I love it when a tub of cooked lentils and bowl of leftover rice in my fridge inspires me to leap out of my usual routine. (Wait, do I have a usual routine? Mike likes to say we never get the good stuff twice – as in, I’m always testing and experimenting and cooking things out of season or pre-holiday for magazines that come out two seasons from now. Peaches in January and pomegranates in July.) That said, I do have culinary habits I too easily fall into. I didn’t shake them completely; I love turning cold rice into fried rice (a vehicle for just about every other leftover in your fridge) and so kind of morphed fried rice and mujadara – a Lebanese rice-lentil-onion-cumin dish that isn’t much to look at on the page, but is so much better than the sum of its parts. Typically the onion is caramelized and the the rice and lentils cooked pilaf-style in the pan with lots of water, but since mine had a head start, I did the whole thing fried rice-style. Since you have to get the pan blazing hot to caramelize your onions anyway, I’m not sure I’d do it any other way.
Although I write recipes more or less for a living, I sometimes think they’re detrimental – that if I provide a recipe for something, you may think you need exactly a cup of rice and a half teaspoon of cumin, when it rarely has to be that precise. And when you’re working with leftovers, you never know how much you’re going to have. So sometimes I’m just going to walk you through how I made something, because measurements don’t much matter. With mujadara the ratio of rice:lentils:onions doesn’t matter.
Here’s what I did: chopped an onion and a half, because I had two and one was looking a little squidgy on one side. Set a cast iron skillet over the heat, added a good glug of oil and a pinch of cumin seed, and cooked the onions until they were dark and crispy on the edges. Then I tipped in some cold rice – a cereal bowl full – and about a cup of cooked lentils (although canned would have been fine too). I stirred them around to heat through, adding another big pinch of ground cumin and a good grinding of salt, and tasted, and it was delicious. The dark, crispy onions made it, I think. And the cumin. And there’s something satisfying about just cooking, rather than following a recipe.
This was so good on its own! And you can’t get much cheaper than rice, lentils and an onion.
We had decided early in the day to make some satay out of a couple pork shoulder steaks in the fridge, cubing them up and tossing them with plain yogurt, lime, garlic, ginger, cilantro and curry paste. They needed a bed of sorts, and this worked brilliantly. I suspect we’ll be seeing this one again if there are ever leftover rice and lentils in the fridge, which is inevitable.