Lebanese Lentil and Rice Pilaf (Mdardara)

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We know we haven’t posted in a while but we have been a bit busy working on some fun DIY projects around the house as well as an exciting project that we will be announcing next week. Although our lives are busy, we wholeheartedly believe in eating healthy homemade meals. It might seem difficult to strive for but there are plenty of healthy and simple meal options that one can make in a pinch. That’s why today I’m sharing one of our favorite vegetarian meal options that we enjoy almost every other week. I didn’t like this meal much when I was a child but it grew on me to the point that I now crave it as an adult. It’s a pilaf made of rice, onions, and lentils topped with more crispy caramelized onions and served with yogurt, crunchy radishes, and a side salad. It is both nutritious and delicious.

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To be honest though, there is one downside to making this dish. ONIONS. Your house will smell like onions, you will smell like onions, your car will smell like onions. The smell of onions will permeate your life for days. But I can promise you that it will all be totally worth it! I look back now and laugh but I remember in my early undergraduate days when I’d be getting ready to leave the house for my evening class and my father would start cooking this meal. I would try to race through the kitchen and out the side door but to no avail. That split second in the kitchen was enough to have me reeking. It’s funny to think that now, as a mom, I will be responsible for ensuring my family has their fair share of embarrassing, onion-filled moments. The circle of life. How beautiful ūüėČ

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Lebanese Lentil and Rice Pilaf (Mdardara)

  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients
1 cup brown lentils
1 cup white rice
2 medium yellow onions, diced
3 large yellow onions, cut into half rings (optional)
4-5 cups of water*
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

*Note: I use 2 cups of water to parboil the lentils and 3 cups to cook the onions, lentils, and rice together. Even on the lowest setting our stove gets very hot and cooks very fast. You may find you only need 2 cups of water rather than 3.

Directions

  1. Rinse your lentils under cold water and remove any small debris.
  2. In a small pot, parboil your lentils in 2 cups of water for 10-12 minutes. Drain and set aside for step 5.
  3. Meanwhile in a larger pot, begin caramelizing your finely diced onions in olive oil. This will take time so be patient. Keep the fire on low and stir every so often until you have beautiful golden brown (but not burnt) onions.
  4. Add the remaining 3 cups of water to the onions and bring to a boil. Stir well, reduce the heat, and let simmer for 2 minutes.
  5. Pour the rice, lentils, salt, and pepper into your onion mixture. Stir well, cover, and cook until all the water has been absorbed (about 15-20 minutes).
  6. While your rice and lentils are cooking, heat the vegetable oil in a saucepan and fry your onion rings in batches until crispy and golden brown. Let drain on a paper towel until ready to serve. This part of the recipe is a bit unhealthy and you can skip it though it won’t be the same. Or you can slow caramelize your onions (I have done this many times) but it will take more time and they won’t be as crispy.
  7. Top your mdardara with the crispy fried onions and serve with yogurt (to keep this meal vegan leave the yogurt out), radishes, mint, and a fresh salad.

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What are some healthy meals you hated growing up but grew to love as adults? Let us know in the comment section below.

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Lebanese Stuffed Eggplants (Sheikh al-Mahshi)

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Growing up in a Lebanese household meant that eggplant was no stranger to the dinner table. One of my favorite eggplant dishes was (and still is) Sheikh-al Mahshi; a Lebanese casserole made of golden fried eggplants topped with spiced beef or lamb and cooked in a light tomato sauce. My father, who loved to cook for us, would make this dish using large purple eggplant slices for the base, tender filet mignon chunks and Lebanese pine nuts for the topping, and fresh homemade tomato sauce. Delicious is an understatement.

A few months ago, I was at a local¬†market¬†when I came across these¬†large 11-pound boxes of assorted baby eggplant for only $3. It was a total steal and I ended up taking a box home with me to experiment with the other colorful eggplant varieties. Although I ended up blanching and freezing many of them for a rainy day, I decided to recreate my father’s recipe using baby eggplants for dinner one night. I have always found the Lebanese dishes I grew up with simple to make but with graduate school and a household to tend to, any shortcut that doesn’t jeopardize taste is definitely welcome. While I prefer the taste of homemade tomato sauce, having a quality canned sauce on hand can really speed things up. Cooking with ground beef also saves you the hassle of having to prepare and cut your meat. Some of my modifications, however, are not just to save time but to make the recipe a teeny bit healthier. Instead of deep-frying the eggplants to soften them, I blanched them and then browned the skins in a bit of olive oil. The only issue was that I found the skins of the yellow eggplant variety too thick to eat. I personally would not use them again in a recipe like this even though the flesh had a very nice flavor. With that being said, this version was a huge hit with the family and we hope you’ll consider adding this simple, healthy dish to your recipe box.

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Lebanese Stuffed Eggplants (Sheikh al-Mahshi)

  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients

10-12 baby eggplant
1 lb lean ground beef
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 15 oz can of tomato sauce (we use Simple Truth)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground all-spice
1/2 cup chopped parsley
Extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper (to taste)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Rinse the eggplants and trim the stems, leaving the hulls.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to boil and blanche the eggplants whole for 8-10 minutes until tender. In the meantime, toast the pine nuts until golden and set aside.
  3. Once the eggplants have cooled, gently make an incision from the hull to the bottom of the eggplant.
  4. OPTIONAL: Drizzle a bit of oil in a deep pan and brown the blanched eggplants in batches for 2-5 minutes then set aside (see step 7).
  5. Drizzle a bit of oil in a deep pan and sauté the diced onions until translucent.
  6. Add in the ground beef, cinnamon, all-spice, salt, and pepper and cook until meat is well done.
  7. Ladle a few spoons of tomato sauce into the bottom of a glass baking dish and lay the eggplants slit side up.
  8. Spoon the spiced meat mixture into each eggplant and cover with the remaining tomato sauce. Top with half of the toasted pine nuts and half of the chopped parsley.
  9. Cover your baking dish and bake in the oven for 30 minutes until the sauce is simmering.
  10. To serve, garnish with remaining pine nuts and parsley next to a bed of steaming vermicelli rice.

Note: If you end up with extra meat, just spoon the remainder evenly on the top of the sauce before baking.

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