After piling every cook book she owns on the kitchen table, she finally settles: mejadra. She spins the Yotam Ottolenghi book around so I can read the ingredients list. It doesn’t look like much, but something tells me that mix of lentils, rice, za’atar and onions will just work.
Now there’s ten minutes until we’re meant to be headed out and my Mum’s yet to serve any food. She’s been waiting for the onions to crisp just right, baking them for longer in the oven with parchment paper. My brother’s mates are getting restless, and I look at one of them with a scowl that says, “you bring up the time and you will pay.”
Of course, when the mejadra is finally ready, it’s beautiful. It’s a hush I’ve never heard lentils bring, and there is no small talk throughout the entire meal. The za’atar means everything is covered in a smoky, dense, moreish flavour, while you can taste every extra minute the onions caramelized for. Always a fast eater, I look up from my empty bowl and realise no-one is half off their chair to hint at an exit, no-one is even making eye contact, everyone just looks like they don’t want their food to end. This is what mejadra does.
Here, I’ve used crushed freekeh instead of rice for the mejadra, as I love the texture of the uneven wheat against the onions and puy lentils. Like quinoa, freekeh is packed full of protein and fibre, so is a great alternative to rice, although not gluten free. Za’atar, traditionally a blend of sesame seeds, sumac, thyme, olive oil and salt, simply makes everything it touches taste good. Try it sprinkled over toasted flat bread or here, as I have, with roasted cauliflower, carrots and kale. Now sit back as the silence descends.
Mejadra with roasted cauliflower, carrots, kale and shaved beetroot
Makes four portions
For the roasted vegetables:
Salt and pepper
6 large carrots, cut into 2 inch chunks, then quartered
1 cauliflower, cut down into large florettes
2 handfuls of curly kale
1 tsp za’atar
For the mejadra:
1 cup puy lentils
4 medium white onions
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 cup crushed freekeh
To serve: one beetroot, peeled and then shaved into slices using a potato peeler, and 1/2 juice of lemon.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. In a large roasting tray, cover the base in olive oil, a little salt and pepper, and the carrots. Using a spoon, make sure the carrots are covered in a little oil before placing in the oven for about 15 minutes. Once they’ve started to soften, add in the cauliflower and cook for another 20 minutes. Finally, 5 minutes before plating up, add in the kale. When you’re ready to serve, sprinkle over the za’atar (it contains salt so you shouldn’t need much more seasoning) and make sure it mixes in with everything in the roasting dish. Serve using the olive oil as a dressing.
For the mejadra, heat the lentils in a pan with half an onion and fill with boiling water. Boil for about 20 minutes. Slice the rest of the onions, keeping them in discs, and gently heat in a frying pan with a little olive oil, stirring occasionally. About half way through, add in the sliced garlic to the onions, (this really helps to flavour the lentils later on), and put the freekeh on to boil with salted water for the final 10 minutes of cooking time. When the lentils are cooked, discard the onion that cooked in the lentil pan, drain the lentils and freekeh, and add into one dish, topping off with the caramelized onions.
Once the vegetables and mejadra are all ready, plate up with the slices of beetroot and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Words: Ava Szajna-Hopgood