If you’ve ever worked in the food service industry, you probably know that the food with which you work becomes about 100% less appetizing after you’ve been on the job for a few days. I’ve experienced this several times. When I worked at my favorite pizza place in town, I ate maybe one slice per month. My shifts at a coffee shop ended in a mad dash home to change out of my clothes that perpetually wafted of the caffeinated brew (which did have its advantages in certain moments). But when I worked at a Middle Eastern restaurant, I woke up fantasizing about what I would ask the chef to prepare for me after that night’s dinner service was over. Would it be falafel and tahini? Stuffed grape leaves with yogurt sauce? Potato kibbeh? I became obsessed and addicted to the food my Syrian boss had recreated in America. It’s no secret that I worked at the restaurant as long as I did for the food above anything else.
I love Middle Eastern cuisine because it’s fresh, clean, healthy. It energizes me. Most dishes are extremely simple, but deliver some serious flavor. There was one dish in particular that spoke to my soul at this restaurant (yep). It has three main ingredients, but the combination of flavors immediately transports the palate to the middle of a pungent, bustling Middle Eastern market (cue belly dancers and a symphony of stringed instruments). I present to you: Mujadara, Lentil Dish Of The Year.
I’ll never be able to exactly replicate my former boss’s recipe without knowing his Syrian secrets, but this recipe satisfies in moments of severe withdrawal.
What foods have you become addicted to on the job?
Makes 4 servings
1 cup brown lentils
1 cup long-grain rice
3 1/2 cups water
4 onions, peeled
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus some for drizzling
Cut the onions in half, and slice thinly. Heat a pan on med-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1/2 a cut onion. Cook until onion is caramelized. Add lentils, water, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, add rice and 1 teaspoon Cumin. Cover and simmer for an additional 20 minutes. Heat a frying pan over med-high heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and remaining onions. Cook until fully caramelized, stirring often. Place lentils in a large, shallow dish. Top with caramelized onions, drizzle with oil, and serve. Top with yogurt if you wish. Great served with pita chips and hummus.