The most incredible part of living in Jerusalem is watching everyone rush around on Friday morning in a frantic jumble of to-do lists and grocery carts and then seeing it come to an abrupt halt before sunset as everyone returns home to light the candles as shabbat starts. The stores close early and the traffic dies down. The lights start flickering on in houses and you can hear people singing from their synagogues and living rooms.
You can’t miss it. Shabbat sets on you here whether or not your observance means putting your lights on timers or opening wine and enjoying some Netflix. Shabbat is a feeling in Jerusalem of ultimate surrender to your body’s need for rest, and there is nothing better in the world than holding the people you love as you prepare to recharge your batteries for the next 25 hours.
One of my favorite parts of shabbat in Jerusalem with a group of 44 other students is getting together for shabbat dinner. Whether I’m cooking a meal for friends or bringing a dish to someone else’s place, cooking on Friday afternoon is an important part of my cool-down from the business of the week.
When cooking on a budget, I always look for hearty options that fulfill three criteria: the meal must be (1) full of protein and fiber, (2) be hearty enough to stand on its own or at least make good leftovers the next day, and (3) fit on any shabbat table. It’s nice to have pareve (neither meat nor dairy) recipes so that no matter the situation, I can bring a kosher dish to a kosher meal without any worry. In a community of diverse opinions on kashrut (the laws regarding what food is kosher) I have grown very close to my favorite pareve dishes.
I didn’t grow up with mejadra in the southern United States, but when I first ate it a few years ago, I knew that it would be a great addition to the pareve potluck list. It is filling, has great flavors, is very forgiving, and can be made with leftover rice and lentils. It works well in the summer with a crisp salad or in the winter with some hearty roasted vegetables and a soup, so we eat this year-round at home.
Ingredient specifics: Go to a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern market and pick up some quality spices. The three main spices in my version of this dish are ajwain (bishop) seed, cumin seed, and curry powder or shawarma seasoning. The last one is a very vague description, but I say that to stress the importance of finding a spice blend (or making one!) that suits your individual tastes. Most yellow curry powders and shawarma seasonings are a mix of ground cumin, turmeric, coriander, and maybe a few other things. The ratios are the only thing that really changes from one mix to the next. The one I used in this recipe is a little heavier on the turmeric because my husband can’t get enough of it. I also add a little chipotle powder because a little San Antonio needs to make an appearance at every meal, but that is not included in the recipe here. 😉
Note: the proportions of lentils to rice here are simply what I had leftover of each in the fridge. Make yours to your own liking, but adjust the seasonsings to match. A good mejadra gets most of its flavor from the fried onions and cumin seeds, so it has a pungent aroma, but a gentle flavor compared to spicier lentils and curries.
Mejadra (Vegan, Pareve)
- 1 medium-large onion, sliced
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp ajwain/bishop seeds
- 2 tsp yellow curry powder or shawarma seasoning
- 1/2 tsp tamari (or 1 tsp soy sauce)
- 1 cup of cooked brown lentils
- 1-2 cups of cooked white rice
- oil for frying
- salt, pepper
- chili powder/red pepper flakes (optional)
Add the oil to your non-stick pan over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and spread them out, making to coat them evenly in the oil. Add salt (about a half teaspoon). Fry the onions until they are lightly browned around the edges and start to smell sweet (up to 20 minutes depending on your pan and how much oil you’re using), and then add the cumin and ajwain seeds. Let the seeds sizzle and pop for about a minute, while stirring them around with the onion. Add the garlic and cook until the raw smell disappears, about a minute or so.
Add the lentils to the pan and stir continuously. Let them get nice and warm and then add in the rice and curry powder. Mix well and add in the tamari while stirring. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed, and/or red pepper flakes or chili powder.
Optional: I topped mine with fresh tomatoes, chopped green onion, and a spicy techina sauce. Serve warm or room temperature.