I had a cold last week. And I don’t get sick. Like ever. So although you might expect the infrequency of illness to rouse some sympathy from the hungry belly party of this get-up (aka Rhys), it doesn’t. I still had to cook dinner. All week. Even though he had the week off and I had to work. And I was sick. Did I mention that I was sick?
Moaning aside, my sickie, constantly hungry state led me to this vegetarian delight from Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s Jerusalem − cloud, silver lining. Apparently mejadra (p120) is the Arab world’s answer to macaroni and cheese or fried chicken: pure comfort food. I can see why.
The humble, simple ingredients create something that is so much more than the sum of its parts. A few surprising spices transform this simple dish into something exotic and exciting. Cinnamon, allspice, turmeric and toasted coriander and cumin seeds give depth, floral and citrus zing and a subtle, wintery sweetness. The crispy onions, by far the most labor intensive part of this meal, really do make all the difference. If you can manage not to munch them all as you cook them − très difficult − the more you can add to the lentils and rice and the more you can pile on top in a crispy pile of slightly oily, sweet, caramelized love, the better.
I used jasmine rice instead of basmati and it worked, but was a bit dry. I think maybe another 1/4 cup of water would have made the difference, as would the yogurt sauce they mention in the book which I forgot about and didn’t make. I also crushed the toasted cumin and coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle before adding them back into the rice because, as much as I love coriander, biting into a whole seed is like sucking on a perfume bottle. It’s a bit much. Crushed up, they were glorious. And it meant that, rather than one thing overpowering another, each bite had different hints of cinnamon sweetness, turmeric depth, cumin smokiness and coriander freshness.
So when the inevitable winter cold hits your household, look no further than this ancient and comforting bowl of goodness. It’ll set you right.
Bon appetit (without the meat)!