I consider myself decently well-traveled, but I know there are thousands of people out there who’ve been far more places than I’ll ever go. I used to be really competitive about it but now I’m just grateful to have had the opportunity to travel as much as I have. Although I’m not as feverishly collecting passport stamps these days, I still have a long list of places I hope to visit.
One of the places I am still dying to get to is the Middle East. Until that happens, I’ll be okay with cooking from my Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cookbooks, because I keep coming across amazing recipes like this one (and buying a few lentils is definitely cheaper than flying halfway around the world). The tomato sauce alone is absolutely amazing, and when combined with browned onions and mixed with rice and lentils, you end up with a filling, delectable meal.
I had to add quite a bit of water to the rice as it cooked – probably about half a cup. I also noticed too late that a lot of it was sticking to the bottom of the pan, so keep an eye on the level of liquid while the rice and pasta are cooking!
(adapted from The Essential Mediterranean)
1 cup lentils
5 cups vegetable broth
3 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup fideos pasta (or very thin pasta broken into 1″ piecies)
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1 cup medium-grain rice
6 coarsely chopped garlic cloves
2 tsp kosher salt
1 16-ounce can tomato puree
1 or 2 chiles de arbol, crushed (omit if you don’t like spicy food)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Put the vegetable broth in a large saucepan with a lid. Bring to a boil, then add the lentils and turn the heat down to medium. Simmer with the pot partially covered until the lentils are tender but not falling apart, about 20-45 minutes (depending on the age and type of lentil).
While the lentils are simmering, heat 3 tbsp olive oil in a wide skillet. Add the pasta and cook, stirring, for a few minutes or until evenly golden-brown. Leave as much oil as possible in the pan, but transfer the noodles to a small bowl.
Add the onion slices to the oil and turn the heat down to low. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until they’re very soft and golden (it should take about 45 minutes). When they’re finished, transfer to a bowl and set aside.
After the lentils are done, strain them but reserve the broth. Put it back in the pan, and add the rice. Boil for about 15 minutes, adding water if the pan appears to be getting dry. Stir well, then add the noodles and simmer for another 10-15 minutes, or until the rice is tender. Add the lentils and remove from the heat.
To make the tomato sauce, pound the garlic and salt together with a mortar and pestle. Add to the pan the onions were cooked in and heat, stirring, until just golden (don’t let it burn!) Stir in the tomato puree and the crushed chiles and cook over medium until thickened slightly, about 10 minutes. Stir in the vinegar, some black pepper, the cumin, and cook another 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and stir in the parsley and more salt if necessary.
To serve, put some of the lentil and rice mixture in a bowl, then top with a generous spoonful of tomato sauce and a few of the caramelized onions.