07 November 2010

Israeli Mejadra

I have a food crush on Yotam Ottolenghi.

It's kind of the same as the science crush I have on Ben Goldacre.

If I were to meet either one of them, I'd go all soft and giggly and hang on their every word.  I'd gaze at them with admiration.  I'd try to say something witty and charming and intelligent, but come off as a weird girl with boundary issues (as per usual when I have a normal, run-of-the-mill love crush).

So it looks like I've just spilled the beans on myself.  I was never any good at hiding my feelings.

But that's not the point of this.  Ottolenghi.  Food hero.

A recent trip to London left me not caring so much for London.  Overpriced drinks and "style bars" are definitely not my thing, and I had one of the most disappointing meals of my life at an "Italian" restaurant near Leicester Square.  I wish I could remember the name of it, so I could tell everyone in the world to stay far away, but even google maps doesn't recognise it as a restaurant (which should tell you something, indeed).

The saviour of my trip was Yotam Ottolenghi, whose stellar reputation is well-deserved.  I've been tuned into his column at the Guardian for some time now, and my friend and travelling companion humoured me with a late morning trip to the Kensington location of his eponymous bakery/deli, Ottolenghi.  It was as though I had entered the gates of heaven.  There were beautiful cakes and some salads for takeaway, and we picked up a lemon pistachio cake that made all my dreams come true.... and a bagful of other goodies to snack on during the day, including some ridiculously amazing sweet potato wedges, and a blackcurrant meringue as big as my face.  I had to hold back from the temptation to go back to the shop and promise my firstborn child in return for a full day's eating privileges (and maybe that lemon pistachio cake recipe).

Deliciousness at Ottolenghi, Kensington

So, Yotam Ottolenghi saved London in my eyes.  I vowed that I would make his recipes for ever and ever, even the ones that I wasn't so sure about.  Yotam would not lead me astray.

His mejadra recipe intrigued me, as I've never had anything like it.  The combination of spices was unlike anything I'd ever seen... like a curry, but with cinnamon and sugar?  Huh?  Still, I had faith in the power of Yotam.  I persevered.  So worth it.

I ate this as my whole meal, because I was feeling lazy.  It was a little oily, probably because I used brown rice instead of white (brown rice still has the outer layer of bran attached to the kernel, which acts as a barrier and leaves oil on the outside).  Next time I'll leave some of the oil out - ideal proportions are reflected in the adapted recipe below.  I bet it would be a great side dish for any meat (if you eat meat) or baked tofu, roasted squash or aubergine/eggplant (if you don't).


250ml sunflower oil
4 medium onions, thinly sliced
250g green or brown lentils
2 tsp ground cumin 
1½ tsp ground coriander 
200g  brown basmati rice
dash olive oil
½ tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp sugar
Salt and black pepper
greek yogurt, sour cream or crème fraîche for serving.

Heat the sunflower oil in a medium-size heavy-based saucepan. When very hot, carefully add a third of the sliced onion. Fry for five to seven minutes, stirring occasionally with a slotted spoon, until the onion takes on a nice, golden-brown colour and turns crispy. Use the spoon to transfer the onion to a colander and sprinkle with salt. Repeat with two more batches of onion.

Meanwhile, put the lentils in a small saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil and cook for 12-15 minutes, so the lentils are almost done but still have a little bite to them. Drain into a colander.

Wipe clean the saucepan in which you fried the onion and drop in the cumin and coriander seeds. Place over a medium heat and toast the ground cumin and coriander for a minute or two, until fragrant. Add the rice, olive oil, turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, half a teaspoon of salt and plenty of black pepper. Stir to coat the rice with oil, then add enough water to cook the rice.  Bring to a boil, cover and simmer (add water as needed).  When the rice is almost finished, add the cooked lentils and simmer for an additional 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and remove lid from the pot to allow excess water to escape.  Make sure all the water is absorbed or steamed off so the mixture is not wet.  Tip the rice and lentils into a large mixing bowl. Add half the fried onion and stir gently with a fork. Pile up in a shallow serving bowl and top with the rest of the onion.  Serve with greek yogurt, sour cream or crème fraîche.

Serves 4.


  1. Gosh tell me about it, I have a food crush on Mr Ottolenghi too! Love his recipes in the Guardian!

  2. THis is one of my favorite dishes!

  3. I have got to make this! This mix of spices sounds delicious!