A recipe of tears and joy

In my spare time, I love to cook. I aim to recreate in my cooking the taste, textures, and flavors that I have experienced experienced in my childhood in the restaurants on Mount Carmel, in Haifa, the city in which I grew up, along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

I approach cooking as scientific art. I use the methods I had learned in the year I spent in Stony Brook, New York, as a researcher in a molecular biology lab. I follow the advice of Dr. Yaacov Hod, the lab director, who has taught me to meticulously document every experiment in a notebook, to modify a single variable, or, at most, a few variables at a time, and to believe in persistence and repetition–because practice makes perfect.

And so, when I am cooking, I write down the ingredients and the techniques I am using, the way scientists record the materials and methods they employ in their experiments, and I keep perfecting my dishes, usually altering only one or two ingredients at a time until I reach a level of subjective perfection–that is, when the taste, textures, and flavors are as good as those I remember from my childhood.

The following is a recipe for Mujadara, a Middle Eastern dish in which onions, rice, and green lentils take the main stage. These are carefully combined with salt and cumin and cooked in extra-virgin olive oil.

The dish can be served on its own–it is nutritious and rich in proteins, fiber, and vitamins–or as a side dish along plain yogurt, meat, or fish.

Why do I call it a Recipe of Tears and Joy? Because it calls for plenty of onions. While dicing the onions, I tear up. But when the house fills with the aroma of caramelized onions and earthy cumin, and my palate meets the wonderful flavors and textures of this dish, my mind goes back in time, and my heart fills with joy.


6 large onions (yes! So many!), diced

2 cups of rice, preferably Basmati rice

1 cup of dry green lentils

4 cups of water

1/2 cup of extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon of sugar

2 teaspoons of salt

1 teaspoon of ground cumin


1. Soak the lentils in 4 cups of water for 40 minutes. While the lentils calmly soak, continue with the following steps.

2. Dice the onions into medium-sized pieces.

3. Heat the olive oil In a large, deep pan, or in a large pot, over medium heat. Add the diced onions. Sauté the onions on medium heat and stir every few minutes until the onions are fully caramelized. This caramelization process typically takes 30 minutes. Then add a tablespoon of sugar, and keep stirring the onions with the sugar for about 10 more minutes until the onions turn dark, almost black.

4. Remove the sautéed onions from the pan into a separate plate while trying to leave in the pan as much of the oil in which the onions were sautéed.

5. Carefully add the lentils and the water in which the lentils were soaked into the pan. With a wooden spoon, or a spatula, carefully deglaze the bottom of the pan from any residual onions that might have stuck to it.

6. Add rice, salt, and cumin and mix well.

7. Bring to boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot with a lid, and cook for 20 minutes.

8. Turn the heat off, and keep the lid on the pan for additional 10 minutes.

9. Add the sautéed onions and mix the entire dish gently but thoroughly.

10. Serve in a bowl with fresh sliced tomatoes on the side.

A cup of fully prepared Mujadara is about 500 calories.

Bon Appetite!

Dr. Shahar Madjar is a urologist working at Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital. he sees patients in Laurium, Houghton and L’Anse. Contact him at smadjar@yahoo.com.


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