. georgia
    Posted May 25, 2012 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    I agree, I would rather eat this every day, it’s complete, easy and delicious. I do use different spices than you, but I always like to check your recipe, because it gives me a place to start, and I can make sure that I didn’t miss any steps. With the yougurt and fresh veggies on the side, this is a cool meal to serve in the summer. Thanks. G

  39. Irma Kobaissi
    Posted April 19, 2013 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    I am making this for my boyfriend. He works at Mcdonalds and he just can’t eat there anymore lol :) his dad is from Beirut, His mom mexican, I have cooked at least 10 recipes from this site. And I’ve become better and better at cooking Lebanese food. Thank You so Much!

  40. Joumana
    Posted April 21, 2013 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    @Irma: so glad to hear this!

  41. Bengü
    Posted July 23, 2013 at 12:17 am | Permalink

    I made this last night, it was very filling and delicious, thanks for the recipe.

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