Dee – After the blow-out feasts that made up the last two Tasting Jerusalem blog entries, we were looking for something a little simpler and lighter, and March 2016’s theme provided this for us, at least in part.
The featured ingredient, lentils, weren’t the first ingredient that came to mind when we were looking for something to base a lighter meal on, but in the wider context of a complete menu, they played an essential part.
Lentils only appear in one recipe in the Jerusalem book, the Mejadra on page 120, and the commentary preceeding it described it as being served as part of a lunch menu alongside a yoghurt based sauce and followed by fresh watermelon.
Mejadra is a dish made with lentils and rice, flavoured with a mixture of spices and topped with crispy onions. It is familiar throughout the Arab world, with the inevitable variations in ingredients and spellings.
We’d made Mejadra once before, but I have memories of it having a soapy taste on account of the excessive amount of ground allspice that we’d added to it. Determined not to make the same mistake again, I took extra care with the spices, and thankfully it was a lot more balanced flavour-wise. Ground toasted seeds provided an extra dimension to the overall taste so that not everything was dependent on the flavour of the allspice. The recipe called for crispy onions to be used as a garnish, but we opted instead for slow-cooked sliced ones, simply to reduce the calories a little. We used green lentils in our Mejadra as we have found that they are a little more hardy than the red variety, which are good for soups, especially the Palestinian Shorabit Adas, which I will cover later.
For a dish that was based on a mixture of rice and lentils, it was surprisingly light in texture and was great when mixed together with the yoghurt and cucumber that we served it with. We followed the recipe on page 299, but used shop-bought mint sauce instead of fresh and dried mint. Prerhaps not an authentic preparation but the finished product didn’t look out of place and most importantly it tasted great. It was more piquant than fresh and dried mint would have been, but that wasn’t a problem when served with the Mejadra.
The meal was concluded with some slices of fresh watermelon, which was both palate cleansing and refreshing.
As mentioned in the commentary accompanying the Mejadra recipe, this was a great lunch time or picnic menu, and even though it was very simple to prepare, it looked impressive, tasted great, and filled us up nicely without over-facing us.
Lentils also appear as the principal ingredient in the Palestinian soup, Shorabit Adas, which we could have made instead of the Mejadra, but we’d only recently finished the last portions of a huge quantity of watercress soup that we’d made several weeks ago, so we both agreed that we needed to give soup a rest for a few weeks. It is a great dish though, and we saved a picture of it when we made it a few months ago. It was a nice warming soup for winter, especially with the garnish of crispy toasted flatbread wedges, chilli flakes and a drizzle of Palestinian Olive Oil.
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