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Mujadarrah (Lentil and Rice Salad with Fried Onions)

adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone:  this is a traditional middle eastern dish that I learned to love from the Sunrise Deli in San Francisco.  Much as I love lentils, I think the original recipe in Madison's book has a few too many for the quantity of rice, so I inverted the proportions.  Also, I cook the rice and lentils separately, as different varieties of each have quite different cooking times, particularly if you presoak either one, so you can better control the final textures this way.  Stock instead of water adds flavor without losing the simplicity of the dish.  And keeping the onions in rings is a nice touch, but the flavor is just as good when they're chopped a bit, and they get more evenly distributed amongst the rice and beans.  Given that they're what makes it so wonderful, getting some with every bite is key. 

6 tablespoons olive oil
one large onion, sliced thickly and then quartered

1 1/4 C brown basmati rice or other long grain brown rice, soaked in water or stock if you have time
1 more tablespoon of olive oil
(pinch of saffron, if you really want to gild the lily)

3/4 C whole lentils

Water or stock

Salt and pepper

Cook the onions gently in the olive oil over low heat, stirring occasionally, more simmering than sauteeing, until they are quite brown but not scorched. 
I have done this in a cast iron pan on the stove over low heat, in the oven on very low heat in the same pan, or  in a pyrex dish in the microwave (low or medium power and stirring frequently)--the key is steady low to medium heat so you don't burn the onions before they're done.  Yes, the onions will be swimming in oil at first, but not by the end, and the onion/oil is what makes this so good.  This is the most important part of the dish and must NOT be skipped or skimped on.

In separate pots, cook the lentils and brown rice until tender in water or stock, adding a little oil to the rice to keep the grains separate.  A rice cooker is fine.  Soaking speeds up cooking the rice--start with the same amount of water or stock you'd use to cook the rice by your preferred technique, but just soak it in that water first, and don't rinse before cooking.  Firm little green lentils also benefit from soaking; ordinary brown lentils don't really need it.  

When all are done, combine rice, lentils, and onions, and season to taste with salt and pepper, and eat warm or hot.

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