I’m not sure how many of you are readers of The Washington Post but a few weeks ago in their online edition in the food section was a recipe adapted from Unforgettable: The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert’s Renegade Life, for Megadarra. It’s a Turkish dish of brown lentils, rice and caramelized onions. It was one of those recipes that called me from afar. Paula Wolfert has been a food hero of mine from way before she became ill.
Along with the dish she served a sauce of drained yogurt, water, garlic,mild red pepper flakes, lemon juice and seasoning. That sounded good to me too. I had everything but a fresh lemon and dried mint so I headed to the supermarket and I bought $60 worth of groceries and came home without the dried mint. Don’t do that.
I washed and picked the lentils and put them in 4 cups of water and brought them to the boil and then to a simmer for 10 minutes. Then I washed the rice and let it drip and went to cut the onions. The onion cutting is the only thing that takes time and I didn’t spend more than 5-10 minutes on it. I sprinkled them on a tea towel and left them to dry a bit before frying.
When the lentils were half done, I put in the rice and made sure it was covered in water and brought that to the boil and then to a simmer for 20 minutes. When it was done, I removed it from the heat.
Then I started on the yogurt sauce. I found the muslin (which is never where you think you left it) and drained the yogurt for 20 minutes. While it was draining I made a paste out of garlic and salt and squeezed a fresh lemon.
Once the yogurt had drained for 20 minutes I whisked in garlic until I liked it. The recipe called for water but I liked it without any. Then I put in the red pepper flakes, mint and lemon juice and whisked it well.
In a large frying pan I added the olive oil and brought it to medium, tested one slice of onion and then turned the lot into the pan. It took about 15 minutes on medium low to caramelize the onions. I popped them on a cooling rack and in minutes they were crunchy. Half went into the lentil and rice mixture and half went on top of the dish with a shake of dried mint.
This was a seriously easy vegetarian dish to make. I took a few minutes after eating to look up megadarra and other people make it differently. One recipe called for the lentils to be sauteed in butter or olive oil before adding the water and it called for cumin and ground allspice and I think I would have liked that one better than this. I found the megadarra to be good but not outstanding.
What WAS outstanding and I beg you to make this, is the Turkish Yogurt Sauce. It’s the best dip I’ve made in a long time. John came in while I was making it and he asked if he could have some. I wandered off to write my post and when I came back in, there wasn’t a drop of sauce left. He used it as a dip and ate it with some fresh mushrooms and carrot sticks and some crackers.
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 1½ cups dried brown or green lentils, picked over, rinsed and drained
- 4 cups water, plus hot water as needed
- 1 cup long-grain white rice (uncooked)
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- Sea salt
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Crumbled dried mint leaves, for garnish
- Mild red pepper flakes, such as Aleppo, for garnish (I used standard chilli flakes)
- 2 cups plain Greek yogurt or 1 quart regular plain yogurt
- 3 cloves garlic
- Flaked sea salt
- Up to ½ cup water
- Pinch sugar (optional)
- Up to 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- Pinch mild red pepper flakes, such as Aleppo (I used dried chilli flakes)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon crumbled dried mint leaves, plus a few fresh mint leaves, for garnish
- 2 tablespoons olive oil to drizzle on top just before serving
- Line a baking sheet with a clean dish towel.
- Slice the onions from top to bottom into ⅛-inch slices. Gather them in a separate clean dish towel and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Spread them in a single layer on the lined baking sheet. Let sit for 1 hour, at room temperature. This step ensures the onions will be crunchy when you take them from the cooking oil.
- Meanwhile, combine the washed and picked lentils and water in a saute pan over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes; at this point the lentils should still be slightly firm.
- Wash and rinse the rice under cool running water, until the draining water runs clear. Shake to drain well.
- Add the rinsed rice to the lentils, along with the black pepper and a pinch of salt. If the liquid level in the pan doesn’t cover the rice-lentil mixture, add just enough hot water to make that happen. Increase the heat to high and bring just to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for about 20 minutes, until the rice and lentils are tender. Remove from the heat and let cool.
- Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with several layers of paper towels. Set a wire cooling rack on top of it.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. (I only needed medium heat) Once the oil shimmers, add an onion slice to test the temperature; if the onion sizzles on contact, add the rest of the slices and fry for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat so that the onion doesn’t burn. They should become a rich golden brown.
- Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the wire rack; season right away with a pinch of salt. Let stand for 30 minutes to 1 hour, so the fried onions can drain and dry/crisp up.
- Use a long fork or chopsticks to fluff the rice-lentil mixture, cover partially and let stand till the onion is ready.
- Add half the fried onions and their cooking oil to the rice-lentil mixture. Stir gently to incorporate. Let stand, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
- To serve,fluff that mixture once more, then transfer to a large platter, mounding it. Scatter the remaining fried onions on top, along with the dried mint, a sprinkling of the salt and the red pepper flakes. Add some Turkish Yogurt Sauce on top and start eating!
- Line a fine-mesh strainer with cheesecloth and set it over a bowl. Spoon the yogurt into it and let drain (see headnote); it should reduce to the consistency of a thick sour cream. Transfer to a shallow bowl.
- Use the flat side of a chef’s knife to crush the garlic. Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of the salt and mash to form a paste.
- If the yogurt is too thick, whisk a tablespoon of water in until creamy and smooth. Whisk in the salted garlic ¼ teaspoon at a time, tasting along the way. If the mixture becomes acrid, stir in the optional pinch of sugar. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.
- Add the lemon juice (to taste) and the red pepper flakes, then season lightly with salt and black pepper. Whisk in the dried mint. Cover and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes, or up to overnight.
- Just before serving, drizzle the oil over the yogurt and garnish with fresh mint, if desired.