I’m beginning to think I should call Ondraus the grad school gourmet. For a poor grad student back East, he ate pretty surprising well. Instead of packets of instant noodles, he’d buy giant bags of beans and rice to get by. He usually ate these lentils and rice with a little fresh tomato on the side. Back then, a fresh tomato from a bodega was a bit of a luxury. Years later, when he first made these lentils for me, it went with tzatziki, tomato chunks and a carrot-raisin salad. The thing is, the recipe was never written down, so while I figured out the rest of the meal, the lentils were exclusively OJ’s domain.
I have finally cracked the code. Victory is mine!
The dish bears some resemblance to a pilaf or even biriyani, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it Indian. With onion, garlic, cumin and coriander, along with pinches of cinnamon, allspice and cloves, it could be Pakistani-inspired, perhaps even Moroccan. OJ doesn’t even remember how it came together. So without a firm tradition to dictate right or wrong, I went ahead and dolled it up with a little preserved lemon and pomegranate arils for a bit of brightness. Preserved lemons are salt-cured and are available in jars (Trader Joe’s is one source). They can be made at home, though it requires time, as much as 3-4 weeks of time. Either way, just those couple of small additions really transforms this from a simple bowl of lentils and rice, plenty tasty on its own, into something that looks restaurant-worthy.
OJ's Red Lentils and Rice with Yogurt, Preserved Lemon & PomegranatePrint Recipe
- 1/2 c. red lentils, rinsed and picked over
- 1/2 c. basmati rice, rinsed
- 1 T. olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced - divided
- 3 t. ground cumin
- 1 t. coriander
- 1 pinch cinnamon
- 1 pinch allspice
- 1 pinch cloves
- 1 3/4 c. boiling water
- 1 t. kosher salt
- 1/2 c. plain greek yogurt (full fat recommended)
- juice of half a lemon
- 1 T. finely diced preserved lemon
- 1/4 c. pomegranate arils (for garnish)
- a few cilantro leaves (for garnish)
Heat a 2-qt. sauce pan over medium heat. Add olive oil to pan. Cook onions until lightly browned around the edges, about 5 minutes. Add 2 minced garlic cloves and cook until fragrant, stirring constantly.
Stir in spices and cook until fragrant. You don't want them to stick and burn on the bottom of the pan. Add the lentils and rice and stir to coat in the spices. Pour in the boiling water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for 20 minutes.
Fluff the rice with a fork when done.
To make the yogurt sauce, combine yogurt, lemon juice, the remaining minced garlic and a pinch of kosher salt. The sauce should be thinned, but not watery. Garnish with preserved lemon (rind only).
Garnish the lentils and rice with pomegranate arils and serve with yogurt sauce.
Preserved lemons are essentially salt-cured and are available in jars, or can be made at home.