Sixty picture later, I’ve just given up. It’s simply not a pretty dish. You’ll need to take my word that it’s delicious. Earthy lentils, bitter (in a good way) onions, and lots of black pepper combine to make one of my all-time favorite bean dishes. It’s hearty and filling. It’s even vegan if that’s your thing. It’s a comfort dish that transports me to Aunt Myra’s kitchen and some warm happy memories. She is a terrific cook and introduced my childhood to mint in green salads (that one took me a while to get used to), Syrian meatloaf, and this wonderful lentil dish. Later in life she introduced me to jug wine but that’s a story for another time.
Fair warning, this can be a polarizing dish; very few people say it’s just okay. They either love it or they hate it. In my family of five siblings, I think it may have been two for and three agin’ … In my house now let’s just say there were plenty of leftovers of the zhudra but the french fries were cleaned out. Why am I sharing this recipe if there’s a distinct possibility it won’t be well received? Well, because if you like it, you really, really like it… and it’s cheap so no harm/no foul if you decide to toss it (I say with some realistic resignation). And it’s an excellent excuse to make french fries, the de rigeur accompaniment which with my adult eye now makes wicked clear sense – that smart Aunt Myra. A person who wants to sit at her table and enjoy a memorable dish from childhood does not want to hear people at the table grousing about the zhudra which they can’t do if they’re stuffing their snoots with french fries. Go ahead, ask me how I know.
Anyway, I hope that I do Aunt Myra, the David clan, and my memory proud with my recipe for zhudra. I’ll follow soon with my french fry recipe to keep peace in your house, too.
First put in your contacts or don a pair of goggles because this recipe requires a lot of onion cutting. Laugh if you want but the goggles (swim style or workbench style) will save your mascara. It’ll also keep your nose from running like a faucet (do onions do that to anyone else?). If you’re still here … Chop four large onions. Large is the size of a softball. Use five if they are baseball sized. Do the math yourself if they’re any smaller. The onions should be the regular yellow sort and the chop does not have to be fine. This may seem like a ton of onions but they cook down considerably.
Rinse and drain the lentils. Always rinse dried beans. And pick through them for bits that don’t belong. Fear not, I just mean tiny pebbles or discolored beans.
Put the rinsed lentils into a soup pot.
… water …
…and salt. Stir, put the lid on, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. I couldn’t make this recipe difficult if I tried. Oh, wait … I’ll have a helpful hint that involves an SOS pad and vinegar shortly. Intrigued?
Now for the progression of the onions. This is a 12-inch, high-sided saute pan (for scale). The onions will cook down in 2 tablespoons of oil to about one cup of deliciousness. This process takes at least one hour to do right; using medium heat until they burn, yes burn. This go-round took me about an hour and fifteen. The bitterness you get from the slowly burnt onion is what flavors this dish so distinctly.
This is about twenty minutes in.
This is about forty minutes in. RESIST the desire to pull them off the stove. They need to burn.
This is about one hour in. Still not done (see the white bits?). Right about now you will be staring at your pan and wondering if it’s a lost cause. It is not. When all is said and done and the lentils have met the onions, just fill your (now empty!) pan with water and bring to a boil. Add about 1/4 cup of white vinegar and turn off. Let it sit for about 10 minutes (don’t let it cool). Dump in the sink and go to town with your SOS pad. It’ll come clean … with a bit of elbow grease.
I got to one hour, fifteen(ish) minutes to get this point. Add to the (now cooked) lentils and rice. And fresh ground pepper … lots of it… add and then add some more. I use about 1 tablespoon. Feel free to adjust to your taste.
Here is a do as I say, not as I do hint. The zhudra can be made with half again as much water to make a soupier consistency which I actually prefer but didn’t do for pictures. I have no idea why.
Though it’s ready to eat right away, put a lid on and let the zhudra sit for about 10 minutes to let the flavors meld. This gives you just enough time to finish your french fries! The zhudra is even better the next day. You can always add water if you want a soupier consistency.
Zhudra (Lentils and Beans)
1 lb. bag of dried brown lentils
1 cup of long grain white rice (I used Uncle Ben’s)
8-12 cups of water
4 large yellow onions
2 Tbs neutral oil (I use canola)
Salt and Pepper
Dice the onions.
Put the oil into a large saute pan, add the onions, and set the heat to medium-high. Once the onions start to carmelize, about 20 minutes in, reduce the heat to medium for the rest of the cooking time which will take about an hour to an hour-and-a-half depending on your stove, pot, etc. The goal is blackened onions.
Meanwhile, rinse and sort the lentils. Put in a soup pot with the rice and water (for this post I used 8 cups; for a soupier consistency, use 12 cups). Add 1 tablespoon of salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low for 20 minutes until the rice is done and the lentils are tender. Turn off the heat but leave on the stove covered.
Add the blackened onions to the lentils and beans. Stir. Add 1 tbs of freshly ground black pepper (or adjust to your liking). Taste for salt and add as necessary (or not). Ready to serve. Most appreciated with french fries.