Time definitely flies when you’re having fun. It flies even faster when that involves getting engaged, promoted, married and 15 pounds lighter. While I haven’t been writing, I’ve been digging right in and helping myself to the incredible changes life has served me.
One of the most amazing things about the past few months has been the welcome with open arms from my new family. Lucky for my me, my husband and my faithful handful of dear readers, my amazing father-in-law lives just blocks away and has also welcomed me with an open kitchen. Since our wedding, I’ve had the pleasure of spending Sunday nights peering over his shoulder into a giant stockpot simmering with crackling olive oil, a generously fragrant fistful of minced garlic, fresh vegetables carried up from the farmers’ market and stewed lamb falling softly from its lovingly butchered bones.
The cooking I’ve grown up with and so from which have felt most comfortable to experiment tends to involve a lot of “a la minute” sauteeing (clearly, I’ve been watching Top Chef while I plug away on PR plans this week). Watching my mom from across our granite counter at home, this coordination of colorful sides is casually but carefully timed. In my own closet of a kitchen, it’s frantic, leaving a trail of overturned prep bowls in its too-tiny wake. But the Middle Eastern cooking my Abuhamed has shown me is elegant, leisurely, leaving us time to put up our feet while the rice steams away, he smokes a forbidden cigarette and I try to memorize, fascinated, the lips of the characters on Arabic TV.
It’s clear where my husband’s love of food comes from. One of my first and most distinct memories of talking to Abuhamad (“father of Mohammad”) is the way he described the flavor of the olives from the trees where he grew up in Nablus in the West Bank, when you would wait all year for them to come into season. “There is no olive oil in the world that tastes like where I come from,” he said wistfully. I struggled not to tear up as I witnessed this gentle man recount such a visceral memory of a place he will never again see in his lifetime. Even if he were to return, it wouldn’t be to the place he describes as he skillfully slices onion after onion – one of simple people who never had much, but were content.
One of the traditional dishes they ate there was “Mujaddara.” Some quick Googling reveals variations across the Middle East largely because it meets that universal jackpot of being delicious, healthy, filling, cheap and easy. Comprised primarily of ingredients you always have in your pantry – lentils, rice and cumin topped with onions and served alongside a quick salad of tomatoes, cucumber and lemon – mujaddara is comfort food at its simplest, guilt-free best.
Weight Watchers Points Plus: 2 per 1/4 cup (so divide into 6 servings for 8 points+, or 8 servings for 6 points+)
My camera phone photo is insulting to this dish. There’s a beautiful photo that looks like this version on Avocado Bravado.
- A cup of brown lentils
- Double the rice for lentils (2 cups will be enough to serve at least 6 people, or 2 people with many, many leftovers)
- A heaping spoonful of cumin
- An onion
- Oil (olive if watching that weight, corn or canola if not)
- Optional, but better: A dollop of Greek yogurt to serve with (1 WWP+ for 1/4 cup lowfat)
Weight Watchers Points Plus: 1 (for every tsp. of olive oil you use)
- A tomato
- A cucumber
- Juice from a fresh lemon
- Part of a jalapeño
- Any other veggie you want to use up (like red cabbage)
- Olive oil (natch)
- Soak rice.
- Wash lentils (no need to soak them). Pick out and get ride of the uglies.
- Put lentils in a big stockpot and cover them with water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 – 7 minutes after it does so; you want the lentils to be just barely cooked, but it’s important that they not get soft yet or they’ll be mushy later.
- Rinse rice and add to the pot.
- Add cumin.
- Adjust water level so it’s where you’d want it if you were cooking rice – just covering it by about a half inch. You might have to add a little water, you might have to scoop some out.
- Stir everything. Add a generous pinch (or a small spoonful) of salt.
- Just like you would with rice, bring to a boil over highish heat, then cover and bring to a low simmer until rice is cooked.
- Meanwhile, slice onion into thin strips.
- If serving traditionally/not calorie consciously, fry the onion in corn or canola oil over high heat and dry on paper towels. Or, for my Weight Watchers friendly variation, caramelize the onions. I like to start them in a teaspoon or two of olive oil over fairly high heat, then bring them down to low and cover, stirring occasionally. Let them go until the rice is done.
- Prepare the salad. Dice tomatoes, cucumber and whatever else you’re using. If you like heat, cut off the top of the jalapeño and get rid of the seeds and ribbons. Dice into tiny pieces. Add all or part, depending on how spicy it is (and you are).
- Squeeze juice of a lemon over the top, toss with a small amount of olive oil, and S&P.
- Serve mujaddara with the onions on top, alongside the salad and yogurt.