For many Palestinians and Arabs around the world, the answer to the question “What is your ultimate comfort food?” is mejadra. It’s the food a lot of kids grow up on and, for Sami, it will always take him straight back home. Like so many comfort foods, it’s a humble dish—lentils, sometimes chickpeas, spices, and then a grain in the form of rice, most typically, or the bulgur or freekeh we’ve suggested here. In terms of what makes it so addictive, though, the crispy onions are the secret weapon.
Serve this warm or at room temperature with some yogurt (either plain or with some diced cucumber and shredded mint stirred in) alongside. If you have some pomegranate seeds, these look lovely sprinkled on top.
Getting ahead: The bulgur and lentils keep well in the fridge for a couple of days, ready to be warmed through or brought back to room temperature before eating.
- Place the lentils in a medium saucepan with a lid, cover with plenty of water, and set aside to soak for 30 minutes.
- Place the saucepan with the lentils and their soaking liquid over high heat and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium and cook for 10–12 minutes, or until the lentils have softened but still retain a bite. Drain in a colander and set aside.
- Wipe the pan clean and add the cumin seeds and coriander seeds. Place over medium heat and toast for a minute or two, until fragrant. Add the bulgur, olive oil, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon, 1 tsp of salt, and plenty of black pepper. Stir so that everything is coated, then add the cooked lentils and just-boiled water. Bring to a boil, then decrease the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat, lift off the lid, and quickly cover the pan with a clean dish towel. Seal tightly with the lid and set aside for 10 minutes, to steam.
- Finally, add half the crispy onions to the bulgur and lentils and stir gently with a fork. Pile up in a shallow serving bowl, or individual serving plates, top with the rest of the crispy onions, and serve.
- To make the crispy onions, put the oil into a large frying or sauté pan—you want it to rise about ¾ inch/2cm up the side of the pan. Place over medium-high heat. Line a plate with paper towels. Mix the onions with the cornstarch, then, when the oil is hot, add about one-third of the onions. Cook for 8–14 minutes (timing varies greatly depending on how hot your oil is), stirring from time to time, until the onions are really golden and crispy. Transfer to the prepared plate—spread them out to not get soggy—and sprinkle lightly with salt. Set aside while you continue with the remaining onions.
Reprinted with permission from Falastin: A Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, copyright © 2020. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Photography credit: Jenny Zarins © 2020