the taste space

Fragrant Lentil Rice Soup with Spinach and Caramelized Onions (aka Dal Bhat Meets Mujaddara)

Posted in Favourites, Mains (Vegetarian), Soups by Janet M on June 11, 2012

Sentences. Finally.

I mean, I can finally express myself in sentences!

Sorry for the blog auto-pilot for the last 3 weeks… After 2 glorious weeks in Colombia, it was back to the grind, off to work, sifting through oodles of emails, comments and catching up with my favourite blogs.

My second language is French and let’s just say three weeks ago, I knew zero Spanish.

We made sure we had the basics though:

Vegetariana estricta               Vegan

But that might not mean anything, so we had to explain:

Sin carne   

Without meat

Sin pollo

Without chicken

Sin pescado

Without fish

Sin huevos

Without eggs (Really?)

Sin leche

Without milk (I usually had a funny look at this point)

Sin mantequilla

Without butter

We usually stopped there, but I also knew how to say:

Sin pan

Without bread

We got better at explaining what I wanted:

Frutas (fruit!), verdura (vegetables), beans (frijoles), papas (potatoes) and arroz (rice).

other than baños (bathroom), another useful word was aqui (here)

As we learned more about Colombia (Que?), we became a bit more sophisticated and tried to make actual sentences.

Cuánto cuesta? How much does it cost?

Quero jugos naturales en agua sin azucar: I want freshly squeezed juice in water without added sugar!

By the end of our trip, a guide was teaching us the difference between Mucho bueno and Muy bien depending on the context of the sentence. And to greet other friendly men with Compa! and friendly women with Coma!

In any case, I loved my culinary adventures in Colombia, and we planned it so that I could stay vegan throughout the trip.  I had to make a few compromises, and that was by eating white rice (brown rice and quinoa are essentially non-existent in Colombia) and I had more fried foods than I had in the last 3 years (fried plantains and yucca mainly if nothing else was available). But it was ok. That’s what vacations are for.

Now that I am back in my own kitchen, I can return to normal. Pull out some freezer meals. Forge ahead with some comforting pantry-friendly meals.  Rob repeats recipes and sometimes I do, too. This is one of those dishes. Uber comforting.  While I describe this as Dal Bhat meets Mujaddara, this would likely scare off a bunch of people… Too many foreign words thrown in there… But if I call it Fragrant Lentil Rice Soup with Spinach and Crispy Onions, it is much more approachable, and still true to its name.

This comforting dish comes from Melissa Clark’s cookbook, Cook This Now. Savoury spices like cinnamon, cumin, allspice and ginger are combined with creamy red lentils and brown rice (aka dal bhat). Since the spices are aromatized at the beginning of the soup, they don’t pop with as much oomph as dal  bhat, instead they are more mellow. This is a thick soup, with both lentils and rice simmered together, creating an utterly creamy consistency. In mujaddara, the rice and (green) lentils absorb all the water so they are dry, but still fragrant depending on the spices you use. However, the crowning glory of mujaddara are the caramelized onions. Here, onions are caramelized in parallel so that after an hour, you have dark and deeply sweet onions to go with your just finished lentil rice soup. Thus, simple fusion at its finest. Familiar, yet just a subtle twist to both recipes to keep you interested and excited… and a dish I know I can eat again and again.

And it is just so nice to be able to tell you all this in complete sentences. Freedom! :)

This is my submission to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays , to Ricki’s Weekend Wellness and to Cookbooks Sundays.

Fragrant Lentil Rice Soup with Spinach and Crispy Onions (aka Dal Bhat Meets Mujaddara)
Adapted from Cook This Now

3 medium onions, very thinly sliced
a pinch of salt

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp ground allspice (1 berry, ground)
2 bay leaves
6 cups vegetable stock (I use more like 2 cups stock and 4 cups water)
1/2 cup brown medium-grain rice
1 tsp salt, more to your taste
1.5 cups red lentils, rinsed and drained
4 cups (5 oz) baby spinach leaves
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped (optional, I usually omit it)
Fresh lime juice, to taste

1. Begin by caramelizing your onions. Heat a large non-stick frying pan over high heat, adding the onion and sauté, stirring all the while, over a high heat for about a minute. Sprinkle with salt. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking the onions for another 45 minutes, stirring them occasionally. You want them dark and caramelized.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, 5-7 minutes.  Stir in the ginger, garlic, cinnamon stick, cumin, allspice, and bay leaves, and cook until the mixture is fragrant, about 1 minute.  Stir in the stock, the rice, and the salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then immediately reduce the flame to medium-low and let the rice simmer for 10 minutes.  Stir in the red lentils and cook until the rice is tender and the lentils are meltingly soft, about 30 minutes. Add more water if you feel it is too thick (Melissa suggests another 3 cups of water but I never add that).

3. Once the lentils are soft and the rice cooked through, stir in the spinach, cover and let it wilt completely.  Taste, and add more salt if necessary.  If desired, squeeze in fresh lime juice.

4. To serve, ladle the soup into serving bowls and top with a small handful of crispy onions.

Serves 4-6.

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19 Responses

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  1. flavorsofthesun said, on June 11, 2012 at 11:27 AM

    Your title “Dal Bhat meets Mujaddara) says it all. What a great recipe!

  2. Eileen said, on June 11, 2012 at 1:25 PM

    That sounds like an amazing vacation! I always find it hard to get my brain thinking and producing words in another language–even though I’ve had 7 years of Spanish classes. It sounds like you did great! And, of course, the soup looks lovely. :)

    • janet @ the taste space said, on June 11, 2012 at 3:04 PM

      Hey Eileen, It is so true. I remember going to Morocco and dusting off my French and my brain had to dig pretty deep to remember words. Recognizing them afterwards was not as bad.

      Thankfully, I hear Colombia is a good place to learn Spanish because their accent is fairly neutral. I could not even imagine going somewhere with a more muddle accent. ;)

  3. Joanne said, on June 11, 2012 at 3:18 PM

    I had a feeling you were on vacation and I’m so glad to hear you were having an amazing time! It’s so hard to find even vegetarian foods somewhere like Colombia but I’m glad to hear that you made it work. I went away for four days and I am so glad to be back to eating normal foods…like this! Sounds superbly delicious!

  4. Dawn said, on June 13, 2012 at 5:56 AM

    In LOVE. Anything with caramelized onions…and the spices….I have a feeling this could be a favorite.

    • janet @ the taste space said, on June 13, 2012 at 8:11 AM

      Definitely a favourite, Dawn. Give it a try! If you caramelize the onions while the soup is simmering, the brown rice will be done at the same time, so it doesn’t take all day to make. ;)

  5. [...] While I have a few go-to recipes from pantry staples alone, and freezer meals help, when I come home from vacation, I am usually craving something fresh. I want the [...]

  6. Couscous & Consciousness said, on June 14, 2012 at 8:51 AM

    Oh I know that feeling. Holidays are wonderful, but there is something very reassuring about returning home and being able to communicate in complete sentences and to know that everybody understands you perfectly without any fear of amibguity.

    Love the sound of this dish – that cookbook is on my wishlist. Thanks so much for sharing this at Cookbook Sundays.

  7. [...] had a few foodie mission while in Colombia. I definitely succeeded in exploring the different fruits. I even tried familiar fruits in case [...]

  8. Kahakai Kitchen said, on June 17, 2012 at 7:39 PM

    That pile of caramelized onions just makes me want to dive into the bowl. I love all of the ingredients in this soup–what a great combination. Thanks for sharing with Souper Sundays. ;-)

  9. [...] squash. Four tiny plants have morphed into GIGANTIC plants, seemingly overnight (hey, we were in Colombia). After a month, my plants are at least 5 feet long, with numerous flowers. Upon further reading, I [...]

  10. [...] I loved my foodie adventures in Colombia, eating away from home had me craving some serious salads upon my return. And a bath, a nice, long [...]

  11. [...] we packed for Colombia, we debated how many books to bring. I typically read 1 book while on vacation: my travel guide. [...]

  12. [...] Fragrant Lentil Rice Soup with Spinach and Caramelized Onions (aka Dal Bhat Meets Mujaddara) (tastespace.wordpress.com) [...]

  13. [...] you need to know how to ask for vegan eats which you can find at most restaurants. Happy Cow was also great for locating vegan-friendlier [...]

  14. [...] time, I tried caramelizing it like I do with onions. A long slow braise to express all the natural sugars while taming the boldness of the anise. Silky [...]

  15. [...] 2.  Fragrant Lentil Rice Soup with Spinach and Caramelized Onions (aka Dal Bhat Meets Mujaddara) [...]

  16. [...] Fragrant Lentil Rice Soup with Spinach and Caramelized Onions (aka Dal Bhat Meets Mujaddara) [...]

  17. […] (adapted from Melissa Clark’s original […]


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