by Malou Herkes

A filling and tasty meal for when the fridge is bare

Mujadara is a filling and tasty meal if you have little in the fridge. In Lebanon, it’s traditionally made with bulgur—cracked parboiled wheat. It’s chewier and almost ‘meatier’ than rice, which is now much more commonly used in this dish, but go with whatever you have in the cupboard.

What makes this special, though, is the onions. Cooked slowly until sweet and caramelised, they elevate a frugal meal into something sumptuous. I’ll leave you to decide how far you want to take them: traditionally, the onions are cooked until almost black, taken off the heat just at the tipping point between meltingly sweet and smoky, and bitterly burnt. If you have the time (and the focus!), cook them for around 40 mins, until they start to almost blacken around the edges and go slightly crisp to impart a lovely, smoky-sweet flavour—just make sure you keep an eye on them for those final 15 mins and stir often. Cooking them for half that time will give you blonde-coloured, sweet onions that will do the trick quite nicely, too.

Read my blog for more on making the most of back-of-the-fridge and storecupboard ingredients


750g onions
Olive oil or butter, for frying
Sea salt
250g brown or green lentils
2 ½ tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
250g basmati rice or bulgur wheat


Peel and finely slice the onions, then add them bit by bit to a large frying pan with 3 tbsp oil or a good knob of butter. Stir well between each addition, allowing the onions to soften slightly. Add a good pinch of salt, then continue to fry them slowly over a medium to low heat until they turn a rich caramel brown, stirring occasionally.

After about 20 mins, they’ll turn a blonde colour—if you’re short of time, you can stop there. Otherwise, keep going, stirring often until they darken into a meltingly sweet, caramelised mixture.

Meanwhile, add the lentils to a saucepan with plenty of cold water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 20 mins, or until tender. Drain and set aside.

In another pan, toast the spices in 2 tbsp olive oil until fragrant, stir in the grains so they’re nicely coated, season with salt and pepper, then cover with double the amount of water and bring to the boil. Reduce to a very low heat, cover and simmer until tender. If cooking bulgur wheat, you may end up with excess water; simply drain it.

Fluff up the grains with a fork, stir in the lentils and caramelised onions, then serve straight up. Delicious with garlicky yoghurt, a fried egg or a dollop of harissa.

Recipe: Malou Herkes