In The Night Counter, Amir promises his grandmother Fatima that for dinner he is not eating quiche, or gay pie, as he explains it to her, but rather majadera, a food with a whole lot less glamour to it than quiche and a whole lot more gas. But dress it down or dress it up, majadera is a perennial favorite. Not because it’s cheap, easy, and fast. Not even because it’s rich in vitamins and fiber and made from ingredients that are always in the pantry. Those were the reasons it was prized in the past. Today majadera is just simply good food.
Majadera is so easy to make that you shouldn’t serve it to company, or at least that’s what my mother used to say. She got that from her mother, who called it “laundry day food,” because it was the only thing she had time to make on the days she had to take care of the laundry of a family of nine without the awareness that somewhere in this world laundry machines existed.
Majadera has come up in the world, as vegetarian food is no longer for the poor man’s table. It seems to be more standard in mezza today in all its variations. But the basic recipe hasn’t changed, still pretty much the same, if you can call it a recipe at all. You can use bulgur wheat (my favorite) or the more common rice. You can serve it with the lentils and rice still holding their shape or you can cook it into a mush. But the one thing you can’t leave out is the caramelized onions that must cover the top.
Cheap, easy, and fast doesn’t usually mean great when we talk about most things in life but there are always exceptions and majadera is one.
Two cups lentils
One cup rice (or course grain bulgur wheat soaked for 10 minutes)
Three large onions, thinly sliced
Salt, pepper to taste
Boil the lentils with more than enough water to cover. When the lentils are very soft, about 45 minutes to an hour, add the rice, and cook for another half hour, until rice is tender. Remember to make sure there is enough water in the pan, as the rice absorbs so much. Also, don’t let it dry out—the rice will absorb even more when it is done. Add salt and pepper to taste (it will need a lot of salt). If you like, add a little cumin, which isn’t traditional, but I know a few people who use it.
Meanwhile, fry the onions until caramelized. Spread the majadera on a platter and cover with the fried onions. Serve with yogurt, pickles, peppers, and chopped tomato and cucumber salad* on the side. Good hot, cold, or at room temperature.
*To Mexican-Americanize it a bit, salsa is an easy substitute for the tomato and cumber salad salad.