Our friends Gill and Therese (affectionately known as “G&T”) are vegetarian. We were cooking dinner for them the other night, and I made this simple Lebanese rice and lentil dish to accompany a root vegetable tagine. The rice stole the tagine’s thunder – we were all surprised by how delicious it was!
The original recipe is from Abla’s Lebanese Kitchen, a truly fabulous cookbook and one I’d highly recommend if you’re looking for a Christmas gift…
I changed Abla’s recipe slightly, substituting French lentils and Basmati rice for her original ingredients…
Here’s my take on the recipe:
- 300g (1½ cups) French lentils, washed and drained (original recipe used brown lentils)
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 125ml (½ cup) light olive oil (or other neutral oil for frying)
- 2 medium brown onions, halved and sliced thinly (I used a mandoline)
- 200g (1 cup) Basmati rice (or other long grain rice)
1. If using Basmati, put the rice in a bowl of water to soak. If using regular long grain rice, rinse and drain well.
2. Put the lentils and salt in a large saucepan with 750ml (3 cups) water, cover and bring to the boil over a high heat. Once the pot is boiling, add another cup (250ml) of cold water and boil for 15 minutes (the extra water is supposed to stop the lentils from splitting). Check the lentils – they should be tender but not mushy.
3. In the meantime, in a large pan (I used a wok), heat the oil over high heat and fry the onions until golden brown – the time this takes will vary depending on your onions (Abla specifies 6-7 minutes, but mine took longer). A lot of the flavour in the dish comes from this step, so take the time to really brown them well. Once they’re done, scoop out a quarter of the onions with a slotted spoon and reserve for garnishing.
4. At this point, carefully combine the cooked lentils with the remaining onions and their oil. I did this by turning the heat off on the onions in the wok, and then carefully ladling in the lentils and their cooking liquid. Take care to go slowly, as the oil will bubble and pop. Abla’s original instructions are to add the onions and their oil to the lentil pot.
5. Drain the Basmati rice (if using), rinse well and drain again. Add the rice to the cooking pot, then add another cup (250ml) of water and stir well. Cook, covered, over a low heat for 20-30 minutes or until the water is absorbed and the rice tender (keep an eye on it and stir occasionally).
6. Scatter over the reserved fried onions and serve. This dish reheats well – I made it the day before and the flavours seemed to intensify overnight. If you plan to do that, keep the fried onions in reserve and scatter them over the dish just before serving.
This dish was so good that I made it again a few days later for Big Boy and Small Man, who both loved it. Definitely a keeper!