While many people associate lots of meat with a Greek meal, nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to the actual day-to-day meals that most households in the Mediterranean eat. That daily menu is far more likely to contain beans, lentils, salad, and maybe some sardines than it is to contain lamb or any other meat.
Meat is only an occasional part of the menu, typically no more than 1--3x a week in most households I know. The impression to the contrary undoubtedly stems from the wonderful hospitality of that region of the world that has any host or hostess wanting to show their guests their Sunday best rather than the more mundane meals that they eat every day.
To give you an example, on our annual family visits to Cyprus, my dear mother-in-law, Aphrodite, would ask me each day what she should cook.
Food was one way she showed her love, and she thought nothing of standing over a hot stove for hours even in the blazing summer heat of a typical Mediterranean summer with no air conditioning. It horrified her hospitable Cypriot soul to think she was stinting on the meals she was putting on the table for family that she saw only a few weeks out of the year.
But I do love this dish. I will always associate it with her and the many, wonderful family meals I had the privilege of sharing in her loving home.
You don't have to stand over it the whole time, but it does require regular attention and stirring. But other than that, it's about as easy as it gets.
Here’s the recipe:
Makes about 6-8 hearty servings (can be halved or doubled)
Prep Time – Approx. 25 minutes
Start to finish time – Approx. 50 minutes
Total recipe cost – Approx. $3.50
Total per person cost with salad, optional garnishes, and fresh bread – Approx. $1.25
2 cups dried lentils
½ cup brown rice
5½ cups of water
4-6 tablespoons canola oil
3-4 large onions
½ teaspoon salt (to taste)
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 cups plain yogurt (optional)
Black olives (optional)
(Recipe continues after pictures)
- Wash and drain the 2 cups of lentils in a colander.
- Put 5½ cups of water along with the 1/2 cup of rice and the washed lentils into a medium pot and cover. Bring to a boil over high heat. Skim off any excess foam with a slotted spoon. Turn the heat to medium or medium low and continue to simmer for 35-45 minutes. Set a timer to remind yourself.
- Meanwhile peel and dice the 3-4 onions to make approximately 2½-3 cups. Heat the 4-6 tablespoons of oil for 1-2 minutes over medium heat in a large frying pan. Add the onions to the oil and cook, stirring often, until quite browned. (It's the browning that gives this dish its trademark smoky, sweet flavor.) This will take around 20 minutes or even a bit longer, depending on your personal preference. You don't have to stand over them the whole time, but they do require stirring on occasion while they cook. When they are done to your taste, remove them from the heat and set them aside.
- When the timer goes off, check the lentils and the rice for tenderness. Add cooking time in 5 minute increments, as needed. When lentils and rice are tender, remove them from heat.
- Gently stir in the 1/2 teaspoons of salt and 2 tablespoons of vinegar, followed by the fried onions, blending well.
- Cover the lentils and remove them from direct heat.
- Serve the lentils with a garnish of plain yogurt and olives, fresh bread, and the tossed salad on the side.