We had a few staples in my house growing up, and I don't think that I realized that they were abnormal until I met Andrew. Hummus, pita bread, and olives were always in our fridge. I know hummus and pita are sort of a big deal now, and for many vegans are generally a staple, but growing up none of my friends ate that sort of thing. My mom comes from a Lebanese background, and we had a lot of traditions and recipes that somehow made it to my family through the years. My Uncle Steve used to make these little meat pockets called fatires. They were encased in an amazingly fluffy, buttery dough and filled with perfectly spiced ground meat. I've never tried to veganize them, but hopefully one day I'll get my uncle to show me how to make them.
In Columbus, OH there's a Middle Eastern food chain that specializes in Lebanese cuisine, Aladdin's Eatery. My father-in-law claims everything there tastes like dirt, but if you love Lebanese food, you'll like this place. One of our favorite dishes there is the Mujadara Plate. It's a wonderful dish my family never made growing up, probably because vegetarian dishes are looked at as peasant food, but we love it. And now that I don't live in Columbus, I felt the need to make it at home.
This dish is very easy, relying heavily on your lentils and spices. Traditionally, Mujadara is a mixture of green lentils, brown rice, and crispy onions. I've subbed the brown rice for quinoa and caramelized my onions, rather than making them crispy in a deep fryer. You could still make this with the brown rice, you'll just need to cook it a bit longer.
Mujadara with Quinoa & Sautéed Spinach
Serves 2-4 people, pending appetite assessment
1 cup dried green lentils, soaked for about 10 minutes and rinsed in cold water
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
3 yellow onions
3 tbsp olive oil
2 vegetable bouillon cubes
1 tbsp cumin seed
1-2 tsp cayenne pepper (depending on your heat preference)
1 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
3 cups fresh spinach
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Salt to taste
1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro
* Blend all your spices with a pinch of salt in a spice grinder or a coffee grinder about 30 seconds. Set aside.
* Dice 1 of your onions and chop finely. Using a mandolin slicer or your sweet knife skills, slice the other two onions very thinly into rings.
* Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large, heavy bottom pot on medium heat. Add your spices and toast for about 1 minute. Add your chopped onions to the pot and cook until softened for about 10 minutes.
* Rinse your soaking lentils, and add them to the pot. Fill with water to cover lentils about 1" and add one of your bouillon cubes. Cover and allow to cook on medium heat about 10 minutes.
* After 10 minutes, check your lentils to ensure that they are tender, but not mushy.
* When ready, add your rinsed quinoa, another cup or two of water to cover, another bouillon cube, and cover. Allow to cook for another 10 minutes.
* While the quinoa is cooking, heat a frying pan on medium heat with a pinch of salt and 2 tbsp of olive oil.
* Add your onions when the oil is hot, and cook about about 15 minutes, allowing the onions to get golden and soft. You'll need to toss them around quite a bit to ensure even cooking. Tongs are a good tool for this.
* Check your Mujadara. Taste to ensure that the quinoa is tender. You may want to add more spices at this point if it's tasting bland. Add your salt to taste and lemon juice.
* Add your spinach to the sautéing onions, and cook for about 2 minutes to allow to wilt. You can probably remove your pan from the heat - your spinach will wilt quickly.
* Serve Mujadara topped with your onion/spinach mixture, fresh cilantro, and your favorite hot sauce.