Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Recipe: Mjadra Hamra A La Sud Libanaise

Ok, this will sound like a surprise, but during the war I promised Lydia to post the recipe of Mjadra Hamra, a southern Lebanese dish, served with southern Lebanese Salad.

There you go, I had to ask my mum for a favour, and now I cannot seem to get her to stop asking questions: whom is it for, why do you want to know, do you want me to make some now, are you revealing our cuisine secrets to enemy sources, yada yada yada.. I had to pretend I got what she was saying.. I hope I got it right!!

Recipe of Mjadra Hamra:
1 cup of red lentils
¾ - 1 cup of Borgol (Crushed Wheat, you can use large grained Couscous if you have no other choice)
1 large onion
2 large table spoons extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of Salt

For salad
1 or 2 large red tomatos (chopped into large cubes)
Green onions (or a small onion, chopped into wings)
Cucumber (1 or two, chopped into relatively large circles or cubes)
Lemon Juice (according to taste, half a lemon squeeze will do)
Oil (Olive Oil, of course)
Dash of Vinegar
Soumak (don’t ask what that is, I don’t know the English translation, it’s a zesty herbal powder which gives great taste, it's not crucial, but great to have)
Dried mint (a dash)

Salad is easy, chop it all, dump all on top of all, shake well before use. When you're done chopping, put the salt and the dash of dried mint leaves and soumak and mix.

For Mjadra

Boil the red lentils until they are soft. Not mush, they should keep their shape, but they should be soft.
Put the olive oil and the finely chopped onions and stir fry until the onion turns dark red/brown. Dry off the oil. Careful, the shade quickly turns from gold yellow to charcoal black, it's a critical process!
Remove any excess water from the Lentils; water level should be equivalent to the surface of the lentils.
Put quarter a cup of the lentil water on top of the fried onions (make sure you dry the oil or else it will splash). Wait for 5 minutes. Anyway, less oil is healthier.
Put the onion/water mix back onto the lentils.
Add the borgol (dry)
Add salt (careful, if it's too little, you can add some to the salad, when the water dries up, it might turn out to be very salty).
Simmer on very low heat, keep mixing with a fork until the lentils are relatively dry, you should smell something nice. (says mum.. if you smell burning, try again – that's what I do when I'm in charge of the kitchen).

The red colour of the Mjadra is from the stir fried onions.
Serve with salad on the side, or with yoghurt. (Yoghurt + dried mint leaves+ salt + cucumber cubes). If you get hold of Markouk Bread (thin Lebanese Bread), then your are lucky, if not, less carbohydrates won't hurt!

Can be served hot or cold.


  1. Mjadra, mjadra??? I prefer kousa wa labneh :)

  2. Thank your Mom and assure her I will NOT let her recipes fall into enemy hands! Soumak (or soumach) is a red berry ground to produce a lemony powder. FYI it is also a centuries old weaving technique. I like your description of "onion, chopped into wings". I don't know how I missed this post since I read the one after it? Glitch? Time warp? I owe you a favour!

  3. It seems like so little water for the burghul to soak up.

    What an innovative variation on mjadarah, thank you. I have never seen it with red lentils before.

    The English for the herb you're discussing is sumac. HOwever Westerners confuse it with another sumac which is poisonous. Our sumac is not, although some people are mildly allergic to it. The Arabs used sumac for sour flavor before the lemon migrated west from India.

    More on sumac - it also goes into the spice mix "za'atar", which is made of the za'atar herb, sumac, toasted sesame seeds, and salt. Perhaps there are other variations on what to put into za'atar mix; and I know people change the balance of the various herbs to suit their taste.

    Thanks for this post...And thanks to Ahmad, my "neighbor" in Saida (I'm originally from Mieh-Mieh) for the link.

  4. grilled fish is very tasty with summak sprinkled on top. I was in beirut many years ago and had "fattoush". any special ingredients? Or is it just green salad with chunks of stale bread? Anyway, it was delicious. methinks it was the beuatiful fruity olive oil dressing.

  5. Hi, I'm your neighbour too! I live in Saida. The Mjadra Hamra (red)is more common in the deep south region. I think that the heat/steam help soak the borghol up.

    Sumak with fried eggs is also a dish to go for! As for Zaatar and sesame, a labneh baladiyeh plate drenched with olive oil, some markouk or toasted Lebanese bread, and some green bitter olives on the side. Oh my God I'm hungry all of a sudden.

    Mum, who was born in the south and knows all the tricks from Grandma, keeps all the zaatar ingredients separated (Thyme, Sumak, Salt, Sesame) in air proof containters that preserve the zest, and mixes them on demand in small portions, she toasts the sesame every once and a while, so it would never taste stale.

    Another suggestion for sumac is Mountain Tomatos, cut into "tranches" and sprinkled with Sumac, Olive oil, and some garlic. Oh boy!

    Dear Baghdadi brother. On the river banks of glorious baghdad, Masgouf is a delicacy. My Iraqi friends have told me so much about it, and I've invited myself to dinner there in the first possible opportunity. In Lebanon, we squeeze Lemon on grilled fish, but I understand and will put your suggestion into testing vvery soon. Stale Bread on fatouch? That was a long time ago, with all the vegetables, the olive oil, try to "fry" the bread in butter. It will never get wet and is as tasty as Sin!

  6. Thank you for your reply Fadi. Actually I am your Baghdadi sister.I will try to fry the bread before adding it. Yes I remember samak mazgouf. Unfortunately I will never be able to go back to eat it again (my name reveals the reason). I have never tasted fish like that since... It has the special Tigris flavor I think.

  7. hi!
    i know this has nothing to do with mjadra, but do you know how to get hommous very smooth? i've put it in my food processor, and it seems to take forever...i can't imagine it takes everyone that long! :) thank you! celeste

  8. Hi Celeste:

    Tahina (sesame sauce) and lemon juice, with a small quantity of water would do the trick.

    Also, a tip for the health conscious, you can replace tahina with yoghurt in the hommos (or better, fat free youghurt). sure it doesn't taste the same, but it's half the calories or even better!

    Let me know if it works!

  9. yes, it worked...adding a bit more water really helped! thank you! one more question...i've tried the mjadra recipe (yours, and a couple others), but it tastes so bland when i make it (even though i use salt, pepper, onion, olive oil). there must be a certain spice that restaurants use, that i haven't been able to figure out. i've tried several but am getting very discouraged. i would be most grateful for ANY ideas! thank you!...celeste

  10. Oh Celeste, You owe me big time. Mum – bless her heart – is a cook-freak.. I was beaten for suggesting possible spices for Mjadra – what sacrilege!! Only Salt. Repeat, only salt.

    Now, I had to go through the whole process to get to this consultation on flavour:

    Naturally, says she, adding the fried onions to boiling Lentils will not make the flavours mix and that onions would remain stiff (I'm sure she said that the first time, but I tried to isolate the sounds back then).

    There you go. When the lentils are well done, make sure that the water level above the lentils is not higher than 2 cm. Remove Excess water to a separate bowl.

    Then, when the onions are fried into a brownish and zesty style, dry off the oil from the onions carefully, then add the oil to the lentils - this is trick 1 to bring flavour.

    Now back to the onions who are now dried from oil. Add the excess lentil water from the bowl to the cookware (not much, cover them suffeciently also 2-3 cm). Careful for splashing oil/hot water if you haven't dried the onions well. Let the little water on top of onions boil until the onions are soft again, and boil to bring out the fried onion flavour - you will notice a decoloration of water into brown - use your nose to smell the difference.

    At that point, add the onion "sauce" to the boiling lentils, and simmer very slowly (mum usually brings down the heat to minmum, and wraps the cookware with a towel, and lets simmer), before serving, she removes the cover to let out the steam and bring the mjadra into a drier state. Try and let me know!!

    Sahtain! (Lebanese bon apetit , translation is Two Healths)

  11. one more addition:
    Careful with water quantities, and do not add the burghol quantity, it "absorbs" the water & the flavour.