The other day I was craving earthy flavors, namely mushrooms. I bought a pound, not knowing exactly what I was going to do with them: perhaps do a pilaf with wild rice? or something with lentils? I was flipping through cookbooks and saw a mujadara recipe and thought, why not just add mushrooms? I liked the idea of mujadara because you have to make the super-caramelized onions for it, and I had been wanting to try out a new technique I read about on the blog Tigers & Strawberries. The final dish combination of lentils/bulghur/mushrooms satisfied my craving, and the sweetness of the caramelized onions rounded things out. (The only thing I would have changed is to increase the proportion of lentils to bulghur.) A dollop of lightly salted plain yogurt on top was the final component. If you have some on hand, a little sprinkle of finely chopped parsley adds a welcome fresh note to the dish as well.
Mujadara with Bulghur & Mushrooms (adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden)
4 cups broth of your choice: chicken stock, vegetable or mushroom stock (see notes)
12 oz white mushrooms, or 8 oz white mushrooms & 2-3 oz dried porcinis (see notes)
3 medium or 2 large yellow onions (see notes)
1 1/4 cup bulghur (cracked wheat)
1 cup green or brown lentils, rinsed & picked over
1 tbs tomato paste
1/2 tsp ground allspice
pinch of cayenne
salt & pepper
optional garnishes: plain yogurt or a lemon wedge; chopped parsley
Notes: You can easily make this a classic mujadara by omitting the mushrooms and using chicken stock. For the liquid, I used a concentrated mushroom stock called “Better than Bouillon”. It’s a paste that comes in a little jar and it’s handy for soups, etc. If you’re using the dried porcinis, steep them in a cup or two of boiling water. When they’re rehydrated, fish them out and use the remaining water as part of your 4 cups liquid. You should either strain it or pour it very carefully so the sediment remains in the bowl.
For the onions, you may want to consider making extra since they take a little work. They’re so tasty and versatile that you can throw them in almost any dish. They also freeze well. For a lengthy set of instructions on how to properly brown onions, go here; otherwise just follow my summary below. If you do make extra onions, there’s a great recipe for a non-soup-mix onion dip here.
Directions: Put your 4 cups liquid in a medium-to-large saucepan, cover and bring to a simmer. If you’re using porcinis, prepare as mentioned above. Peel the white mushrooms or brush clean with a dry cloth (don’t rinse!) and slice them. Heat a little olive oil in a sauté pan and sauté them over medium heat, adding a little salt as they start to cook. Slice the onions in half lengthwise and then into half-moons as your mushrooms are cooking. When the mushrooms are almost done, stir in the porcinis. Set aside.
When your liquid comes to a boil, add the allspice, cayenne (up to you how much, but you’re going for a subtle warmth rather than hot & spicy) and tomato paste and stir well. Add the lentils and cook at a low simmer, covered, for 15 min. Add the bulghur and a little salt & pepper, taking into account the saltiness of your stock. Stir and cover. Cook over very low heat for another 15 min, adding water if it looks too dry at any point. Turn off the heat and leave covered for another 10 minutes until the bulgur is fully tender. Optional: stir in 3-5 tbs olive oil. (I forgot this step when I made mine, and it was still good and obviously less caloric.)
Meanwhile, heat a few tbs olive oil in a large skillet or sauté pan (NOT non-stick!!!). A stainless steel pan is best (as opposed to cast iron) because then you can see your browning process better. When the oil is hot, add your onions, salt them in the pan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. The onions will take at least 30 minutes to get fully and properly browned, so be patient. Bear in mind that the higher the heat, the more you’ll have to vigilantly stir them. Keep a cup of water next to you, and each time the caramelized residue starts to build up on the pan (see photo above), add a SMALL splash of water and stir quickly to dissolve this buildup and re-incorporate the caramelization back into your onions. (When I did mine, I probably repeated this process at least 10 times.) You’re not done until your onions have a nice deep amber color. It may sound like a lot of work, but it’s really just stirring, and when you taste the end result you’ll think it was all worthwhile.
To serve, stir in the mushrooms and onions. If you like, reserve a few of the onions to go on top (see photo). Garnish each serving with a spoonful of plain yogurt and a little chopped parsley. If you’re vegan or don’t have yogurt, a wedge of lemon might be nice.