Memories of Mujadara

Some moments in time are perfect.

When everything around you was just so; understanding, even then, that you are most likely going remember the time for eternity.  It doesn’t have to be anything dramatic or even noteworthy, it’s just a time when everything was ‘right’ – and you felt like you were where you should be.  I don’t know how else to describe it and I don’t even know if it will translate to paper, but I guess I won’t know until I try, eh?

Mujadara brings it back to me, every time.  This simple dish of lentils, rice, and caramelized onion spiced with salt pepper and cumin, is, for me, laced with memories of an ideal moment during my life (and delicious to boot – in a way that I never expected with just lentils & rice but it’s the caramelized onion that does it).

It’s Sunday morning at the restaurant. Winter is just starting to nudge you a bit and let you know of its coming. The back room, bakery, where we bake and prep is warmed from the huge double hearth ovens, yet the bakery still has an invigorating chill from the big open windows.

The bakery is typically populated with two bakers, one prep cook, and the bakery prep cook (to this day I don’t know where this title came from – that person made soups, quiche, lasagna, salsa & cut fruit – which in no way benefited us bakers). Sundays were a little magical.  Sundays were the days when a couple of the line cooks came back to our area to make cheese sauce and fry tortillas.  The best Sundays featured a visit from Kamil and Osama.  Both men hailed form the Gaza strip in Palestine and we benefited not only from their wisdom but their mad cooking skills.

Kamil was a very gentle, soft spoken man; slender in build, dark skin, dark eyes, dark hair (what was left of it anyway) and the sweetest smile going.  His heavy, but beautiful accent and soft voice required an extra attentive ear.  Osama was an altogether different package, sturdily built, light caramel skin and sea green eyes.  Yes, sea green eyes.  He had more of an Egyptian look to him, but he was fiercely Palestinian and missed his family in Gaza.  His name means “Lion” and t’was apt for him.  He was a man of extreme emotions at times. Ninety-nine percent of the time he was mellow, with a smile and laugh, but on the rare occasions when he was angry, he was fierce. Not violent, just passionate.

On this particular Sunday, Kamil decided to make us all some STRONG Turkish coffee (as if there’s another intensity for Turkish coffee). He set about with his small metal cezve 

The magic happens in this small metal container

The magic happens in this small metal container

making us each our own coffee served in beautiful demitasse cups he’d brought with him from his homeland.  And after we each had one cup, he made us another and possibly another.  It was so delicious and we were so hopped up on coffee.  We buzzed around like little bees – all of us laughing and enjoying each other’s company.  While Kamil made cheese sauce and coffee, Osama had put on two pots of water to boil, getting ready to make some Mujadara for our lunch.

It was the first time he’d made us this particular dish. He told us, that day, he was homesick for his mother and that Mujadara was one of the typical day-to-day dishes she’d prepare for his family. He told us that it was not an entrée you’d see on a menu in a typical Middle Eastern restaurant as it was a very ‘peasant-y’ dish – not much to look at.  To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much – I’m not a fan of rice and lentils have to be highly spiced for me to enjoy them. SURPRISE – it was fabulous.  Those three main ingredients had a lot to offer.

When the Mujadara was prepared, Osama plated up a portion for each of us, warmed up some flat bread and we all ate together.  It was a perfect Sunday. I felt like I was in the right place at the right time – surrounded by people that I cared for very deeply all sharing in a meal made with love and warm memories.

After we gorged ourselves and the caffeine wore off, I think we were all ready for a nap.  We crashed hard.

And that, my friends, was a perfect moment in my life.

And this, my friends, is the recipe for Mujadara, prepared in the manner of my friend Osama’s mother.



  • Ingredients:
    • 1 cup uncooked rice – I prefer basmati – choose your favorite kind
    • 1 cup uncooked lentils – green variety is the best, red will dissipate
    • Enough water to make both rice and lentils
    • 2 large Onions – red or vidalia are best – sliced in half moons and somewhat wide (in other words not thinly sliced)
    • Olive Oil
    • Cumin
    • Salt
    • Pepper

To Prepare:

    • Cook both the rice and lentils according to the package directions (I actually will cook them both together because I’m lazy)


    • Whilst the rice/lentils are cooking heat up the olive oil in a large heavy cast iron pan or a deep sauce pot (you need enough room to add the rice/lentils later on) – Medium heat


    • To caramelize onions: add the sliced onions and begin to sauté them on low heat for 20-25 minutes, until the onions have turned a deep brown.  Stir the onions around during the process


    • For the last 10 minutes of the caramelizing, add the cumin, salt & pepper (I have no measurements to offer – you want them highly spiced but not too salty). I also like to add a little water to the onions and cook it down – this helps to soften them and it will also deglaze the pan adding to the rich flavor of the caramelized onions.


    • Once the lentils and rice are cooked, add them to the onions. Mix well on low heat.  taste and re-season as necessary.


  • Serve warm. A little plain Greek Yogurt is delightful.   Some people like a squeeze of lemon as well.

    Looks blandiola, tastes like heaven.

    Looks blandiola, tastes like heaven.


And that is all there is to it.  Mujadara tastes even better the 2nd day, after all the spices have infused in the rice and lentils.

About Rutabaga the Mercenary Researcher

I'm a research librarian for Public Television, story teller, bike commuter, baker, music fiend, lover of reading & books, mother, wife, friend - and many more descriptive adjectives and nouns.
This entry was posted in Baking, Cooking, Eating, Family, Food, Humor, love, Recipes, Relationships, Vegetarian, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Memories of Mujadara

  1. Slo-Man says:

    Nicely done! We were right there with you…

    Sometimes the moment does not have to be “just right” for you to remember it. The Slo-Man remembers his first experience with death in slow motion memory and nearly 30 years later, it is fresh in his memory and that story does appear on the blog.

    Must try the recipe. Sounds like a fun thing; onder what would happen if you added some raisins and cashews to it.

  2. MissFourEyes says:

    Mmm, Mujadara sounds good! That was a wonderful story, Denise 🙂

  3. rossmurray1 says:

    Beautiful piece. You captured the moment, for sure. Big moments can be so little sometimes.
    I have just finished my latest piece, which is about cookbooks and how we settle into favourites and feel less inclined to try new recipes as we grow older. This sounds like an exception. Print!

  4. Funny – I bet if you ordered this in a restaurant (if they sold it), it may have been hum-hum. But put in the context where everything in lined up just right – people, atmosphere, timing – it’s magical. And it sounds like that is where this comes from. I love cumin – I toast it and grind it in a mortar and pestle at home and put in a tiny jar. I put tiny amounts of it in a lot of what I cook. Just for that little bang. So I’m with you on this one (although I haven’t tried this dish) – I can see just how simple and yet satisfying it can be. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story and yummy sounding dish 🙂


  5. List of X says:

    I once tried a STRONG Turkish coffee (incidentally, also made by a Palestinian man), and that wasn’t the best day of my life, because I spent hours trying to wash the taste out of my mouth.

  6. Paul says:

    Hey, I didn’t know you could cook too Rutabaga. I thought that librarying took up all your time. You make the recipe sound delicious. I honestly haven’t had much of those ingredients in my diet. I was brought up on meat and potatoes. Interestingly enough though, there is this little old Lebanese lady who attends dialysis the same time as I do, three times a week. She doesn’t speak any English but she is always smiling and nodding. I suspect she came to Canada as a famjily member of an immigrant. Anyway, she has taken a liking to me for reasons I cannot explain and regularly brings me containers of freshly cooked Lebanese food. It has a lot of beans and lentils and rice as well as some chicken, lamb and occassionally beef. She brings stews and wraps and full meals – all packed neatly in throw away plastic yogurt containers (the big ones). The food is delicious, although I would never order it in a restaurant – perhaps I’m not a risk taker and am a bit conservative in my choices. That being said, I’d like to taste your recipe but I must confess I’d never cook it. Your descriptions are clear and straightforward and you make it sound very tasty,

    It is amazing how taste and smell build such strong memories. When I was younger, I often wondered what the atrraction was to “breaking bread” together. I am starting to understand. Thanks for a great post.

    • Thank you Paul. Mujadara is actually Lebanese, I believe. Years ago, my brother dated a Lebanese woman, and she introduced us to Middle Eastern food – it was so delicious.

      What a sweet woman – that’s nice when someone takes a shine to you (and I can see why she would), especially if she/he cooks too. What a boon.

      Yes, I’ve loved cooking/baking since I was about 15. I’m pretty much a faux librarian these days, since I don’t work in a library 🙂

      Ordering new foods at a restaurant is definitely risky – one one hand, you don’t want to miss out on your favorite thing there and on the other, what if what you order sucks?? AHHHH – it’s nice to dine ‘family style’ in places that have a new array of foods that one is unfamiliar with. Although, I know, for some people they would never engage in that kind of eating –

      Food’s role in society is my favorite sociological subject.

      • Paul says:

        It is amazng how we interlink with food and relationships. If you named a family member or acquaintance of mine , I could tell you the meal I associate with them. And yes the “family dining experience” is not one shared by everyone. I’m an only child so I could always eat (within reason) off my parents plates when I was young and they (esp my Mum) would taste what was on mine. I never had a problem with that. Or sharing a common dish by spooning from that to my plate was never an issue for me either. It was with some surprise that I discovered later in life that this is most emphatically not so for some people. Ha! I had a boss once and we used to go out for beer and nachos and osccasionally would have to travel together for business. She was nuts over that. If another person’s fork (even if it was clean) touched anything on a plate that she was eating from, she would not eat any more. When we ordered nachos she would order two clean plates and carefully separate the nachos into two servings. Someone else’s fingers in the nachos? – she would almost throw up. Ha! I used to tease her unmercifully and pretend to be going for her nachos with my fingers and she would brandish a fork at me.

        Anyway enough pre-marital food stories. Now post marital food stories get much more interesting. >:D

  7. Sounds delicious…I’m going to try as well. Hope you have been doing well. I’ve missed catching up with everyone. xx

  8. I am so making this dish! And I’m going to think of you, your friends and this wonderful story. 🙂

  9. leesa jackson says:

    i seem to remember that day as well….i certainly remember getting buzzed on turkish coffee one day!

  10. Victo Dolore says:

    One of my favorite comfort foods!

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