November 2nd, 2012
I’ve sat at my computer amidst the chaos of a house filled with six cooped up people several times over the last few days. I’ve wanted to write to you and to share some of the cooking we’ve done while hiding from Sandy and staying clear of those working overtime in her aftermath. But each time I tried to write I got lost. In the news. On Twitter. Searching for ways to help. Working on a Halloween rescue plan. I have tons of recipes to share, but strangely little to say. (Don’t get used to it.) It’s hard to find words when you feel unbelievably lucky and are surrounded by so many who aren’t.
My family and I made it through the storm unscathed. We are safe—stir crazy, but safe. We were together the whole time in a warm, dry home, able to cook, play, watch movies and call loved ones who are also safe, though without electricity. My trusty computer speedily connected to the world each and every time I asked it to, even through the worst of the storm. And we went trick-or-treating last night. See, I told you: we are unbelievably lucky.
Many are not, though. The hungry boy is wondering if he’ll be able to visit his favorite place, Coney Island, this summer. I don’t have an answer. And what about my Jersey shore? These are just two hurt places that just two local people love. What about all the other places and all the other people with hurt hearts, lost homes, and damaged neighborhoods. I don’t have an answer.
All I know is that people need help, happiness and hope. (The three H’s!). I’m helping by donating goods to Occupy Sandy Relief NYC and money to the Red Cross and the Food Bank for New York City. If you are a New Yorker who is, like me, safe, sound and with means, please consider giving goods as well. Lots of organizations are collecting (I chose mine based on a personal recommendation from the founder of a local charity that I trust) and word on the street is that everything is needed, from towels to clothes, canned foods to baby supplies. Regardless of where you live, please consider donating even just a tiny amount of money to a relief fund that you trust. There are many options and you can use these giving tips to figure out which charity feels right to you.
As for happiness and hope, I got a big dose of both last night when my neighborhood, famous for pulling out all the stops on Halloween, turned out in full force. It was glorious. And then there’s food. Though it feels a little odd right now, sharing recipes with you is the best way that I know how to deliver happiness and hope. It’s a tiny contribution in the scheme of things, I know, but it’s what I’ve got. So with deep gratitude and boundless hope for my extended community, I deliver this mujaddara, a humble combination of rice and lentils topped with crispy, caramelized onions.
This is a very simple dish, but one as soul satisfying as they come. At its most basic, mujaddara can be made with just three affordable pantry staples: rice, lentils and onions. If you can easily make a Greek or fattoush salad to go with this, you’ve got a full meal. Otherwise, just serve mujaddara on its own. Even plain, a bowl of this stuff makes a complete meal that can sustain you through darkness into hope and happiness. At least that’s my hope.
loosely adapted from Food52
(can be shared with kids 6+ mos)*
5 whole peppercorns
2 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
4 cups water, divided, plus more as needed
1 cup brown lentils, washed with shriveled lentils and debris removed
1 teaspoon salt, divided, plus more to taste
1 cup white rice
1 tablespoons butter
1 whole star anise
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus 2 teaspoons
3 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt, for garnish (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, for garnish (optional)
Scant 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, for garnish (optional)
Juice of 1/2 a fresh lemon, for garnish (optional)
1. Wrap peppercorns, cloves and bay leaf in a cheesecloth pouch. Add to a medium pot along with 2 cups of water and rinsed lentils. Turn heat to medium-high and bring water to a boil. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cook, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes, until lentils are cooked through but not mushy. Depending on the size of your pot, you may need to add water to ensure that the lentils remain just barely covered with water throughout cooking time. Strain and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Set aside.
2. Cook rice either according to package directions or by this method: Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium-large pot set over medium-high heat. Stir in rice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, butter and whole anise; allow the water to return to a simmer. Cover the pot and turn heat to low. Cook for about 18 minutes without removing the lid and then check for doneness. If the rice is not done, cover and allow to cook for another 5-7 minutes, checking for doneness after 3 minutes. When the rice is done, remove the lid, take out the anise, fluff the rice with a fork and allow it to sit for 1 minute.
3. Crisp the onions: Add olive oil to a large frying pan set over medium heat. Add onions and sauté. After about 10 minutes, the onions should begin to brown; keep cooking until they get very caramelized and turn a deep brown color. If necessary, add a tablespoon of water here and there to keep the onions from sticking to the pan. Once all of the onions are very brown, add last 2 teaspoons of olive oil and raise heat to high. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, being careful not to stir them too much, until the bottom layer of onions crisp up.
4. Once the rice has had a minute to “breathe,” add lentils and gently stir to combine. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve rice and lentils topped with crisped onions. If desired, combine yogurt with a drizzle of olive oil, mint, cinnamon, lemon juice, salt and pepper to dollop on top of each serving.
*Note: This is a wonderful meal for beginner eaters starting as early as 6 months. Puree or pulse rice and lentils to desired consistency and mix with yogurt. Onions are optional—they are safe for young eaters so long as they are pureed, but can be left out if you prefer to keep from serving the extra oil.