This plant-based recipe for Mujadara is the perfect winter comfort food that’s packed with nutrition. The tanginess of the yogurt balances the sweetness of the onions and is the perfect topping for the savory mixture of lentils and rice.
It’s wintertime where I live in Colorado. It’s cold outside. The leaves have all fallen from the trees. And – perhaps most tragically of all – the farmer’s markets are all closed.
As the seasons change, so do the vegetables on the table – and this recipe for Mujadara is a perfect example, which is why it’s featured on the Peas & Hoppy Meal Guides every winter.
One of the key features of my signature meal planning membership service is that it’s seasonal: meaning in the winter you’ll find cozy recipes featuring root vegetables and in the summer you’ll enjoy lighter fare, fresh vegetables, and all the tomatoes when they’re in season.
Eating seasonally is good for your local economy (you can support local agriculture), good for the planet (you can avoid shipping produce from half a world away), and it just makes sense. I doubt you’re craving a salad when there’s snow on the ground!
If you’re not a member of the Meal Guides and you’d like to know which vegetables are in season so you can build your menu with this in mind, grab my free Seasonal Vegetable Guide. It will help you choose the tastiest, healthiest, best-quality vegetables all year long.
Now back to the recipe at hand: read on for the recipe for Mujadara: Lentils and Rice with Caramelized Onions.
Onions as a Winter Seasonal Vegetable
Onions are often used in recipes as a source of flavor rather than nutrition, but it’s good to remember that onions, too, pack a powerful nutrition punch. Onions are high in vitamin C, dietary fiber, and folic acid and also contain calcium and iron.
In addition to these micronutrients, onions are high in an antioxidant called quercetin. This nutrient is also found in tea and apples, but is much better absorbed from onions. Studies have found links between high onion consumption and reduced risks of colorectal and breast cancer. They also prevent the grown of the bacterium H. Pylori and so reduce the risk of gastric ulcers (source).
Because onions can easily be stored for long periods of time, they’re a perfect vegetable to add to your repertoire when few other things are growing.
Lentils as a Winter Seasonal Vegetable
Legumes including lentils and beans are probably most well-known as a plant-based protein. This is for good reason: a half cup serving of lentils provides 12 grams of protein – equal to about 2 ounces of meat. When paired with a carbohydrate, you easily balance the amino acid profile of these complementary proteins to obtain a high-quality protein source.
In addition, lentils are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, making them a complex carbohydrate to give you lasting energy, stable blood sugar levels, and nutrition for your gut bacteria. Studies show a diet high in fiber is associated with lower risks of colon cancer, lower cholesterol, and lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Lentils also contain potassium, folate, iron, and manganese. They are truly a powerhouse of nutrition!
Additional Winter Seasonal Vegetables
Although nothing may be growing outside during winter where you live, there are still many ways to include seasonal produce! Download this FREE Guide to Seasonal Vegetables so you know which vegetables to choose all year round.
How to Cook Mujadara: Lentils and Rice with Caramelized Onions
One of my favorite ways to incorporate winter seasonal vegetables is this recipe for Mujadara. The first time I tried it, I realized it was the comfort food that I had never tried – a savory mixture of lentils and rice balanced with sweet caramelized onions and a tang of yogurt on top.
While the cook time of this recipe might feel daunting, the recipe is actually quite easy to make. The trick to caramelize onions and bring out their sweetness (yes, your onions will taste sweet!) is to cook them low and slow: low heat for a long time. This cooking technique breaks down the starches into shorter, sweeter sugar molecules.
To begin, slice four large yellow onions into very thin slices lengthwise. Heat a large skillet over low heat. Once hot, add one-fourth cup of olive oil and sliced onions. Cook slowly about 20 minutes, stirring to break onions apart, until onions are soft.
While onions cool, add 8 cups of water to a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Once water is boiling, add 1 1/2 cups of dry brown lentils, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, about 15 minutes.
Add a cup of rice, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper, and about half of the cooked onions to lentils. Continue to simmer, uncovered, an additional 45 minutes until lentils and rice are tender.
Meanwhile, continue to caramelize onions while lentils cook over low heat until dark brown and very soft, reducing heat as needed so onions don’t burn. They will taste sweet when finished; this can take up to an hour. Once finished, they will taste unbelievably sweet. As in, you could almost add them to your ice cream. But that would be weird, because they are onions.
Once lentils and rice are tender and all liquid has been absorbed, remove from heat. Serve lentils and rice topped with caramelized onions and a dollop of plain yogurt.
Happy winter seasonal vegetable eating,
4 yellow onions (large, thinly sliced)
1/4 cup Extra virgin olive oil
8 cup water
1 1/2 cup dry brown lentils
1 cup brown rice
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (to serve; substitute soy or coconut yogurt for vegan and dairy-free)
Slice onions very thinly. Heat a large skillet over low heat. Once hot, add oil and sliced onions. Cook slowly about 20 minutes, stirring to break onions apart, until onions are soft.
Meanwhile, bring water to a boil in a large saucepan. Rinse lentils in a colander under cold water and remove any stones. Add lentils, reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, about 15 minutes.
Add rice, salt, pepper, and about half of the cooked onions to lentils. Continue to simmer, uncovered, an additional 45 minutes until lentils and rice are tender.
Meanwhile, continue to caramelize onions while lentils cook over low heat until dark brown and very soft, reducing heat as needed so onions don’t burn. They will taste sweet when finished; this can take up to an hour.
Once lentils and rice are tender and all liquid has been absorbed, remove from heat. Serve lentils and rice mixture topped with caramelized onions and a dollop of plain yogurt.
Printable Recipe – Serves 6 – Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups rice/lentils with about 1/4 cup caramelized onions and 2 Tbsps yogurt – Nutrients per serving: 414 calories — 11g total fat — 2mg cholesterol — 616mg sodium — 44g total carbohydrates — 17g fiber — 19g protein
Total Time: 75 min | Prep time: 15-20 min | Cook time: 60 min
Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups rice and lentil mixture with about 2 tablespoons caramelized onions and yogurt
Pro Tip: Serve with freshly minced parsley for a bright burst of flavor.
Leftovers: Refrigerate in an airtight container up to 5 days . Freeze lentil/rice up to several months; recommend not to freeze onions.
Cooking Equipment: Cutting board | Chef’s knife | Large skillet | Large saucepan
Slice onions thinly: trim top and base off onion, then peel tough outer layers (usually top 1—2 layers). Slice in half lengthwise and lay the onion with the cut (flat) side face down. Slice the onion into very thin wedges, about 1/8-inch thick.