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Mujadara (Spiced Lentils and Rice)

This dish, meaning “pockmarked” in Arabic, is made up of lentils and rice cooked with onions and spices. The dish dates to 1226, when a cookbook in Iraq featured a version with meat that was cooked during celebrations. This vegetarian version is known to be a common medieval Arab dish eaten by the poorer classes. The dish is prepared all over the Mediterranean and Middle East and is served with yogurt, vegetables, and other side dishes. In the United States, Christian families of Middle Eastern descent traditionally make the dish during Lent, enjoying the dish twice a week—hot one day and cold a few days later. There are over 10 million Middle Eastern Americans in the United States, sharing their traditional recipes. A large population lives in southeast Michigan, settling there in the late 19th century. 

Recipe Servings: 4

Prep Time
20 minutes
+ 2 hours 15 minutes resting
Cook Time
40 minutes
Total Time
3 hours 15 minutes
Gluten Free
Dairy Free


  • 1 cup white basmati rice
  • 9 cups water, divided
  • 4½ tsp salt, divided, plus more to taste
  • ½ cup brown lentils
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
  • bay leaf
  • Peel of 1 lemon, cut into 2-inch strips


  1. Rinse the rice, and then cover it with 2 cups of cold water and 2 teaspoons of salt. Let it soak at room temperature for 2 hours.
  2. Bring 4 cups water and 2 teaspoons salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Rinse the lentils, and then add them to the saucepan. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until the lentils are tender, about 15 minutes.
  3. Remove lentils from heat and drain. Then rinse in a colander with cold water.
  4. Rinse out the saucepan and pour in 3 cups of water; bring to a boil.
  5. While water is heating, heat ¼ cup olive oil in a large pot. Add the chopped onion and cook, stirring, until translucent. Add lentils to the pot along with the cumin, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Sauté for 2 minutes.
  6. Drain the soaked rice and put into the pot with the lentils and onions. Pour boiling water into pot and add bay leaf and lemon peel.
  7. Cover the pot, reduce heat, and let simmer for 20 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed.
  8. Fluff rice and lentils with fork. Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for another 15 minutes before serving.

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