Mjadra is certainly the most quintessential dish in the Levant. It is shared across the politically drawn borders of Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria and dates back to the region’s very early history. Fossilized Lentils and Burghul were found (together) in some archeological sites dating back to 1,000 BC in northern Syria.
Mjadra is probably the simplest and most straightforward Levantine dish to prepare. It is known as the poor man’s feast, because that’s what it’s really all about, a deliciously healthy meal with plenty of protein at a very low price. Traditionally, low income families would cook a large pot of Mjadra on Friday morning and head for the outdoors for what is known as a Sayran (picnic). Or better yet, cook it outdoors over firewood. For some of the rich of yesteryears and many of the snobs of today, Mjadra is a novelty, an endearing experience to talk about with friends, as in: “Oh I went to Palmyra last month and stayed at the Meridien. In the afternoon we all road camels then later in the evening we had, can you believe it, Mjadra, wow it was so cute and fantastic and they serve it with little pickles. Oh my God.”
Mjadra is a combination of two abundant ingredients of this land, lentils and Burghul. While lentils grow naturally, Burghul is modified wheat. In addition to the Levant, it is prepared in Turkey where it’s known as Bulgur and in Greece and Cyprus where they call it Mp’ligouri and Pourgouri respectively. Traditional Burghul preparation varies yet revolves around parboiling the wheat grains, drying them in the sun, de-branning them and finally crushing them either finely or coarsely. Burghul is an essential ingredient in many other local recipes such as Tabbouleh and Kobbeh.
Mjadra could be prepared with rice instead of Burghul. Although this is unacceptable to the purist in me, I mention this alternative just because some of you might like to try it for the first time and can’t find any Burghul around. Of course I have tried it with rice, it’s not bad at all, but it’s not the same and contradicts the very essence of this exceptional recipe.
Here it is, a vegetarian’s dream come true, the world renowned Levantine Mjadra. Bon Appétit!
1 cup- Lentils
2 cups- Burghul coarse (could be substituted with rice for Rice Mjadra)
2 onions- cut in winglets
1/3 cup- olive oil for cooking
1/3 cup-olive oil for frying onions
3 cups- water
Salt as per preference
-Rinse lentils, then place in a pot in cold salted water, cover, heat and bring to boil over medium heat then reduce to low for 30 minutes.
-Soak Burghul separately in cold water and drain completely then add to lentils. Mix well together and keep covered over low heat. Before water totally evaporates, add 1/3 cup of olive oil and mix well. Cover, keep over low heat for a couple of minutes then remove.
-Separately, heat 1/3 cup of olive oil in a skillet and fry the onion winglets until golden brown. Watch carefully and do not leave alone as the process is very fast.
-Present the Mjadra in a large open plate. Sprinkle the golden onions on top and serve with pickles, onions, salad or Fattouch and plain yogurt on the side.
I normally add a couple tablespoons of olive oil on top in my own plate before I start enjoying his most delicious and original entrée.
Ah, the simple pleasures in life!