Friday, March 20, 2015

Slice of Life, #20

            When we first moved to our neighborhood years ago, there was a hole-in-the-wall eatery called Amir’s Falafel, run by a Lebanese family. Over the years it expanded into a little restaurant, but it was still mostly a take-out place. The falafel was terrific, and you could get a platter of falafel, hummus, and baba ghanhoush, with a small salad and of course pita.
            One of my favorite dishes was moujadarah: lentils on rice, topped with caramelized onions. The onions were the best part. Then new ownership came in, the moujadarah was gone, and even the fattoush salad acquired sour pickles, an unwelcome taste among the brightness of fresh tomato, cucumber, red onion, lettuce, and toasted pita chips.
            In one of my other lives I have been a journalism professor. One of my former students, Annia Ciezadlo, went to the Middle East to cover the Iraq war as a free-lance and ended up married to a Lebanese journalist. When they came back to the U.S., she wrote a book, Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War, complete with recipes. Heaven. The book has a recipe for Mjadara Hamra (transliterations can vary so widely), and I finally tried it tonight.
            Well, I adapted it quite a bit. What I really wanted to do was reproduce Amir’s dish, and Annia’s was somewhat different. First of all, Amir’s had rice, Annia’s had bulghur. Secondly, Amir’s onions were sliced, and Annia’s were finely diced. Finally, one of Annia’s instructions seemed dangerous to me: pour two cups of cold water on onions that have been cooking in one cup of oil? Just thinking about the splatters scares me.
            So I improvised. Cooked a cup of lentils in two and a half cups of water, with Annia’s spices (ground coriander, cumin, white pepper, cinnamon, ground cloves instead of allspice, cayenne instead of Aleppo pepper). Cooked a cup of rice. Sliced up two good-sized onions thin, heated maybe half a cup of olive oil and canola oil, and when it was hot, added the onions. Stirred frequently to keep some slices from getting too brown while others were still softening. Annia’s signal for when the onion is done was when they smell “bacony, almost burnt,” so I waited for that moment – and did not add any cold water. Mixed everything together, and had my Lebanese dinner. (I know, I should have taken a picture, but I haven't been Instragramed yet.)

P.S. It's the first day of spring and it snowed... what a bummer.


  1. I love your story of connections and the work you went to to recreate something special. Initiative and a bit of instinct were heavy players too.

  2. Yum! You're descriptions are beautiful- makes me almost taste what you made. Nice job.

  3. Your descriptions are so vivid....I could taste your words.

  4. This dish sounds so delicious! Loved your reflection about adding water to the onions and oil: "Just thinking about the splatters scares me."