Caramelized Onion, Rice and Lentil Pilaf

20 Dec

Garnish with flat leaf parsley or scallions

Last month I committed to provide some menu items for my Vegetarian Sister (VS) while she was in town visiting. She and I had discussed how some vegetarian dishes (created by carnivore-types) are just lazy variations of non-veg dishes that omit the meat or are overly cheesy to make up for the lack of meat. My goal was to find new recipes she would enjoy that we could cook together; thus creating some sister bonding time and expanding both our culinary horizons.

Score one for Kat! This dish was so good that everyone at the dinner table, including the meat eaters, raved over it. Seriously, though, what is not to love about any recipe that features onions slow roasted until their natural sugars caramelize? Sadly, that means this dish does take a bit of time and forethought to put it together. I prepared it in stages, though, so the last warming-through came together in a snap.

The biggest time commitment of this dish is caramelizing the onions. It pays to take the time to do this properly. Fortunately, although onions take an hour or more to do their thing, caramelizing them is mainly unattended. In my “go big or go home” mentality I believe that if you’re going to devote the time it takes, you should caramelize as many onions as possible. I sliced and cooked the four pounds I had in my cupboard at the time which was more than we needed for this dish. Cooked onions store nicely in the fridge and can also be frozen.

It’s typical of this Middle Eastern dish (called Mujadarra) to be served with a side of plain yogurt or hummus and pita wedges. We served it along side my mother’s roasted pork. I thought it was a combination made in heaven. Of course, my sister passed on the pork but she was happy nonetheless!


  • 3 pounds of onions, caramelized (see Kat’s tip below if you’re unfamiliar with how to do this).
  • 2 cups cooked white or brown rice (I prefer brown)
  • 1.5 cups cooked lentils (use brown or green lentils; not the French ones)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Flat leaf parsley or minced scallions for garnish


  1. Caramelize the onions
  2. Cook rice on stove top or in rice cooker
  3. Cook lentils separately by bringing three to four cups of water in a pan to a boil. Add lentils and cook about 30 minutes until they are chewy but not falling apart.
  4. Drain lentils. Return pan to oven and melt butter over medium heat. Add olive oil and spices. Stir until fragrant.
  5. Add lentils, rice and half of onion mixture back to the same pan. Stir until combined and heated thoroughly.
  6. Garnish with remaining caramelized onions and diced greens (either parsley or green onions).

Kat’s tip: How to caramelize onions

Onions after 15 minutes

I once tried to caramelize onions in the oven. We’ll just chalk it up to an epic failure. Not only did the onions never brown (even after 3 hours in the oven at 400°) but I burned myself twice in the process. Ouch! I’m forevermore sold on the stove top method using a non stick pan.

  • Remove root ends and thinly slice 3 to 5 pounds of onions. I use my Pampered Chef Ultimate Mandolin to make uniform slices so the onions cook evenly. Sprinkle sliced onions liberally with about one tablespoon of salt and toss to coat.
  • Coat the bottom of a large non-stick skillet with equal parts of butter and olive oil (about one teaspoon per onion.)
  • Cook onions on medium heat stirring about every ten minutes.
  • After about 15 to 30 minutes the onions will start to turn color
  • Continue cooking on medium to medium low for another 15 to 30 minutes until they reach a nice brown color. Monitor them a little closer in the end and be careful not to let them burn.

Yield: This dish makes a hearty amount. We had 9 at the table last night. VS ate her fill as a main meal and the rest of us had it as a side dish and there were still leftovers.

Inspiration: Mujadara

Tutorial: Caramelizing Onions


Posted by on December 20, 2011 in Bean Mausoleum, Brown rice, Grains, Low fat, Vegetarian


Tags: ,

3 responses to “Caramelized Onion, Rice and Lentil Pilaf

  1. Karen

    December 20, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    Your recipe sounds good, especially with the spices you used.

  2. jeanne

    December 20, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    This sounds delicious and it would be a great side dish for baked chicken…

  3. sweetopiagirl

    December 20, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Reblogged this on Inspiredweightloss.


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