Are you familiar with mujadara? It’s a beautiful dish layered with lentils and rice at the bottom, followed by caramelized onions (the more, the better), and hopefully a couple of creamy or spicy sauces on the side. It’s one of my favorite items to order at Middle Eastern restaurants, and this recipe tastes just like it.
Mujadara is served across the Middle East in various forms and goes by differing names, depending on where you are. It has many spelling variations: mujadarra, mujadarah, majadra, mejadra, moujadara, mudardara, and megadarra.
Mujadara is a seriously inexpensive vegetarian meal that would make a statement at your next get-together.
Lastly, mujadara is fun to make! Want to learn how?
I’ve been wanting to master this recipe for quite a while. When the March-April issue of Milk Street arrived in my mailbox with mujaddara on the cover, it seemed like a sign. I got really excited when I read that their recipe cooks both the rice and the lentils in the same pot—genius.
For my version, I started with Milk Street’s recipe and made several changes to suit my own preferences and make the recipe a little more nutritious. I substituted brown rice for the white rice, which was simple once I adjusted the cooking times. Brown rice makes this mujadarra recipe extra hearty and flavorful.
I also cooked my onions in extra-virgin olive oil instead of peanut oil, and it worked great. Finally, I added more fresh herbs to liven up the finished dish.
How to Cook Mujaddara
Here’s what you should know before you get started:
This mujaddara recipe is awesome because you can cook the rice and lentils in the same pot! The trick is to let the rice cook for about 10 minutes before adding the lentils. This easy cooking method is a game changer, and I’m sure you’ll see it again soon.
While the lentils and rice simmer, you’ll start caramelizing the onions. Whether you want soft caramelized onions (shown in photos) or more crispy caramelized onions (more traditional), your mujaddara will turn out great.
For softer onions, just reduce the heat to medium-low after 10 minutes at medium-high. For more crisp onions, leave the heat at medium-high the whole time and stir minimally, just every few minutes when the onions are starting to brown. With either method, cook until the onions are deeply caramelized and loaded with flavor. You can’t go wrong!
Once your components are done, spread them across a large serving platter. Serve with a bowl of yogurt on the side. Its creamy, rich texture and tangy flavor unites the pilaf and onions.
I also love serving my mujaddara with a fresh and spicy sauce, such as shatta (shown in photos) or zhoug. Those are both made with jalapeños and fresh herbs. Store-bought chili-garlic sauce is a good option, too. If you want a more mild flavor boost, try a handful of sliced cherry tomatoes.
Important Notes & Tips
This recipe is designed for specific, easy-to-find varieties of rice and lentils.
If you choose a different variety, you will need to adjust the cooking times and method. The easiest workaround is to cook the lentils and rice separately until tender, drain well, then stir them together.
This recipe is written for brown basmati rice, not white rice, not quick-cooking rice. Any type of regular-cooking brown rice will theoretically work, but brown basmati rice is most traditional. If you want to use white basmati rice, you’ll find guidance in the recipe notes. Otherwise, you’ll want to cook your preferred variety of rice separately.
It is also designed for standard, uncooked brown or green lentils (not canned lentils or red/yellow/black beluga/French green lentils). Want to substitute canned lentils? You can—rinse and drain two cans of lentils and stir them into the cooked rice. Want to substitute another variety of lentil? Your best bet would be to cook it separately and stir it into the cooked rice. Here’s my guide to cooking lentils.
Wondering what to serve with your mujaddara? I’ve got you covered:
- Fattoush Salad, or a simple green salad topped with Fresh Mint Dressing
- Ultra Creamy Hummus, Baba Ganoush and/or Tahini Sauce
- Crispy Baked Falafel
- Mediterranean Tomato & Feta Dip
Please let me know how your mujaddara turns out in the comments! I hope you absolutely love it.
Mujadara (Lentils and Rice with Caramelized Onions)
- Prep Time: 25 minutes
- Cook Time: 35 minutes
- Total Time: 1 hour
- Yield: 4 generous servings 1x
- Category: Main Dish
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Mujadara is a classic Arabic recipe featuring cooked lentils and rice, caramelized onions, herbs and yogurt. It’s a delicious vegetarian main dish! This version calls for brown rice instead of white (if you want to use white, see recipe notes). Recipe yields 4 generous servings.
- 4 medium cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 ¾ teaspoons fine sea salt, divided
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 5 cups water
- 1 cup brown* basmati rice (regular, not quick-cooking), rinsed and drained
- 1 cup regular brown or green lentils**, picked over for debris, rinsed and drained
- ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium-to-large yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
- ½ cup thinly sliced green onions (from 1 bunch), divided
- ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley, divided
- Plain whole-milk or Greek yogurt, for serving
- Spicy sauce, for serving (optional): shatta or zhoug or store-bought chili-garlic sauce or even sriracha
- In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, combine the garlic, bay leaves, cumin, 1 ½ teaspoons of the salt and about 20 twists of freshly ground black pepper. Add 5 cups water and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Once boiling, stir in the rice and reduce the heat to medium. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain a controlled simmer, for 10 minutes.
- Stir in the lentils and let the mixture return to a simmer. Cover again, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the liquid is absorbed and the rice and lentils are tender, about 20 to 23 minutes.
- Meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s warm enough that a slice of onion sizzles on contact, add the remaining onions. Stir to combine.
- Stir only every 3 minutes or so at first, then more often once the onions at the edges of the pan start browning. If the onions are browning before they have softened, dial down the heat to give them more time. Cook until the onions are deeply caramelized and starting to crisp at the edges, about 20 to 30 minutes. In the meantime, line a large plate or cutting board with a couple paper towels.
- Using a slotted spoon or fish spatula, transfer the onions to the lined plate and spread them evenly across. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt over the onions. They’ll crisp up as they cool.
- When the lentils and rice are done cooking, drain off any excess water (if there is any) and return the mixture to the pot, off the heat. Lay a kitchen towel across the top of the pot to absorb steam, then cover the pot and let it rest for 10 minutes.
- Remove the lid, discard the bay leaves, and smash the garlic cloves against the side of the pan with a fork. Add about ¾ths of the green onions and cilantro, reserving the rest for garnish. Gently stir and fluff the rice with a fork. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if necessary.
- Transfer the rice and lentil mixture to a large serving platter or bowl. Top with the caramelized onions and the remaining green onions and cilantro. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature, with yogurt and spicy sauce (optional) on the side.
Recipe adapted from Milk Street.
*Brown rice notes: This recipe is specifically designed for regular (not quick-cooking) brown rice. Any variety of regular brown rice will theoretically work, though basmati is the most traditional choice. You can find brown basmati rice (Lundberg brand) at most well-stocked grocery stores, or you can buy it at Trader Joe’s (they sell both regular and quick-cooking brown basmati, so be sure to buy the regular).
*To make this recipe with white basmati rice instead: Cook the lentils in the boiling water first for about 10 minutes (until somewhat softened on the outside/still firm in the middle), then add the rice and cook until both lentils and rice are tender, about 25 minutes.
**Lentil notes: You want to use standard-issue uncooked brown or green lentils, not red or yellow lentils or fancy French green or black beluga lentils or canned lentils. Those all have different cooking times, which won’t work with these instructions. If you want to use a different type of lentil for this recipe, cook it in a separate pot from the rice, then stir them together before serving (canned lentils would simply need to be rinsed and drained before using).
Prepare in advance: This recipe is a great candidate for making ahead. You could gently reheat the lentil and rice mixture and onions (reserve fresh herbs for the end), or just let it warm to room temperature.