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Be inspired every day with Living North
Extracted from Med by Claudia Roden (Ebury Press, £28). Photography by Susan Bell.
March 2022
Reading time 1 Minute

When my parents settled in London, my mother, missing her family, her friends and her old life, threw herself into cooking. In Egypt she had left it to the cook; in London it was a passion

To please my father, she cooked the remembered dishes of his childhood. This is the Egyptian megadarra he loved – with added dates.

The lentils you get in supermarkets do not need soaking and take no more than 20 minutes to cook, so you can cook them together with the rice, but check the packet instructions, especially for the rice, as cooking times can vary. This is traditionally a first course to be eaten at room temperature, but with the optional accompaniments it is the star of a vegetarian Middle Eastern meal.
  • 2 large onions, halved and thickly sliced
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 180g brown or green lentils, rinsed
  • 200g basmati rice, rinsed
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground allspice
  • 12 pitted soft dried dates such as Medjool, coarsely chopped
  • salt and black pepper
  • Accompaniments (optional)
  • 250g halloumi cheese, cut into 8 slices
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges
  • 450g Greek-style yoghurt mixed with salt and 1 crushed garlic clove
  • Spicy tomato ‘jam’
  • Cucumber and tomato salad
  1. In a wide frying pan, fry the onions in two tablespoons of the oil, stirring often.
  2. Start over low heat, with the lid on, and when the onions are very soft continue over medium heat until they are really dark brown – not black or burned – about 25 minutes.
  3. Bring about 1.8 litres of water to the boil and throw in the lentils. Simmer for 10 minutes, add salt, then throw in the rice, add the cinnamon and allspice, and cook for 10–15 minutes until the rice and lentils are tender.
  4. Drain and pour into a wide serving dish. Add salt to taste (it needs a lot) and pepper, the dates and the remaining oil. Mix very gently, turning over with a spatula, so as not to break the grains of rice. Serve warm or at room temperature, with the caramelised onions sprinkled over.
  5. Serve, if you like, with any or all of the optional accompaniments. Cook the halloumi slices on an oiled griddle pan or non-stick frying pan over medium–high heat until browned on both sides. Do this just before serving so that the cheese is still very hot and soft, as it becomes rubbery when it cools.
Extracted from Med by Claudia Roden (Ebury Press, £28). Photography by Susan Bell

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