Brown lentil casserole (Horrak esba3o)

lentils with dumplings

Had a freelance foodstyling  gig yesterday (more on that later this week), so I needed some good homecooked food fast. Rima @RimRam gourmet lend me a hand  and we all enjoyed the best lentil dish known to mankind. 

Called in Arabic “he burnt his finger”, this dish is bursting with flavor. Everybody took second helpings immediately. Rima says: ” the key is dosage here, taste a lot and add a little of this or that”.

Brown  lentils, onions, lots of citrus juice (lemon or better, Seville oranges), a touch of pomegranate molasses and LOTS of garlic and cilantro, fried in oil into a pesto. Dumplings are also part of the mix but can be substituted with pasta. 

INGREDIENTS: 6 servings

  • 1 cup of brown lentils
  • 4 large onions
  • 2 bunches of cilantro
  • 10 cloves of garlic
  • 1 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1/2 cup of lemon juice or  1/2 cup of Seville orange juice
  • 1 large pita bread or 2 medium pitas
  • Spices: 1 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp black pepper 
  • 1/2 cup of small shell pasta or orechiette (small ears)
  • 1 1/4 cup of vegetable oil


1. Rinse lentils. Place in a pot and add 6 cups of water on medium heat till it boils; simmer for 20 minutes (lowering heat) until the lentils are almost cooked.

2. Slice the onions into rings; heat the oil and fry the onions till golden-brown;  drain the onions on paper towels. 

3. Chop the cilantro fine. Mash the garlic in a mortar with a dash of salt and add to the cilantro. Place on a skillet with 1/4 cup of oil. Stir gently until the cilantro wilts, then remove from heat immediately. 

4. Add the salt and spices (cumin, black pepper) to the lentils and half the cilantro mixture as well as half the fried onions, the lemon juice (or orange) and  pomegranate molasses. Place the pot over medium-low  heat for 15 minutes. Cook the pasta and add to the lentils.

5. Cut the bread into small squares with kitchen scissors and fry in 1/2 cup of hot oil till golden-brown. Place half the fried bread on a platter and pour the lentils on the bread. Garnish the top of the lentils with the rest of the cilantro pesto, fried onions and fried pita croutons. Serve warm or hot.

Note: the lentils need to be thick, like a porridge. Seville oranges are sold in some supermarkets; they are bitter oranges that are very popular this time of year in Lebanon and are used in dozens of dishes (or any dish that uses lemon). People juice them and freeze the juice to use later in the year. Their peel is candied or made into a jam. Their juice is made into a syrup. 

harra' esba3o

Green lentils can be substituted here; pita croutons need to be fried according to Rima (I agree) or the taste of the final dish will be dulled. I adapted a recipe for this dish from Saduf Kamal’s Alef Ba’ al-tabekh.

PS: You can cook the pasta with the lentils also, during phase #2, when you add the spices and simmer the lentils for 15 minutes. The traditional recipe includes homemade pasta made with flour and water and a dash of salt. Take one cup of flour, add salt and enough water to get a dough; knead for 5 minutes till smooth and let it rest 15 minutes. shape into ribbons and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Dry the pieces for 30 minutes and boil in salted water for 3 minutes. Drain and transfer to the lentil pot.

herrak eba3o

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  1. Posted January 19, 2013 at 3:38 am | Permalink

    A beautiful casserole! I love everything about it.



  2. Posted January 19, 2013 at 4:49 am | Permalink

    I love green lentils when cooked right and this one looks like a recipe I must try! I love the combination of lentils with citrus juice and pomegranate molasses! Cumin is the best spice to add in such a dish! Fried pita is a perfect addition! I have a question though. When or in which step do you add shell pasta? I couldn’t see it in the instructions.

  3. Joumana
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 5:05 am | Permalink

    @Zerrin: Sorry, that’s because Rima made these dumplings (with flour and water). If using pasta, add the pasta when you cook the lentils again with the spices and citrus juice, otherwise if you cook lentils and pasta together from the beginning the pasta will turn mushy. Rima cooks her dumplings in water separately.

    Rima: bon voila, c des lentilles(les petites) que tu fais bouillir pour une demi hr et puis tu ajoutes dessus une te2leye de basal,coriandre et ail frits ds de l huile d’olive,, tu laisses bouillir encore un quart d heure les memes lentilles avc cette te2leye et tu ajoutes bcp de citron, du sel, du reb remmen, et du poivre doux, de la cannelle(un peu) et du cammoun, et une grande cuillere de sucre(pas pleine) mais rasee, tu laisses pour 10 mn mijoter et entretp tu fais du 3ajine(farine et eau) que tu fais bouiilir a part , quand ils emmergent tu les enleves et tu les ajoutes au 3adass. tu eteint et tu laisses pour klk heures, tu decouvres apres et tu ajustes les gouts parce ke il se peut ke ca demande un peu plus de citron ou un peu plus de sel ou un peu plus d’eau parce ke les “dumpling” sucent l’eau..tu ajustes mais il faut que ca garde cette consistance que tu as se mange temperature ambiante avc au dessus as garnish des oignons coupees en slices et frits dans de l huile vegetale et du pain coupe en carreaux et frits aussi..tu ne peux pas griller du pain ou des oignons to make it light parce ke c pas bon ca perd le gout..
    la chose la plus importante ds cette recette c le dosage et la consistance(texture) il fautke ca soit citronne,juste ce kil faut, sucree juste ce kil faut et sale juste ce kil faut autrement ce n’est plus ca..::))

  4. Posted January 19, 2013 at 5:38 am | Permalink

    Wow, this looks scrumptious. We really love brown lentils and I’ve never thought of (or heard of) combining them with citrus juice and/or pomegranate molasses. But if the addition of orange juice makes it as sublime as your chickpea soup, then I’m going to try this out very soon. Maybe even today!

  5. Posted January 19, 2013 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    Very cool! No surprise…your dishes are always gorgeous, like this one!

  6. Sam
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    This is great. I love the combination of the citrus with lentil and the cilantro, cumin makes it grand. I’m making this recipe this weekend. Very healthy, hearty and delicious.

  7. Posted January 19, 2013 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Je n’ai jamais mangé les lentilles cuisinées de la sorte. Ça doit être délicieux.
    Je note.
    A bientôt

  8. Posted January 19, 2013 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    OH Yumm! I love the sound of this casserole. My family love lentils and this one sounds so full of flavour, I think this will be a favourite.

  9. Posted January 19, 2013 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    I love lentils and this looks like an amazing dish and SO beautifully presented – not to mention all of those luscious ingredients.

  10. Posted January 20, 2013 at 4:21 am | Permalink

    Oh my, Joumana, this is stunningly beautiful!! I’ve never seen lentils look so good. :-) I’m so glad you posted a recipe to use pomegranate molasses. I bought a jar last year but haven’t decided how to use it. This will be brilliant. :-)

  11. Posted January 20, 2013 at 5:48 am | Permalink

    Tes plats sont toujours aussi appétissants !
    Bisous et bon dimanche

  12. Posted January 20, 2013 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    Love, love, love this. Intrigued by the citrus notes, pomegranate and all those crispy things.

  13. Posted January 20, 2013 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    Looks amazing and very healthy!

  14. Posted January 20, 2013 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Oh, wonderful, all my favorite flavors and textures in one. Teta made something similar but not this exact thing – I’ll definitely be trying this!

  15. marcela hannouche
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    Ana ma ba3ref a3mel sfouf, w ana jbert a3mel bass ma byezbat ma3e leich???

  16. Joumana
    Posted January 23, 2013 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    @Marcela: baddek wasfeh lal sfouf?

  17. Posted January 23, 2013 at 5:16 am | Permalink

    Amazing lentils; looking gorgeous with pomegranates- I love seeing similatiries in our cuisine, we cook green lentils this way and serve with sauteed onion rings and pickles too:)

  18. Posted January 24, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Et bien dis donc ma ” cocotte ” voilà un bon plat de lentilles super gourmand et avec une décoration très jolie…

  19. M&M
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    Wow!! This is one of my favorite dishes ever!! As you said, it really is the best lentil dish known to mankind. I don’t know of many people that make this dish…but my grandmother, from Palestine, would make this dish along with pasta from scratch, sans the pita bread. I make it with store bought pasta. I think it’s the most soulful dish she makes. Thank you for sharing this very nostalgic dish…Your work is amazing. I love, love your blog, especially authentic/traditional Levant recipes with a twist! I’ve made many of your recipes, and all have been AMAZING!!

  20. Posted January 27, 2013 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Talk about bright flavours! The presentation is gorgeous in that beautiful copper pan, too! This is a MUST MAKE! Yum!
    Is that photo in Lebanon – a few posts down – with the snow?

  21. Joumana
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 12:00 am | Permalink

    @A Canadian Foodie: Yes, Valerie, this photo is from Lebanon, the Chouf Mountains (alt 950m)

  22. Posted February 13, 2013 at 1:26 am | Permalink


  23. Khaldoun
    Posted April 17, 2013 at 10:42 pm | Permalink


    I used gnocchi for my carb base instead of the pasta, sliced in half, it worked wonders !
    great recipe by the way. I’m studying in the US and I cook many things of your blog…

    thanks for the great recipes !

  24. Joumana
    Posted April 17, 2013 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    @Khaldoun: Great idea!!!Glad you like the blog. :) Happy studying!!

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