Monday, August 25, 2014

Lentils and Rice with Caramelized Onions and Yogurt Sauce

This dish will probably only continue to perpetuate the numerous jokes I get from my side of the family regarding all the vegetarian dishes I serve my poor, suffering, carnivorous husband but I don't care. It was delicious, healthy, and - in the words of my deprived husband - "quite tasty!"

Little Miss Emma, who is becoming quite adept with the spoon and fork, ate two servings. She inhaled her first serving before picking her bowl up and begging me all Oliver Twist-style for "more...more...mooooooore?" Too cute. She may like her cheese puffs and french fries, but this baby also likes her some lentils.

She's trying to feed me here. So appetizing.

I initially made this dish because I have been challenging myself for the last few weeks to see if I could feed our family for just 30 dollars each week. My credit card has been stolen twice already this year and I have begun purchasing our grocery items using cash only just to lessen the chances of that happening again - especially since I pretty much only shop at the grocery store. In addition, I'm trying to see if I can cut down on our monthly grocery bill while simultaneously continuing to feed our family healthy and nutritious meals. It's been a bit challenging but also fun - and successful so far! We've been eating a lot of peanut butter for lunch.

Anyway, whatever your feelings are regarding lentils this really is a fantastic dish and one I plan on making again! The original recipe called for deep frying some onions to make them crispy in order to add a bit more texture to the final dish, but I'm pretty adverse to deep-fried anything. Especially if we're eating lentils. I feel adding a deep fried component would cancel out the health benefits of the meal. Plus, I might have attempted to make the crispy onions and ended up completely burning them, sending billows of smoke so dark and intense that they filled my home and leaked out through my windows into my yard forcing my neighbor to come over and ask if everything was hunky-dory. That might have something to do with why I ended up using caramelized onions instead. And it was delicious and much healthier so that's just going to be my permanent alteration to this recipe.

Rice and Lentils with Caramelized Onions and Yogurt Sauce
adapted from Cook's Illustrated Magazine September/October 2014

For the Yogurt Sauce:
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the Rice and Lentils:
8 1/2 ounces (1 1/4 cups) green or brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
Salt and pepper
1 1/4 cups basmati rice
2 onions - preferably a sweet onion like vidalia, sliced into 1/4 inch thick half-rings and caramelized
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro (optional)

To make the yogurt sauce, whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve. The flavor is really awesome if you make this a few hours before serving.

Be sure to caramelize your onion before proceeding with the rest of the recipe. Just add the onion slices, a little oil, a teaspoon or two of sugar, and a little salt to a skillet over medium heat and slowly cook the onions until they are richly browned. Drain on paper towels and save. The onions will be added to the dish in at the end.

Bring lentils, 4 cups water, and 1 teaspoon salt to boil in medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to low and cook until lentils are tender, 15-17 minutes. Drain and set aside. While lentils cook, place rice in medium bowl and cover by 2 inches with hot tap water and let stand for 15 minutes.

Using your hands, gently swish rice grains to release excess starch. Carefully pour off water, leaving rice in bowl. Add cold tap water to rice and pour off water. Repeat adding and pouring off cold tap water 4 to 5 times, until water runs almost clear. Drain rice in fine-mesh strainer.

Heat olive oil, garlic, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and cayenne in Dutch oven over medium heat for about 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until edges of rice begin to turn translucent (about 3 minutes). Add 2 1/4 cups water, sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt and bring to boil. Stir in lentils, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until all liquid is absorbed (about 12 minutes).

Off heat, remove lid, fold a large dish towel in half, and place over pot. Cover once more and let stand for 10 minutes. Fluff rice and lentils with fork and stir in cilantro and the caramelized onions. Transfer to serving platter, top with remaining crispy onions, and serve, passing yogurt sauce separately.


  1. Love doing a budget for just $30 a week! I've really been struggling with our grocery budget which is more than that and I still have problems! I blame it partially on all the extra produce I've been buying to preserve but still stresses me out. I really feel like we could eat for less. How do you do it??

    1. It is not easy. It involves a lot of planning ahead on my end. Basically, we eat peanut butter for lunch every single day along with a banana (they are 39 cents/pound here). I also make a baked oatmeal at the beginning of the week that we enjoy for breakfast all week long. It helps control milk waste versus cereal - Matthew never ever finishes the milk at the bottom of his bowl. It's a little thing, but milk here is so expensive - it's almost 5 dollars per gallon! For produce, we have a farmer's market that is pretty amazing. You have no idea what fruits/veggies will be available each week, but what is there is fantastically cheap. I usually go there at the beginning of the week and then menu plan as I'm shopping. I always try to plan our dinners around vegetables versus meat. And I make a big portion of the dish so that we end up eating that for a couple days in a row. It sounds a bit boring, but it is so much more economical. Also, I like to buy whole chickens or turkeys, and make stock from the carcass for soup. My family is obsessed with soup, so it's a guaranteed crowd pleaser! Other than that, we don't have snack foods, pop, cereal, etc. My kids aren't big snackers other than the occasional bowl of popcorn while watching a movie. That's what works for us!

  2. I wrote a looooong reply last week but then the internet ate it. We do many of the same things but I think produce is what gets us and I have a hard time cutting back on that since it's so healthy. But I know there are so many little things we could do to cut back too. I can't believe your milk is so expensive! I pay around $2.69 on Aldi when it's not on sale! We do need to eat more veggies and less meat...that would help. Thanks for giving me lots to think about!!