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I volunteer throughout the year for various organizations and causes; I am not one to lick envelopes or address invitations because I would rather use my skills and talents to really make a difference. So on a recent dark, cold Monday night while the rain fell endlessly, I drove over to the University Lutheran Church near the University of Washington. My friend Marilyn had asked me to help her team cook for homeless teens and I was thrilled to be able to help.
The first group of workers arrived around 5 o’clock; one woman had groceries loaded up with all the ingredients we needed for dinner, and we all pitched in to help empty the car and transfer everything to metal carts. Through the door, up the elevator and into the commercial kitchen we went, chattering all the while. Everyone donned their aprons and began working on the meal, which had to be ready to serve by 6:45pm. One woman cut up fruit and vegetables, a team of two constructed the enchilada casserole and nachos, someone else created a beautiful salad and I had the distinctive job of making Mujadrah, an Egyptian lentil/brown rice/caramelized onion dish.
Around 6:45pm the next group of volunteers arrived and they set up eating tables and the buffet tables with plates, cutlery, and the food. The young adults were already in line for dinner and I stayed long enough to watch them enjoy the meal. I was so happy to see them partaking in a hearty, healthy meal on such a dreary, wintry night.
Teen Feed organizes meals every Sunday through Thursday night, relying on various groups of volunteers to shop, cook and serve dinner to teenagers who live on the streets, are homeless or who cannot afford to buy food. We cooked and served a delicious dinner of cut up fruit, vegetables with hummus, green salad, Enchilada casserole, Nachos, Mujadrah, cookies, milk and juice. This type of meal would be tough for these teens to afford, and many of the fruits and vegetables we served were organic. Nearly 70 kids served themselves mounds of food, chatted happily while eating and left appearing to be very satisfied.
This was my second time cooking for these youth and I’ll absolutely do it again! The only downside was that I totally smelled like onions (I diced 10 of them) when I got home. But considering I had a warm home to return to – I am not complaining.
Egyptian Mujadrah (brown rice, lentil, and caramelized onion pilaf)
- 1 large brown skinned onion, peeled and cut into thin half moons
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely minced
- 1 tsp. fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
- 1/2 tsp. dried ginger
- 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 cup brown lentils
- 1 cup brown basmati rice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 of a small bunch flat leaf parsley, stems removed and finely chopped
Heat the oil on medium high in a 10 inch skillet (cast iron pan works best) and add the onions. Turn heat to medium and stir onions occasionally until they are caramelized and very soft, between 20-30 minutes. Add the fresh and the dried ginger and the minced garlic toward the end of the cooking time. You might need to add additional oil if it seems dry.
Meanwhile, cook the brown rice with water in a sauce pan or pressure cooker according to the package directions. Simmer the lentils with water separately according to your usual method. The lentils need to be watched so they are not undercooked but don’t overdo it either or they get mushy.
Combine the cooked brown rice and cooked lentils with the caramelized onions, and more salt and pepper to taste together in a large bowl. Taste and adjust seasonings. Top with some chopped parsley.
This tastes great warm or even at room temperature, and left over Mujadrah is great reheated the following day. It’s even vegan and gluten free! I serve it with a large Greek vegetable salad and fresh fruit at home.