created at: 2013-01-02
Even as an adult, I still get giddy with excitement when I hear there’s a snowstorm heading my way. It’s not for the same reasons as when I was a kid—my days of meeting friends at the sledding hill and using “I’m too young!” as an excuse to get out of shoveling are over. But unexpectedly having a day off from work allows me to partake in one of my favorite events: a “cave day,” where I coop myself up in the house all day preparing new recipes.

There’s really nothing better than eating a bowlful of hot food on a cold, snowy night. So when I flipped through my girlfriend’s copy of Jerusalem: A Cookbook, the beautiful new tome from Israeli chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, the recipe for a dish called mejadra caught my eye. Maybe it was because the authors described it as “comfort food” (a trigger phrase for me when choosing new recipes) or because it just looked so darn appealing with a topping of crunchy fried onions (the power of professional food photography!), but I knew I had to add this dish to the next cave-day menu.

I’d never even heard of mejadra, so I set out to learn more about it. What I read is that this dish originated in the Middle East, and is essentially a no-frills mixture of three inexpensive pantry staples: lentils, rice, and onions (kind of like a pared-down variation of the Egyptian dish kushari). In the Jerusalem recipe, you cook green or brown lentils and basmati rice together, pilaf-style, and flavor the mixture with spices such as cinnamon, cumin, and coriander. You then gently stir in some freshly fried onions, reserving some for sprinkling on top. The dish is inexpensive to prepare, can be eaten hot or at room temperature, and will leave your kitchen smelling like an exotic Yankee Candle.

So, when I heard about the snowy forecast predicted for last Saturday, I excitedly hit up the grocery store. A few inches of snow and $15 later—did I mention these ingredients are cheap?—I began preparing my first batch of mejadra. The only step that took any real time or attention was frying the onions. Note: This task takes even longer if you eat the finished batch while the next one is frying. I recommend having a friend or roommate remove the plate of salty, crunchy beauties in between batches so you don’t eat them as quickly as you fry them.

This hearty dish got me through the snow day and several of the following days. That’s part of the beauty of mejadra—with such hearty ingredients, a little bit goes a long way, so one pot of it will feed you for a week. The dish is great when served with a dollop of Greek yogurt. And a few bowls in, I added some diced avocado and topped it with a fried egg, whose yolk created a creamy sauce that brought all three of the components together. Next cave day, I plan to experiment even more. Bring on the snow!