stuck-pot rice with lentils and yogurt

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Stuck-Pot Rice with Lentils and Yogurt
Adapted from How To Cook Everything Vegetarian

[Notes at the bottom of the recipe.]

Serves 4 generously (a main dish) and 6 as a side

Salt
1 cup brown or green lentils, washed and picked over
1 1/2 cups white basmati rice, rinsed well
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup plain yogurt, preferably whole-milk though low-fat will work, plus additional for serving
2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus additional lemon wedges for serving
1/3 cup water [edited]
2 teaspoons ground cumin
Freshly ground black pepper or red pepper flakes
Chopped fresh flat leaf parsley, cilantro or mint for garnish (optional)

Bring a medium-sized heavy pot with a tight fitting lid (so you can use one pot for all the steps) of salted water to a boil. [Updated direction.] Add lentils and boil for 5 minutes, then add rice boil for 5 minutes more, without stirring. Drain mixture and transfer to a large bowl.

Heat the same pot over medium-high heat. Once heated, add 2 tablespoons oil; one oil is warm, add onions and a couple pinches of salt and cover with a lid. Cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly caramelized and brown, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Add onions to bowl with rice and lentils. Stir in yogurt, lemon juice, water [edited], cumin and pepper, plus additional salt to taste.

Heat pot again over medium-high heat. Once fully hot, add remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Once that is hot, return rice mixture to pot, pressing it in. (It will sizzle.) Wrap clean kitchen towel around lid of pot so it completely covers inside of lid; gather corners on top so they do not fall anywhere near stove. Place lid on pot, sealing tightly. Reduce heat to very low. Cook undisturbed about 30 minutes; rice should smell toasty but not burned and you might need to check on it once or twice if you’re making it for the first time. Remove from heat, and let sit 5 minutes more.

Carefully remove lid and cloth, and turn pot upside down over a platter. If rice comes out in a single crust, terrific. If not, use a spatula to scrape crisp pieces out of pan and onto remaining rice. Garnish with chopped parsley and cilantro, and serve with lemon wedges and additional plain yogurt.
Dig in.

Notes:

  • This is the fried rice of my dreams; the crunch I’m always hoping I’ll get but rarely do. The trickiest thing about this dish will be that the first time you make it, you’ll need to pay attention to your stove. While 30 minutes at very low heat usually does the trick, “low” means different things on different stoves and different pots will conduct differently. It should get toasty, but not burnt. A heavy pot is recommended. I found one I’d forgotten about in the closet (I love it, but can’t say I use it enough to recommend you get it too) which worked great, but I kinda secretly wonder if a non-stick pot could more easily provide a perfectly intact crust. I’m also curious about making this in a skillet, for maximum crust-to-center ratio. The next most important thing is a tight-fitting lid; you want to keep the steam in the pot to keep the rice from drying out and burning before it’s cooked. Wrapping the lid in a towel will help.
  • This recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman. He was as taken with the preparation as I am, and created many different versions (all are listed in How To Cook Everything Vegetarian), with potato, pita and tortilla crusts, and flavors from dates and saffron and mango and ginger to chile powder and sour cream.
  • Lentils: Mujadarra is usually made with large green or brown lentils. I used small brown ones, and they worked well. The only type I would not recommend is the kind I recommended a few weeks ago (I’m such a pain, I know), those tiny green lentils de puy, whose intact, lightly crunchy beauty is just not needed here. Save them for salads. [Updated to note:] I used tiny lentils; they cooked quickly. I’m hearing in the comments that a lot of your lentils are not cooking with only 5 minutes of par-boiling and am adding a note suggesting 10 minutes for larger lentils.
  • Brown basmati rice can be used here, too, but you’ll want to boil it for 10 minutes in the water before adding the lentils for the last 5 minutes in the first step. Updated to note: Please proceed with caution if using brown rice. Early responses about the brown rice suggest that it needs more par-cooking time than Bittman suggested to work.

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