This Middle Eastern Mujadara recipe combines lentils and rice with simple seasonings cooked until tender then topped with plenty of caramelized onions! The result is a hearty side dish or main packed with flavor that’s naturally vegan and gluten-free!
Frugal Flavorful Middle Eastern Lentils and Rice
I love simple yet flavorful rice dishes – as evidenced by my previously posted Japanese Hibachi style rice and Greek tomato rice. But now it’s time to take things to the Middle East with this Lebanese-inspired mujadara. This simple green/ brown lentils and rice dish topped with plenty of caramelized onions is hearty and full of flavor – yet comprises just a few simple (and budget-friendly) ingredients, perfect for enjoying as a nourishing main or side dish!
What is Mujadara?
Mujadara is referred to under several spellings (including mujaddara, majadra, moujadara, mejadra, megadarra, etc.). This refers to a Persian/Middle Eastern lentil and rice (sometimes bulgur) dish named after the Arabic word for ‘pockmarked’ because of how the lentils look amongst the rice.
The dish cooks the rice and lentils until tender and garnishes it with plenty of sautéed/ caramelized onions and often yogurt. And, while this lentil rice was initially known as a ‘poor man’s food’ (due to the use of inexpensive ingredients)– it’s wonderfully hearty and flavorful.
For this version, I’ve stuck fairly close to a traditional Lebanese mujadara recipe with just a few ingredients tweaks (using either white or brown rice with lentils). Plus, since the entire recipe is made up of pantry staples, this is a great dish you can prepare at a moments’ notice. Keep reading for all my tips and tricks to prepare the perfect plate of these Lebanese rice and lentils!
- Lentils: Use either green or brown lentils, and avoid red lentils for the correct texture.
- Rice: You can use white or brown rice. However, the methods will vary slightly (included below).
- Veggie bouillon powder: Alternatively, you can use veggie stock for the rice.
- Onion: A large amount of flavor is infused into the lentils and rice thanks to a plentiful amount of caramelized onion, so don’t reduce this. You can use yellow, red, a combination of the two, or even shallots.
- Seasonings: This mujadara recipe uses a simple combination of ground cumin, salt and pepper, and bay leaves.
- Oil: I use olive oil – but any neutral cooking oil (like avocado oil) will work. For oil-free mujaddara, you could use a little veggie broth or water to sauté.
Optional add-ins and recipe variations:
- Garlic: Lightly sauté (1-2 cloves) until translucent before adding to the pan with the rice. This will help infuse the rice and lentils with extra flavor.
- Spice: Add some chili powder for heat.
- Cinnamon: A popular addition to this Lebanese dish – add around ¼ tsp.
- Lemon: You can add lemon juice (And optionally zest) directly into the lentils and rice, or garnish with lemon wedges.
- Raisins: I recommend adding around 1/3 cup for it to be ‘lightly studded’ with raisins. Add in the last few minutes of cooking, so they plump up slightly.
- Veggies: Not traditional, but feel free to add some peas, carrots, or even potatoes.
- Pine nuts: Lightly toasted, to garnish.
Please read the recipe card below for the full ingredients list, measurements, complete recipe method, and nutritional information.
How to Make Mujadara
With Brown Rice
- Soak the brown rice in cold water for 20 minutes before starting the recipe, then drain and rinse.
- Then, add the soaked rice and 2 ½ cups of water to a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Next, stir in the veggie bouillon powder, 1 tsp of salt, pepper, and two bay leaves. When it begins to boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cover with a lid, allowing it to cook for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, soak the lentils in a bowl of cold water (then drain).
Soaking the lentils will help them to cook more evenly and a little faster.
- While the rice cooks, slice the onions (I used 2 yellow and 3 red).
- After 20 minutes of cooking, add the drained lentils to the rice pot along with a further 3 cups of water. Stir to combine, increase the heat, and cover with a lid. When it begins to boil, reduce the heat to a simmer once more and set a timer for 25 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet. Once hot, add the sliced onions and stir well. Cover with a lid and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Then remove the lid, stir well, and add the cumin and ½ tsp salt. Sauté the onions without a lid for 5-10 minutes.
If you want crispier caramelized onions, you can increase the heat to medium-high. Just be careful not to burn the onions.
- When the timer goes, check to see if the rice and lentils are tender. If not, continue to simmer for a further few minutes. Once ready, remove the pot from the heat and set it aside for 5 minutes to continue to steam.
- Remove the bay leaves from the pot and add in 2/3 of the caramelized onions, stirring well. Finally, serve the lentils and rice topped with some dairy-free yogurt, the remaining caramelized onions, and some fresh herbs (I recommend parsley, mint, or cilantro).
With White Rice
- First, soak the rice and lentils in separate bowls for 20 minutes. Then drain and add the lentils to the saucepan with 3 cups of water, the bouillon powder, 1 tsp salt, pepper, and bay leaves. Simmer, covered, for 7-10 minutes.
- Then, add the rice and a further two cups of water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover with a lid, and cook for a further 18-20 minutes, until tender.
Follow the remainder of the recipe as written above. If there is any leftover water in the pan when it’s ready, simply drain it.
What to Serve with Mujadara?
Mujadara is hearty enough to enjoy as-is -especially with different garnishes of your choice. Alternatively, you can serve it as a side alongside salads (like Fattoush, tabbouleh, or a simple cucumber tomato salad), add fresh veggies (like tomato, cucumbers, and/or avocado), or a protein of your choice (like these tofu kabobs or even falafels).
How to Store
Store: You can store any leftover mujadara in an airtight container in the fridge for between 3-4 days.
Freeze: Lentils and rice are very freezer-friendly. Simply transfer leftovers to freezer-safe container/s and freeze for up to 3 months. Allow it to thaw in the fridge overnight before reheating.
Reheat: You can reheat this Middle Eastern rice either on the stovetop or in the microwave with a few splashes of water (as needed).
Which lentils to use for mujaddara?
Please use brown or green DRIED lentils for this Middle Eastern rice dish, as they are firmer and hold their shape upon cooking. When using red or yellow lentils, they’ll become mushy. Plus, different lentils have different cooking times, too – which could ruin the entire recipe.
Can I use canned lentils?
I haven’t tried. If you do, make sure to use brown or green lentils, rinse them well, and stir them into the cooked rice (or in the last 2-3 minutes of cooking, so they warm up). You should, of course, OMIT the 3 cups of water which are only needed to cook dry lentils.
How to caramelize onions?
Caramelizing onions is a very simple process – but will differ slightly based on how brown and crispy you want the onions.
If you want soft caramelized onions, follow my recipe above (reducing the heat after a certain time). For crispier results, use a higher heat and don’t stir the onions as much.
For really dark caramelized onions (not super crispy), you can cook them over lower heat for about 30 minutes (starting at the same time as the rice goes into the pan). Then, use a splash of water to help de-glaze the pan at the end (that way, you don’t leave flavor behind!).
Optionally add a pinch of sugar to encourage further caramelization after removing the lid from the pan.
Can I use an Instant Pot?
Yes, you can. To cook the entire mujadara recipe in the Instant Pot; First, use the sauté function to sauté the onion and spices for 5-10 minutes, stirring often. Then remove half the onions and add the soaked and drained lentils, brown rice, spices, and water (3 cups). Cook on high pressure for 12 minutes, naturally release for 12 minutes, then manually release.
To use an Instant Pot with white basmati rice, soak the lentils for at least an hour in warm water and then cook for 6 minutes on high (with 2.5 cups of water).
Recipe Notes and Tips
- Adjusting the cooking time: This will vary based on the rice you use and if you soak the lentils. Regular brown rice needs around 45 minutes. Meanwhile, white rice takes approximately 20, and white basmati around 15 minutes. I recommend checking the packaging of the option you use for a time guideline.
- Adjust the amount of water: Likewise, brown and white rice require different amounts of water. For brown rice, you’ll need 2 ½ cups of water per cup of rice. For white rice, you only need two cups.
- Soft vs. crispy caramelized onions: You can use either for this recipe. Read the FAQs for more information.
- To enhance the rice flavor: Lightly sauté the rice in the saucepan until fragrant before adding the water and other ingredients to boil it.
More Vegan Rice Recipes
- Djuvec rice
- Turmeric and coconut rice
- Cheesy rice and bean casserole
- Spanish rice and beans
- Brown rice salad bowl
- Vegan rice stuffed peppers
If you try this mujadara recipe, I’d love a comment and ★★★★★ recipe rating below. Also, please don’t forget to tag me in re-creations on Instagram or Facebook with @elavegan and #elavegan – I love seeing them.
- You can watch the video in the post for visual instructions.If using brown rice, I recommend soaking it for 20 minutes before you start making the recipe, then drain. Read the notes below for the white rice method.
- Method for using brown rice: Add the soaked brown rice and 2 1/2 cups of water to a large pot and bring it to a boil. Stir in the veggie bouillon powder, 1 tsp of salt, black pepper, and 2 bay leaves. Once it starts boiling, reduce the heat, cover the pot with a lid and let it simmer for 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, you can soak the lentils in a bowl with cold water, then drain. I recommend this step because it cooks the lentils more evenly and a little faster.
- Also, slice the onions while the brown rice cooks. I used 2 yellow onions and 3 red onions, but you can use just yellow or red ones.
- After 20 minutes of cooking the brown rice, add the drained lentils to the pot, along with 3 cups of water, stir to combine, and cover the pot with a lid. Once it starts boiling, reduce the heat and set the timer to 25 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet. Once hot, add the sliced onions. Stir, then reduce the heat to medium and cover the skillet with a lid. Cook the onions for about 10 minutes, then uncover the skillet and stir thoroughly. Add the cumin, and 1/2 tsp of salt and continue to cook the onions without a lid for about 5-10 minutes. You can increase the heat for a crispier result.
- Once the cooking time for the lentils is up, check if the rice and lentils are tender, if not, let them simmer for a few more minutes, then turn off the heat and set the pot aside, still covered, for some minutes.
- Remove the bay leaves, then add about 2/3 of the caramelized onions to the lentils and rice pot and reserve the remaining 1/3 for garnish. Serve in bowls, top with dairy-free yogurt, caramelized onions, and fresh herbs of choice like parsley or cilantro. Enjoy!
- Method for using white rice: Soak the lentils and rice in separate bowls for about 20 minutes, then drain the water and add the lentils to a large pot with 3 cups of fresh water, the veggie bouillon powder, 1 tsp of salt, black pepper, and 2 bay leaves. Simmer covered for about 7-10 minutes. Then add the white rice along with 2 cups of water and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat, cook covered for about 18-20 minutes, until both the rice and lentils are tender. If there is any water left after cooking the rice and lentils, simply drain it.
- Lentils: Use brown or green lentils. The cooking time (when soaked beforehand) is about 25 minutes. Please do not use yellow or red lentils, otherwise, they will turn out mushy.
- Rice: The cooking time really depends on the type of rice. Regular brown rice needs about 45 minutes (this was also mentioned on the rice packaging that I used), white rice takes about 20 minutes, and white basmati rice about 15 minutes. I recommend checking the packaging of your specific rice and time it accordingly. You will need 2 1/2 cups of water for each cup of brown rice and 2 cups of water for each cup of white rice.
- The total time doesn't include soaking time.
Nutrition information is an estimate and has been calculated automatically