Yes, this is one of the wierdest food facts ever but this week’s dish, Majadarah, literally means having smallpox in Arabic. I learned this from Gil Marks’ amazing Encyclopedia of Jewish Food–one of my favorite reference books ever (and his recipes are good too!).
The brownish lentil bits in the white rice resemble the disease. How’s about that for a bit of black premodern humor?
Don’t let that put you off because Majadarah is a dish you want to try. Not only is it rich in flavor, it’s also high in iron ,fiber and protein.
Because it’s pareve , Majadarah features prominently in both Jewish and Arab cuisines. That shouldn’t be so surprising considering that we are cousins.
This week the Nine Days begin, the pre Tisha B’Av mourning period when Jews refrain from meat and wine.With their closed spherical shape lentils are the food of mourning. Closed circles, lentils which have no opening are said to “lack a mouth,” just as mourners who cannot greet others or open conversations are as it were, lacking mouths. On Tisha B’Av we are all mourners grieving the destuction of the Temples and every Jewish calamity thereafter.
But don’t save Majadarah for sad days. Gil Marks says that it is also served on Shabbat alongside Huevos Haminadoes, the browned eggs cooked in the Adafina, the long cooking Sabbath Stew (chulent) Please G-d the Messiah will soon come and we will eat Majadarah in Sabbaths to come.
With three different ingredients, each of which is cooked separately , Majadarah can be mess-making but I have a shortcut Presoak the lentils to soften then up. Then cook them together with the rice. Result:Two dirty pans instead of three. Hooray!
1 cup of green lentils (don’t even think of substituting red because red will turn to mush)
2 cups of basmati rice (white)
1 1/2 T vegetable oil
2 t salt (divided .Half in the rice and half in onion sauté)
¼ t cumin
¼ t black pepper
Three vidalia onion sliced into thin crescents.
Soak lentils in water for 4-5 hours to soften .
Saute rice briefly in oil . Add 1 t salt and drained pre soaked lentils
Add 6 cups of boiling water. Bring to a boil . Then lower flame and cook covered for 20 minutes .
While the rice and lentils are cooking together slice three onions into thin crescents and saute in a non ceramic non stick frying pan . Stir frequently. Add ¼ t pepper, 1/4 t cumin and 1 t salt to the sauté. The onions need to become dark brown.
Spoon the rice and lentils into a serving platter with the fried onions on top. (sorry no picture. Having some problems with mycomputer)