I learned how to make majadera from Naifeh, one of my roommates when I lived in Haifa. Majadera is a relatively simple dish — it has very few ingredients, which happen to combine to make a whole protein.
Majadera is prepared in stages — first you fry the onions until they’re nearly burnt. This is what gives the dish its flavor. Then you cook the lentils until they’re soft. Finally, you add the rice, which absorbs the rest of the water (if you’ve measured your water properly). This is why the premade majadera mixes sold at our health food store give me pause — you really can’t mix all the ingredients together in advance. I react the same way to restaurant majadera where the rice is white. If it looks like they cooked the rice, lentils and onions separately, and mixed all three together after the fact, it may come out looking tidier but it just won’t have that much flavor.
This is also a dish that’s easy to make in large quantities — the real effort is the time involved in all three stages of cooking, so you might as well make a lot and eat it all week. It’s incredibly filling. In any case, these quantities will yield a whole lot of majadera — probably around eight cups.
A note about the oil: If you’re making a smaller quantity, you’ll want to use a smaller pot; otherwise, you probably won’t be able to halve the amount of oil. I probably would have used even more than the 5/8 cup of oil if I hadn’t been measuring it, and hadn’t realized just how much oil I was adding — this is the bare minimum for the onions to fry properly. If you don’t have any cheap olive oil around, you could use a mix of olive oil and a neutral vegetable oil.
5/8 c cheap olive oil (yes, that much)
2 c lentils
2 c long-grain rice
6.5 c water (this quantity suits a pressure cooker; you’ll need more if you’re using a regular pot)
Dice the onions and start frying them in the bottom of a pressure cooker or a thick-bottomed pot. The onions should be at least half-covered in oil (see photo) — you want them to be able to fry until they’re a dark, crispy brown.
Once the flame is on, don’t stir constantly. The onions closest to the edge of the pot will be the first to darken. When they begin to brown, stir them into the center, and push the still-white onions out toward the edge. Repeat this every so often, whenever the onions around the edges of the pot become brown. Eventually, almost all the onions will be brown (see photo — my onions are almost done). At this point, you’ll need to be stirring every few seconds. You can take your onions as close to black as you feel comfortable doing — you basically want your onions to be as dark as possible, but not to burn (this will ruin the taste of the majadera.)
When the onions are on the brink of burning, turn down the flame, and immediately add the lentils, standing as far back as possible (remember, the oil is boiling, and you don’t want to be hit by splatters). Once the pot settles (the wild bubbling stops), thoroughly mix in the lentils, and then add the water. Add salt to taste. Put on the lid and let cook until the lentils are soft — about 20 minutes in a pressure cooker, or 1+ hours in a regular pot.
Once the lentils are done, add the rice (look at the photo — that’s how dark the lentil and onion mixture should be) and cook on a low flame until the water is absorbed and the rice is fully cooked.