Something like mujadara, only French, kind of.

Oh, Meatless Monday. If you fell on any other day, I would have a much easier time. Around 2:00 this afternoon, I was pretty sure we were pretty much going to have grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. But the thing about having a food blog is that at least a couple of times each week one must make an effort to eat something interesting, or, at the very least, to pretend that she hasn’t been eating an inordinate number of sandwiches, because eating only sandwiches won’t help anyone out of any rut.

And I am in a rut.

This happens every so often, usually during the longest-feeling part of a season when I really just don’t feel like eating whatever’s in season any longer. At the start of winter I cannot get enough root vegetables; by the end of February, the rose in my cheeks isn’t the brisk arctic air but too goddamn many beets. There will be radishes soon, and asparagus, and pea shoots, and peppery little leaves of watercress. I have never been particularly patient.Also I don’t like the cold, and I am bored with my puffy jacket, and all my boots need to be resoled. Whine, whine, whine. It’s possible that I am laying blame for my rut on the weather and the root vegetables when the problem is me. Nick has indicated that’s likely the case, and that I am a malcontent at my worst, and contrary much of the time. I maintain that I’m charming and delightful, but he did not nod in agreement.

So because we cannot live off of grilled cheese alone, winter vegetables will have to do for now. And why not coax the best out of them?

I first heard about mujadara from Orangette. For the uninitiated, mujadara is a simple dish of rice and lentils bound by the rich sweetness of deeply caramelized onions. Made from pantry staples, it’s comfort food for a dark grey day, and the constant sizzle of onions for close to an hour is soothing, and you can eat it with a side of greens dressed in a squish of lemon and it’s really very nice.

But why stop there? Why not pull out that celery and those carrots that have been languishing in the crisper? Why not add a touch of smoke, a pinch of vigour? Yes. Pinçage. Let’s do that. Here’s a variation on the mujadara theme, a twist that will placate those dull feelings until the first tips of asparagus finally grace your plate.

Rice and lentils with pinçage

(Serves four, or six as a side dish.)

  • 1 1/2 cup basmati rice
  • 1/2 cup French green lentils
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt, divided
  • 2 cups diced onion
  • 1 cup diced carrot
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp. tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium pot, combine rice, lentils, bay leaf, one tablespoon of olive oil, and one teaspoon of salt with four cups cold water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and keep covered.

Meanwhile, heat three tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add onion, carrot, celery, and apple, and cook until onions turn translucent. Turn heat down to medium, and cook slowly, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes to an hour, however long it takes your ingredients to turn golden and soft. Add salt once veggies begin to brown. I let mine go until they’re barely recognizable as their former selves, until they are dark and black in bits and they smell sweet and faintly smokey.

Add the garlic and the tomato paste, allowing it to dry to the bottom of the pan but not to burn. Keep it moving, tossing the veggies to coat in the sauce. When you’ve reached this point, you’ve got a pinçage (although technically a real pinçage wouldn’t have apples in it … technically, shmechnically).

When the bottom of the pan looks pretty dry, add rice and lentil mixture (removing bay leaf). Pour about a cup of water into the pan to deglaze. Doing this will release the flavour of your pinçage into the rice, coating it saucily.

Serve sprinkled with fresh parsley.

6 thoughts on “Something like mujadara, only French, kind of.

  1. This is my favourite dish in the world! My mom makes the best Mujadara (and most authentic) you must come over for some! Actually, I’ve been meaning to have a Mujadara party where she cooks a great huge pot and everyone comes over to meet her and eat her food. We always make a cucumber mint raita on the side, not particularly Arabic but delicious, or sometimes make a fresh tomato salad with dill. Another variation of this dish – though it is called something different, I just can’t recall it right now – is actually to add a simple tomato sauce and add elbow macaroni! No kidding, but it’s actually really, really tasty.


  2. This looks like my kind of recipe. And I’m sick of beets, too. Which doesn’t change the fact that I have about ten pounds of them in my fridge and one more 40lb winter storage box yet to come. My kingdom for a radish.


  3. This looks bright and sunny and quite tasty.
    I know this isn’t the venue – but last night I had a coconut cream/lemongrass sauce with black rice and grilled mongchong topped with a fresh starfruit salsa. Fabulous! the Mongchong is like Mahi Mahi and Halibut would work wonderfully as well. Not meatless, but a great saviour for cold grey Vancouver days.


  4. Lima: Yes, I must! The only version I have had is the one I learned online, which is probably not the most authentic one there is. Parties! Yes!

    Linda: Pinçage? It’s a fun one to say. I use it as a base for soups sometimes, or for pasta sauce, and it’s amazing!

    Dani: 50 more pounds of beets?! I hope you pickle them or you’ll be eating them well into radish season! Seriously, I would kill for a spear of asparagus.

    AJ: Yes, do want. I think I even have black rice. I always have lemongrass.


  5. Ha, no. I have ten pounds of actual beets left, and one more winter box still to come, in March, which will be 40 lbs of various storage veg. Another assload of beets will be in there. Then April will be mostly a wasteland, in May my garden should have some minor offerings, and June our farm share kicks back in. Hurry hurry hurry.


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