Back in 1995, I spent far too much time and money at a ridiculously small Persian restaurant not far off Christopher Street in Manhattan. I'd sit at the counter and the owner would talk with me about spices and cooking methods while he worked. This Middle Eastern Mujadara with Kofta & Crispy Chickpeas is inspired by those days. My home smells wonderful and I'm grateful to him for sharing with a curious kid.
One of the nicest things about this admittedly lengthy recipe is that you can tweak it to suit your tastes. The full menu will give you perfectly baked beef kofta meatballs, crispy chickpeas swimming in spices, tender rice and lentils sprinkled with fried onions and toasted almonds, all drizzled with a perfect yogurt sauce. However, if you are avoiding meat, simply don't make the meatballs. Looking for a vegan feast? Leave off the meatballs and the yogurt sauce. Not a fan of chickpeas? Give them a pass. You get the idea. The full menu is the one I dream about from the 90s, but the individual components are all fantastic.
I have this meal with white wine, ginger tea, or creamy chai. I mostly let the weather outside and my cravings tell me which is best on any given day. Then I sit down to a meal that takes me to a time when I was just starting to think I might spend some of my life sharing my passion for cuisine and cooking with the world. Enjoy!
- 1 (15 oz.) can chickpeas
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 batch of kofta meat mix, formed into 2" meatballs (I use this recipe as a guide)
- 3 tablespoons canola oil, divided
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- A pinch of ground cinnamon
- 1 cup brown basmati rice
- ½ cup green or brown lentils
- 2 ¾ cups boiling water
- 2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup almonds, roughly chopped
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Rinse and drain the chickpeas. Place them on a towel and pat gently to dry.
In a medium bowl, stir together the chickpeas with the olive oil, chili powder, black pepper, cumin, smoked paprika, and kosher salt.
Pour the chickpeas onto a baking sheet (I used the bottom half of my broiler pan) and spread them into a single layer. Add the kofta meatballs to the pan - place them evenly amongst the chickpeas.
Bake for about 35 to 45 minutes or until the meatballs are fully cooked and the chickpeas are crispy and dry.
While the kofta and chickpeas bake, make the rice.
Add 1 tablespoon of the canola oil, the cumin seeds, salt, cinnamon, and rice to a large nonstick sauté pan. Stir to combine and toast until the rice smells nutty, 30-60 seconds. Add the lentils and water, cover tightly with a lid, bring back to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, and simmer until all the water is absorbed, 30 to 35 minutes. No stirring while it simmers!
When the water is gone, taste the rice and lentils and make sure they’re cooked through; if not, add a bit more boiling water and continue cooking. When it’s done cooking, turn the heat off (no stirring yet!) and let stand covered for 10 minutes to steam.
While the rice steams, in a large skillet over medium heat, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons canola oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it is brown and crispy in places, 15 to 20 minutes. Toss on the almonds and stir to combine. Add to the rice and lentil and stir gently.
To make the yogurt sauce, combine the yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, and extra virgin olive oil in a bowl and stir.
To serve, add a serving of rice and lentils to a serving plate. Top with two kofta meatballs and some crispy chickpeas. Drizzle with the yogurt sauce and serve immediately.
- Yields: 4-6 servings
- Preparation Time: 1 hour