I was on the phone with my mom a few weeks ago, brainstorming dozens of Assyrian dishes to add to my ever-growing list of recipes to develop, photograph, and post to the blog. We talked about doing a series of posts on Assyrian fasting and feasting (more to come in the next few months!), and as we brainstormed ideas, I started to imagine all of the beautiful, colorful ingredients and presentations we might cook and photograph.
As we talked, my mom gave me a list of about 15 amazing ideas, and I hurriedly jotted them down, but when she suggested lentils and rice, I have to admit, I sort of hesitated to add it to the list. How am I supposed to convince people that they need a recipe for something so familiar? Furthermore, how am I even supposed to write a recipe for something that just requires you to cook a couple simple ingredients? The next weekend I flew to Chicago to visit my family, and as I watched my mom make lentils and rice, I realized how wrong I was to even consider forgetting it.
Never be deceived by simple ingredients! The simpler the ingredients, the more carefully and thoughtfully they need to be prepared. This recipe only has four real ingredients, but it's not just a matter of stirring everything together; there are a few important techniques to keep in mind.
The key technique to making perfect lentils and rice is lots and lots of rinsing. You rinse the lentils both before and after you cook them, you rinse the uncooked rice, and you rinse the pot before adding everything back in for a final steam. If you don't rinse, an olive-beige scum will cover everything, creating a (somehow simultaneously!) gritty and gummy texture and unappealingly homogenous color.
The other key to this recipe is timing. You don't want to add everything together at the same time because rice and lentils cook at different rates; if you get the timing wrong, one or the other (or both!) will turn to complete mush. This recipe has you covered on all accounts. There's nothing but perfect lentils and rice ahead.
Lentils and Rice | niskeh ou riza
1 pound brown or green lentils
1 cup basmati rice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cups boiling water
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Rinse the lentils and sort through them for little pebbles. Cover with about 3 inches of water in a medium stock pot.
Turn the heat to high. Once the pot of water and lentils comes to a boil, turn the heat to medium and boil uncovered for about 10 to 15 minutes.
While the lentils are cooking, rinse the rice until the water runs clear and set it aside. *
Start testing the lentils for doneness around the 10 minute mark. The lentils are ready once they are unpleasantly al dente. You should be able to chew one (it should be somewhat soft), but it should still be gritty and mealy.
Once the lentils are ready, strain them and rinse them until the water runs clear. *
Use a damp paper towel to wipe down the sides of the pot that you cooked the lentils in until the scum is completely gone.
Add the olive oil to the pot, turn the heat to medium and add the diced onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens (about 5 minutes).
Add the lentils back into the pot, along with the rinsed rice, kosher salt, and 3 cups boiling water. Stir together and shake everything out into an even layer.
Turn the heat to high. Once the water comes back up to a boil, cover, lower the heat to low, and cook for 15 minutes. Do not look inside the pot while the lentils and rice are cooking.
Once 15 minutes have passed, open the lid, do not stir the lentils and rice, and take a taste. If they taste done, cover, heat for another 30 seconds, and then turn the heat off, keeping them covered.
Keep the pot covered for another 10 minutes after you've turned off the heat.
After 10 minutes of resting, fluff the lentils and rice with a fork and serve.
* To do a more environmentally-friendly version of the rinsing steps, you can rinse by adding water to the pot, swishing things around, straining, and repeating a few times. This uses less water than just rinsing in a colander over the sink.
For another variation on lentils and rice, visit my recipe for piquant lentils and rice.