I once read that if you ask a guy what his favorite item of clothing is, he would pick the oldest thing he owns — some t-shirt he’s had since high school or nearly threadbare sweats. And if you ask a woman, she usually picks the last thing she bought. [Nobody mentioned four year-olds but obviously: fireman hat.] Gender stereotyping copy aside,* when it comes to recipes, this has me down to a T: my favorite thing to cook is usually the last thing I made. Because of this, I fail 100% of the time at “content-planning strategies” [or as it sounds in my head when I read phrases like this: blargle-blargle blargle] because while I’m supposed to be telling you about this great dish I made last week for Valentine’s, I only want to talk about what I made for dinner on Tuesday night. Because it’s my new favorite everything.
When I first read about stuck-pot rice many years ago, I guffawed a bit, because who needs a recipe for that? I come from a long line of cooks that cannot make rice without burning it; any night where rice is on the stove ends with a gunked-up pot soaking overnight in the sink. It’s tradition; one day I will teach this guy too!
But here, rice that sticks to a pot is an art form. The basic formula has you parboil rice for 5 minutes, drain it, mix it with some ingredients, flavor and splash of water. The rice is returned to a heated, oiled pot and pressed in tight (it sizzles!), lidded tightly enough that no steam will escape, and cooked at a very low heat for about 30 minutes, and then scraped (theoretically, it comes out in one piece; mine never has) out onto a plate and brought to the table where everyone can have a butter knife fight (kidding!) over the crunchy bits.
While the flavors are up to you, when they were up to me, I took it on an Arabic tour, giving it a mujadarra-ish vibe, and think you should too. If you’re unfamiliar with mujadarra, imagine rice and lentils that are cooked together with spices and then heaped with caramelized onions for the unquestionably most rib-sticking, soul-pleasing vegetarian meal on this earth.** Here, it’s I use a higher proportion of rice to lentils and stir in some yogurt. Finished with extra yogurt and a squeeze of lemon juice, it is perfect. It coordinates with everything. And you could make it for dinner tonight.
* I mean, although this is embarrassingly true for me. Hello, I love you.
** I used to pick it up for lunch, along with their excellent vegetable soup, from the upstairs cafe at Kalustyan’s when I worked nearby. If they’re still doing this, don’t miss it.
One year ago: French Onion Tart
Two years ago: Potato Knish, Two Ways
Three years ago: Green Bean Salad with Pickled Red Onions and Fried Almonds
Four years ago: Walnut Jam Cake
Five years ago: Crisp Black Bean Tacos with Feta and Slaw
Six years ago: Best Chocolate Pudding
Seven years ago: Mom’s Chocolate Chip Meringues
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
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; once 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.
- 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.