Lebanese lentils and rice with blackened onions

January 9, 2011 at 1:41 pm (AMA, Beans, B_minus (2.5 stars), Fall recipes, Middle East / N. Africa, Spring recipes, Starches, Winter recipes)

I remember going to a Lebanese restaurant in a basement in Pittsburgh, and getting a very tasty (but very oily) dish of lentils and rice, covered in caramelized onions.  This recipe from the AMA cookbook doesn’t say anything about its origins, but I imagine it’s based on the same traditional Lebanese recipe.


  • 2 Tbs. olive oil, plus 1 Tbs.
  • 1 medium onion, chopped, plus 2 large onions, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 3 1/2 cups vegetable broth or water
  • 1 cup dried lentils
  • 1 cup raw, long-grain white rice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups nonfat plain yogurt


  1. In a large, heavy saucepan, saute the chopped onion in 2 Tbs. of olive oil, until soft.  Add the garlic, cumin, cinnamon, and allspice and cook for 1 minute.
  2. Add the broth, bring to a boil, then add the lentils.  Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for 15 minutes.
  3. Add the rice and salt and cook, covered, over low heat until the lentils and rice are tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
  4. While the rice and lentils cook, heat the last Tbs. of oil in a medium-sized skillet.  Add the sliced onions and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are well browned and tinged with black in places, 15 to 20 minutes.
  5. Season the lentils and rice with black pepper and salt to taste.   Serve topped with the blackened onions and the yogurt.

AMA says 1/4 of the recipe has about 593 calories, 12g fat, 97g carbs, 11g fiber, and 26g protein.

My notes:

Three tablespoons of oil seemed liked a lot for 4 servings, so I sauteed the chopped onion in only 1.5 Tbs. olive oil.  I also added quite a bit more salt.  Otherwise I followed the recipe exactly.  I used a mix of big green/brown lentils and smaller lentils de puy.  The lentils and rice finished before the onions, and I was so hungry I served myself up a bowl of just lentils and rice–without blackened onions or yogurt.  It was delicious.  I loved it.  I couldn’t stop eating it.  The cumin, cinnamon, and allspice gave the dish an intense fragrancy that made it addictive.  The rice and lentils were also perfectly light and fluffy, with each individual grain/lentil holding its shape, and coated in a thin layer of oil.

The next day I ate the dish with the caramelized onions and yogurt, and didn’t like it nearly as much.  The sweet onions and sour yogurt somehow interfered with the pure flavors I had tasted the night before.  So I tried the rice and lentils plain the next time, but again it tasted a bit bland to me.  I don’t know if I was just really hungry the night before, so everything tasted better, of if the dish loses something after sitting in the fridge overnight.  Derek had the dish only the next morning, and at the time he seemed to really like it, but when asked later for his rating he said it was only “good”.

Rating: Somewhere between a B- and a B+
Derek: B

Update March 2014:

I made this recipe again this week, with a few modifications. First of all, I upped the lentil amount to 1.25 cups, and added a full 4 cups of vegetable broth to compensate. I used 1.5x as much cumin, cinnamon, and allspice. I also broke the cooking into two distinct parts. In the morning I followed the recipe through step 2, and let the pot cool down and then stuck it in the fridge. When I got home from work I brought it back to a boil, added the rice, and finished cooking the dish. Meanwhile I sautéed the onions. Instead of eating the dish with yogurt I ate it with a lovely carrot salad that a friend brought over. The acid in the dressing complemented the lentils and rice, and the orange added some much-needed color to the plate. The three of us ate finished off all of the onions that night, but we still had enough rice and lentils left three more lunches.

Although I increased the spice amounts, the final dish wasn’t overly spiced. I also liked the slightly higher lentil-to-rice ratio from adding the extra 1/4 cup of lentils.

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