mujadara-inspired French onion lentil soup

mujadara-inspired french onion soup

As you might notice if you browse my recipes, French bistro food isn’t really my style. It’s just not something I usually find inspiration in, and while I totally get the appeal, I just don’t personally crave it. But despite this ennui, even I can’t resist a bowl of French onion soup. What’s not to love about a cheesy croûte on top of caramelized onion soup?

Underneath all that cheesy bread, I think it might just be my one exception because the flavors remind me so much of mujadara, one of my favorites. Mujadara is simply lentils and rice with a ton of caramelized onions, sometimes served with yogurt and crispy fried onions on top. And as it happens, adding lentils to French onion soup turns it into much more of a vegetarian main, sprinkling on crispy fried onions is just the thing to send it over the top, and blending za’atar with fresh thyme strikes the perfect balance between the two dishes. I channeled my inner Julia Child for this one (though I’m still not sure if she’s in there), and I hope you enjoy it on one of these chilly winter evenings. Brr!

mujadara-inspired french onion soup
mujadara-inspired french onion soup
mujadara-inspired french onion soup
mujadara-inspired french onion soup

Before I leave you with the recipe, let me just tell you how excited I am that yesterday was my blog’s second anniversary! This time last year, I wrote a bit about how difficult it is for me to recover from a disastrous recipe developing day, and I’m proud to say that I’ve had a record low number of pity parties this year. If I’m being totally honest (and probably also if you ask my family), I haven’t actually gotten much better at taking recipe developing disasters in stride, but I’ve become better at avoiding them in the first place, and productively working through them when they happen.

In my first year of blogging, there were so many times that I’d make something, it wouldn’t go well, and I would have no idea how to fix it and move forward. I’d head to the kitchen the next day with a fuzzy idea of what to do differently, and things would go even worse. Or I would come up with a half-baked idea, not spend enough time fleshing it out before heading to the kitchen, and then (shockingly! hah) it wouldn’t pan out. Of course, these failed experiments never made it onto the blog, which meant that I had to work that much harder before stumbling into a recipe I was actually excited to share with you guys. I’m proud of everything that made it onto the blog in my first year, but sheesh—I did not get there in the most efficient (or mentally healthy) way possible.

But now, I feel so much more prepared whenever I start working on a new idea. And when things don’t go right, it’s become so much easier to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. I’ve learned so much since starting, especially this last year, and I hope to keep challenging myself, learning, and growing this year. So I guess—resolution met! Kind of! Maybe I can work on the mindfulness side of the equation this time, and try to take on a more blissfully enlightened, easygoing, no-worries kitchen persona when things go wrong. Probably not, but I’ll check back in with an update next February.

Overall, it’s been a rewarding year! I wrote and posted seventy-six new recipes, I was nominated for a Saveur award in the best food culture blog category, I got involved with the Cook for Syria movement and contributed a recipe to the Bake for Syria book, and I’ve just recently started thinking about next steps and new projects. One project is way too early on to really talk about in detail, but I’ll just say that I’m having so much fun with the research stage, which has involved interviewing my Middle Eastern/North African chef/food blogger friends and spending all day thinking about, cooking, and researching one of my all-time favorite foods. Can’t wait to see what becomes of it. But in any case, I have a feeling this is going to be a good year, and I can’t wait to share some of my favorite new recipes with you here.

mujadara-inspired french onion soup
mujadara-inspired french onion soup
mujadara-inspired french onion soup
mujadara-inspired french onion soup

mujadara-inspired French onion lentil soup

yield: about 8 servings
active time: 40 minutes
total time: 1 hour 15 minutes
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see also:
mujadara, mujadara tacos, and mujadara french onion soup
notes on multitasking: While the onions finish caramelizing, start frying the ones you set aside. While the soup simmers, assemble the croûtes.

french onion lentil soup

  • 4 tablespoons butter

  • 3 pounds onions, thinly sliced (about 5 to 6 medium onions)

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed through a press or finely minced

  • 2 tablespoons flour (optional)

  • 1/2 cup dry red wine (feel free to substitute more broth if you can’t have wine)

  • 8 cups vegetable broth

  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage (I used Palestinian sage, which was perfect, but you can use any)

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or za’atar (or an equal amount fresh thyme)

  • 3/4 pound green or brown lentils, sorted and rinsed

  1. Place the butter in a large dutch oven and set over medium-high heat. Once the butter has melted, swirl to coat and add the onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt. In the first couple minutes, you'll want to keep them moving to help them wilt. After about 5-10 minutes, you'll notice the bottom of the pot gathering a brown film. Scrape it up with your wooden spoon (preferably flat-edged) and let the onions absorb the brown bits. Let the onions sit for a couple minutes, until the brown film shows up again—scrape it up again and give the onions a stir.

  2. Continue to caramelize the onions this way, scraping the brown bits from the bottom whenever they accumulate. Control the heat so the bottom doesn't burn. Toward the end, you may need to reduce the heat to medium to keep the onions from burning. *

  3. Once the onions are very soft and golden brown (after about 25 minutes), remove 1/3 of them to a plate, and continue cooking the rest for about 10 more minutes, until they're deeply brown. You'll need to stir more frequently in these last 10 minutes, and you might need to occasionally deglaze the bottom with a couple teaspoons of water if it's too hard to scrape up.

  4. During the last minute or two of caramelizing, add the garlic and stir for just 1-2 minutes.

  5. Lower the heat to medium-low, add the flour, and cook stirring constantly for about 2 minutes.

  6. Add the wine and scrape any bits still stuck to the bottom of the pan. Stir in the broth a little at a time while whisking, until the mixture smooths out a bit, then add the rest of the broth, black pepper, sage, thyme, and lentils and increase the heat to medium-high. Tate and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

  7. Once it comes to a boil, cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 15 to 25 minutes. Once the lentils are done (no longer mealy, but not yet mushy), remove from heat (it'll stay warm if covered for about 30 minutes). Taste and season a little more if necessary.

fried onions

  • 1 cup neutral-flavored oil (canola oil or refined olive oil—not extra virgin—works great)

  • The set-aside golden-brown caramelized onions

  1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until an onion sizzles when dropped in (about 5 minutes). Carefully add a scoop or two of the reserved caramelized onions and use tongs to spread them out into a single mostly submerged layer.

  2. Cook, stirring every minute or so, for about 3 to 5 minutes until crispy-chewy and deeply golden brown (control the heat to make sure they don’t burn). Before they burn or become too brittle, remove them with a slotted spoon to a paper-towel-lined plate, and then add a couple more scoops of the onions to the pan, working in batches until they're all done. Discard the remaining oil after it cools.

croûte

  • 1 French boule (or another loaf of crusty bread), cut into thick bowl-width slices (about 400-450g)

  • Butter

  • 8 ounces sliced or grated melting cheese (swiss, mozzarella, gruyere, etc.) (or 12 oz. if you want stretchy gobs)

  • 1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

  • (optional) thyme for garnish

  1. Preheat the broiler. While you wait, lightly butter both sides of the bread slices and place them on a sheet pan (parchment-lined for easy cleanup). Broil until toasted on one side (about 1 to 5 minutes, depending on your broiler–check very frequently!), then remove from the oven and flip them over.

  2. Place the cheese slices on the un-toasted sides, then sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Place back under the broiler until the cheese is melted and browned in spots (another 1 to 5 minutes).

  3. Serve by ladling some soup into a bowl, topping with a croûte, and sprinkling with fried onions and a little thyme.

* If you want a method that requires less babysitting (but more time), try the method I use in my mujadara recipe

mujadara-inspired french onion soup

baked butter beans with nestled feta

baked butter beans with nestled feta

This January, I’ve been atoning for all the sweets I posted in December. Not that I’ve done anything quite as drastic as giving up dessert in real life, but I thought a few healthy savories would break up the monotony of endless cakes and baklawa. I mean, I am about to gear up for Valentine’s Day, and will for sure be sharing yet another baklawa recipe soon, but in the meantime, let’s talk about beans.

Or, more specifically, let’s talk about baked butter beans! (Also known as gigandes/gigantes plaki in Greek and fasolia/fasouliyeh in Arabic and Assyrian. Oddly, they contain no butter whatsoever). This baked bean dish spans the eastern and western Mediterranean, and I have my own particular way of making it, which involves taking one or two liberties.

baked butter beans with nestled feta
baked butter beans with nestled feta

If you’re always in a hurry, don’t fret—I use canned butter beans instead of soaking and par-cooking dried ones. They don’t continue to soften once they bake with the tomato sauce, and so I’ve always had good luck using canned. Just make sure you look for a brand that doesn’t overcook them to begin with (you know how some brands are just absolute mush, and perfect for things like hummus? Avoid those!).

If you can’t find canned butter beans, this recipe is also a wonderful way to cook cannellinis. If you’re starting from dried beans, it’s very important to soak them in lightly salted water overnight, and then cook them all the way through (stopping before they get mushy) before adding them to the tomatoes. Even though they bake for twenty-five more minutes, there is not enough moisture in the dish to cook them the rest of the way if they start out too al dente.

Feta isn’t a necessary ingredient for delicious baked butter beans, but it’s one of my favorite things to add. Instead of crumbling and sprinkling the feta, I like to cut it into big chunks and nestle them in with the beans, and then sprinkle a little on top. The process feels a bit like planting seeds or tulip bulbs. You just push the feta down, and then nudge the beans back over the tops. In the oven, the feta softens and melts a little with the tomato, turning into delightfully spreadable pockets of cheese.

This dish is wonderful served on thin slices of rye toast, but it’s also lovely served simply with basmati rice. Feel free to adjust the flavorings and seasonings to your preference. It’s easy to veganize it by leaving out the feta, but I suspect it would also be delicious with some tofu cubes nested in with the beans (although I haven’t yet tried it this way myself).

baked butter beans with nestled feta
baked butter beans with nestled feta

baked butter beans with nestled feta

serves 6 as a main, or more as a side
active time: 20 minutes
total time: 1 hour 15 minutes
download a
PDF to print

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 onion (150-175g), chopped

  • 2 cloves garlic (8g), crushed through a press

  • 2 carrots (140g), medium diced

  • Salt

  • 1 teaspoon (1g) dried oregano

  • 2 teaspoons (2g) dried thyme

  • 1/4 teaspoon (0.5g) crushed red pepper (or more to taste)

  • 1/2 teaspoon (1g) black pepper

  • 2 14-ounce cans (2 400g cans) diced tomato

  • 1 teaspoon (3g) sugar

  • 3 14-ounce cans (3 400g cans) of butter beans, strained and rinsed

  • 1/4 cup (12g) minced fresh dill fronds *

  • 3/4 cup (40g) minced fresh parsley leaves (reserve some for garnish)

  • 200 grams feta, cut into about 10 large cubes

  1. Heat a large oven-proof 10 to 12” steep-sided skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, then add the olive oil, followed by the onion, garlic, carrots, and about 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally for 10 to 15 minutes, until the onions and carrots soften quite a bit (reduce to low if they start to caramelize).

  2. Add the oregano, thyme, crushed red pepper, black pepper, diced tomatoes, and sugar, and bring up to a simmer. Once simmering, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20-25 minutes, just until it forms a very thick sauce.

  3. Preheat the oven to 425° F (218° C) convection while the sauce is simmering.

  4. Taste the sauce once it’s done. Adjust the seasoning, stir in the butter beans, and remove from heat. Add most of the dill and parsley (reserve a couple pinches for garnish). Distribute all but 1 of the feta cubes evenly over the surface of the beans. Gently push down the feta cubes so that they nestle among the beans. Gently nudge some of the beans back over feta cubes to make sure they’re not showing (it’s like planting tulip bulbs). Crumble the remaining feta on top, and bake for about 25 minutes, just until the exposed feta browns, and the whole thing is heated through. Garnish with the reserved parsley, and serve.

* Feel free to use a much smaller amount of dried dill (but make sure to use fresh parsley).

To make ahead: 1 or 2 days ahead of time, make the sauce, wash and mince the herbs (dry them very well first), and cut the feta into cubes. You can even strain and rinse the beans and leave them in the fridge, if you'd like to. Once you're ready to bake, heat the sauce back up in the pan you're going to bake it in (you might need to add 1-2 tablespoons of water). Once it's warmed through, add the butter beans, dill, and parsley, stir together, and nestle in the feta cubes. Bake and garnish as usual.

baked butter beans with nestled feta

see more: