Friday, January 11, 2008

Mjadra

I went to bed late, very late last night. As I was losing consciousness, a vision of a Mjadra plate with onions, pickles and Fattouch tantalizingly floated in my head. I must’ve had a big smile when I passed away. I woke up very hungry.
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!

Mjadra is also spelled Moujaddara and Mujadara, etc.

35 comments:

DUBAI JAZZ said...

You know Abu Fares, when I was a kid, I hated mujadara with vengeance, my whole family loved it and my mother cooked it very frequently. I mean I didn't understand all the fuss about it: it's healthy, nutritious and economic; but it is DRY! There is no specific soap or sauce for it to go with (like in rice and gumbo for example…). And although it is often served with pomegranate syrup in Aleppo; that didn't help much…

LOL at "oh my God I ate Mujadara, it was so cute with pickles.." hahaha..you never spare a chance, do you?

Ween ayam al abadayat lama kan al wa7ed ye2ool : "Ana we Abu 7amdo s7ab lel 3adhem, bezamanatena aklna mjadara we shara2na makhloota together"

lê said...

Abufares, this was a surprise for me , I never ate MJADARA with BURGHOL, is it Tartusi?, for sure my next MJADARA will be with BURGHOL, should I use gross or fine ? your foto is very nice I can see the MKALALL LEFT, that makes good combination with mjadara.

once a (novo rico)new rich, 3rd generation syrian invited me for dinner, he said , my wife is an expert when it comes to middle eastern food, after dinner we had some VINIO DE PORTO, he asked my opinion, I want the trouth he said, fantastic I answerd, that was the worst MJADARA and HUMOS I´ve ever tried, the HUMOS was bitter,the portion of the TAHINA was the duble in the humos, and the MJADARA was made with meat.
TAHINA is the most expensive ingrediante of the HUMOS,
tradition makes the difference,

annie said...

At my very first invitation in Syria I was served Mjadara and loved it.
But when I cooked it myself it was never the same. May be the thing is the onions. You have to fry them until brown but not burned.

Rime said...

Just when I thought it was safe to come check your blog again, I come face to face with m'jaddara! Since when do we get two food posts in a row?

Dubai Jazz, it's not dry at all when you eat it with salad (like fattoush), or with yogurt (like with tiny cucumber pieces, mint and garlic). And don't let Abufares dissuade you from having it with rice: it is excellent, and not as heavy as burghul. (Sorry to dissent from the master.) It's the onions which make or break this dish, I agree Annie.

Yazan said...

Le,
The real mjaddara is with Burghul. The Rice alteration came out of necessity ;)

Abu Fares,
I and my dad, being the subjects of a very busy woman. Have went through the many stages of perfecting our Mjaddara. Ofcourse, you can quite tell, he was the one perfecting his cooking, I was the one perfecting the amount of mkhallal ahmar I should be using to get to that sour mjaddara orgasm.

Btw, Abu Fares, I've noticed that the Levant is probably the only place where Burghul is really that popular. Have you met any other cuisine with Burghul?

Ascribo said...

Oh man, the simple pleasures in Life! I cannot describe how much I'm dying for a plate of Mjadra with Pickles now, and of course (sheep) plain yogurt! Especially that I haven't eaten for the last 20 hours or so!

I bet I can easily find Bourgol here...But it'd be more frustrating to cook a failed plate than not to have it at all. I think I'll just wait!

I'll have FOUL now instead (I perfected that already) And the first thing I'll learn to do when I come back is Mjadra!

saint said...

Dear Abufares,
This is one of my favorite dishes and I always thought that my mom is the best one to make it. Actually she always invite people when she makes this dish and she claim that this a groupy meal, not individuals. I promoted this dish to desertcandy.blogspot.com, but you took the lead and published this wonderful menu.
With all the gratitude and respect to your presentation and your wonderful post, still I have to register couple of deviation from your. You did not empathize enough the importance of the pickle and especially the turnip pickle which could make or break this dish :).
The second deviation, I would not advise to put the raw onion on the table because according to my wife it does not go together, but you could add a plate with fried onion to that someone who likes more caramelized onion on his plate.
My salute to Rime for mentioning the yogurt since it is very soothing with Mjadara.
Thanks for the posting my favorite dish.

Yazan said...

I agree very much with saint,

It is the pickles that make or break the dish.

abufares said...

@DJ
I hated Mjadra as a kid myself, but then I grew up and learned better. Everybody already commented that Mjadra needs its own set of paraphernalia. I might add on my own that it tastes even better if you sit on the floor on a 7aseer and enjoy it with good company.

@lê
Mjadra with Burghul is the original creation. It's Levantine dish and certainly doesn't belong to any one city.

@annie
Practice makes perfect. Preparing Mjadra is very similar to cooking good rice that's all. It's a matter of timing.

@Rime
I'm going through a state of mental draught.I have so many things to write about really, but being mostly negative, I found refuge in a good plate of Mjadra.
Rice... ok why not, for the faint of heart I mean. I substitute rice with Burghul anytime. You know how it is: "El 3ez lal Rez... wel Burghul Shana2 7alo". I'm of the second type, those who hang themselves.

@Yazan
Good memories I bet.
I had food containing Burghul in Cyprus and Turkey. BTW, both of these two cuisines are great.

@Ascribo
I heard you're due back soon inshala. While in Texas, stick to large juicy steaks. Have one for me, I'll drink my own beer.

@saint
You're right, Pickles are integral to this dish. "Hey Everyone, you should eat plenty of pickles with Mjadra". Your wife is probably right in not liking raw onions on the table. But come on, what do you expect from a guy like me. When my wife lets me I eat onions with olive oil, salt and bread.
And as Rime said, yogurt is a must as well. It's absence is probably why Little DJ didn't appreciate the joi de la Mjadra.

annie said...

Abu Fares : this morning I went to the Velizy market (near Paris) and got myself some bulghur and lentils. I'll cook a good Mujadara when I get home using your recipe. But pickles, I do not know where to find them and don't like them anyway. Thank you for your food adventres. I still have to explore latin american markets to find some chili peppers. Usually, people use harissa paste but harissa is lowlife compared to a chili pepper.

Michael Natkin said...

Ah, mujadara is one of my very favorite things in the world, though I've always made it with rice instead of burghul. You've got me convinced to try it the other way. Here's my recipe.

Az3ar's Fan said...

Mujadara with burgul tastes like a brick.


Does any one knows where to get this CD "Aromates", by Syrian artist, `Abid `Azriyyah in the internet?

abufares said...

@annie
Pickles, although great with Mjadra could be substituted by a healthy dose of Fattouch and/or yogurt.

@Michael
Thank you for dropping by. Mjadra with Burghul is the original. Rice is a common alternative in cities but never in the countryside. I myself prefer Burghul anytime over rice. But if you don't like Burghul like...

@Az3ar's Fan
You don't know what you're missing.
Being almost musically illeterate, your inquiry is open to all.

annie said...

Michael Natkin's recipe gives us some idea about how to cook the onions which has always been where I failed. Thank you Michael.

Lujayn said...

Hey, my mom made mjadara for lunch today (burghul version)! I love it, and can actually make a decent dish myself (its the fiance's favorite meal - yes, he's been upgraded from boyfriend). I havent been able to live up to the mjadara his mom makes, but hey, who cares! :))

I personally like plain yoghurt with my mjadara. Or malfouf salad.

Az3ar's Fan said...

abufares,

mea culpa, mea culpa. I made your wheat Majadra...it is unforgettable.

Thank you for enlightening me.

KJ said...

I had to replace my keyboard because of my excessive drooling.

Man mjadarra with zeit zaytoon which gives it a spice and 7amaweh is the best mjaddara ever!

And I dunno why some people make it with rice. I mean, seriously!

abufares said...

@Lujayn
First and foremost, congratulations on the engagement. If Mjadra is his favorite meal then you've made the right choice with a proper Ibn Balad!

@Az3ar's Fan
You just went back to basics and discovered the truth on your own.

@Kj
You see my good Safatli friend! Those city people are too spoiled. They don't make their own Burghul, they buy their (imported)rice from the supermarket and they want to eat good Mjadra and then argue about it being actually better (God forbids)... After you cross Tal Kalakh going east, you enter the twilight zone... hahaha.

Anonymous said...

Abu Fares, this is becoming a gourmet blog.
I have a special request law samaht. When we shall have exhausted the joys of the Moujaddara, could you enlighten us to the various drinks there are in Syria, like the hamir, the kamoun, etc? and how to make them ? Please !

annie said...

Abu Fares, this is becoming a gourmet blog.
I have a special request law samaht. When we shall have exhausted the joys of the Moujaddara, could you enlighten us as to the various drinks there are in Syria, like the hamir, the kamoun, etc? and how to make them ? Please !

Hosam Faysal said...

Abu Fares, allow me to salute your creativity, wit and literary command of English. I always enjoy your blog. Keep it up!

annie said...

Abu Fares, I just cooked a wonderful Mujadara following your recipe. It was the best (and in fact the first good one) I ever made.
I gave half of it to my neighbours who were won over just by the smell. It was light, not sticky. Thank U again.

Bridget Jones said...

Hi, I didn't know about that dish, thanks for sharing. I keep coming here, I'll become a cordon bleu :)

abufares said...

@annie
Tikram Aynek. I have to do a little research on the subject though since I'm not an expert really. You would read about it soon Inshallah.
And, I'm so glad the Mjadra came out right this time. I had no doubt that you'll make a great plate of Mjadra. BTW, this is the original and basic recipe (rather than mine). This is how it is prepared by real Mjadra consumers.

@Hosam Faysal
Thank you for the kind words. I look forward hearing from you always.

@Bridget Jones
I should start writing about something else before I'm fully committed to the kitchen by the wife and kids. hahaha

annie said...

Abu Fares : I have translated the recipe into French and borrowed two of your pictures. I added one of my own (ugly but good) production.

abufares said...

@annie
thank you for making reference to my Mjadra. I've read your post and loved the picture of your own dish. It simply looks delicious.

lê said...

Abufases ,my plan was to give to you a harder answer as you said (those city people are too spoiled)but after making MJADARA (as we spell in halab) , I have to admit, MJADARA with BURGHOL is as good ,or better than REZ.
yesterday the fishing was fantastic.

Arima said...

It's a bit like a Levantine adaptation of Kusheri....mmmmm Kusheri

Chennette said...

love the pictures!
this is one dish my mother makes all the time - although we grew up without access to bulgur, so we knew it with rice - there was a time when I hated it because she kept making it, and it seemed dry, but I got over that phase :-)
fried onions, olive oil and cucumbers are the best sides.

Katia said...

Abu Fares,

Mouthwatering... I love mjadara.

For those who would like to try it with some kind of sauce, try "mjadaret 7asadeen". The mjadara comes with a "ketha" sauce that's based on sundried yoghurt.

Ok, now I'm hungry!

MomTo5 said...

its nice to eat it outside whith family/friends and whith lots of fattoush.

Allie said...

Interesting. I didn't know bulghur was traditionally how it's made, rather than rice (though it makes sense). I'll try it w/ the wheat next time I make it.

Do you have a recipe for the little pickles served with it? I have not had it with the pickles, and I'd like to make them to serve w/ the mjadra next time.

abufares said...

@MomTo5
Indeed, Fattouch goes great with Mjadra.

@Allie
Mjadra with Burghul, that's the original recipe. We normally buy our pickles from the little dedicated shops available all over Syria. I'll try to find out how they prepare their pickles and post about it soon. Meanwhile, and since I love Burghul, my next post will be about a coastal Syria specialty. You're going to love it for sure.

Anonymous said...

Just had it today with rice, green onions, radish and Jerusalem olives and a salad. Oh my god -- I died and went to heaven, haven't had it in 10 years ---

abufares said...

@Anonymous
Sahha Wa Hana
Glad you enjoyed it :-)