Megadarra/mujadarra: either way it’s delicious

It’s been a busy crazy week. Sunday night was particularly nuts and we were running all over the place. So early in the day I made Megadarra (also called mujadarra). That sounds exotic, doesn’t it? Yet, it’s the sort of thing you can reheat effortlessly – which makes it useful when nobody in the house is eating at the same time. I recently ran into the recipe at Food 52. I felt as though I’d bumped into a friend I hadn’t seen ages.

Ten years ago,  I was working 80 hour weeks on a competition in San Francisco as an architect. I was extremely pregnant and always starving. Most nights, I would race (well actually, lumber) around the corner just before the tiny middle eastern lunch place closed for the night, then rush (drag myself) back to the office with a huge styrofoam clamshell of steaming rice and dark lentils, tossed with a tangle of caramelized and charred onions. Back at my desk, tilted back in my chair, I’d prop my swollen feet up on my drafting table, pop open the box and inhale. Caramelized onions! Does anything smell better?! Tucked into a corner of the box was a small container of thick garlic and cumin scented yogurt to stir into the mix. Megadarra is kind of messy looking, certainly not beautiful — but absolutely delicious. The scent of delicately perfumed jasmine rice and tender, earthy lentils was complemented by burnished, glossy, sweetly-and-slightly-burnt onions. I’d swirl in the creamy yogurt and savour a dish of far greater complexity than its individual parts. Honestly, I don’t know how I would have completed the project without a big bowl of those steamy messy lentils as we geared up for another long night at the office.

When I later had a couple of small children to cook for, I cobbled together a recipe. Polka Dot Rice is what we called it and I served it with lamb, feta and mint sausages. Megadarra is a holy grail of a dinner; pleasing to both me and my kids. The caramelized onions are a little time consuming – I still think it’s worth the effort. I don’t know what it is about megadarra – I haven’t met a kid who isn’t kind of mesmerized by it. They look skeptical at first and then, shocking their parents, take a tiny taste. Could the attraction be the polka-dotty lentils?! Then suddenly they’re hoovering it into their greedy little mouths, their parents goggle eyed and jaws gaping with surprise. Even really picky kids seem to like megadarra. How did I ever forget about it?

I am obviously not going to write the whole thing up, since the perfect recipe is already out there, but I would like to show you some photos of the caramelized onions. I know most recipes say you can make them in 12-15 minutes! I can never do this. The onions are never as richly brown as they should be in that short amount of time. I just scorch them. It always takes me 30 minutes minimum to make caramelized onions properly. SO. Here’s how I caramelize onions – if anyone has any tips on doing this faster, I would love to know your method!

Also, the herbed and spiced yogurt that goes with this recipe is SO lovely – nuanced, sprightly and wonderful. It would be worth growing a little pot of mint just for this sauce. I was eating out of the bowl with a spoon!

Ingredients for the herbed and spiced yogurt sauce

Caramelized onions in pictures

Four onions, sliced in the saute pan with a little olive oil and butter








Onions somewhat wilted after 5 minutes on the heat








Onions - the sugars are released and begin to caramelize







Onion sugars are now richly brown








Perfect caramelized onions








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