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July 9, 2012

When it’s this hot, I cook fast, or not at all. Crisp, abundant salads. Fizzy, boozy, fruit-infused drinks with plenty of ice and limes. David Lebovitz’s froyo recipe topped with blueberries. Now is the time of year to let the summer speak for itself, and use ingredients with a light touch. But with an empty fridge and an empty wallet, I turned to the pantry and to San Fran’s favorite seasonal market for some hot-day cooking advice.

Bi-Rite Market‘s seasonal cookbook, Eat Good Food, might be my new favorite cookbook – mostly because it’s not much of a cookbook at all. All of the recipes I’ve tried so far have been extraordinary, but the author and owner of Bi-Rite Market, Sam Mogannam, is up to something else. He’s out to change the conventional grocery store and the way conventional grocery store shoppers (that’s us) buy and use ingredients. The book is a wealth of knowledge, and I’ve been learning how to better store my herbs and tomatoes (wrapped in plastic inside the fridge, and on the counter, respectively), how to make a good salad vinaigrette, how that “bruise” on a peach might not be a bruise at all but condensed spot of sugar, how to pair wines. Sam wants us all to eat good food – sounds like a mission I can get behind.

I’m on an endless quest to find good lentil recipes (there are plenty of bad lentil recipes out there), and Sam’s family dish, mujadara, grabbed me immediately. With minimal (and inexpensive) ingredients, a generous helping of curry, and crispy/burnt caramelized onions, I knew I’d found a keeper. Do not – I repeat do not – omit the crispy/burnt caramelized oniony bits. They add a whole additional dimension of flavor to the dish. I would serve this with a big ol’ salad and pale ale or cold white wine.

The mujadara was also easy to pull it together in less than an hour in front of the stove, and it made a lot of food which will be my lunch the rest of the week. Plus, the rice and lentil combo constitute a complete protein – vegetarians and broke 20-somethings rejoice! An added bonus? Leftovers could be easily transformed into another favorite dish of mine, Egyptian street food koshari.

What’s the book I’m reading, you ask? I spent most of the weekend in fierce denial of the oppressive heat, reading Icelandic novels and knitting a wool scarf.


adapted from Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food

1 cup uncooked lentils
2-3 large onions, diced
1 cup uncooked jasmine or basmati rice
2 T curry powder
olive oil
s + p

Rinse the lentils and dump them into a bowl, filling it up with water to cover by an inch or so. Let the lentils soak for at least 2 hours or up to 6 hours. Drain the lentils and set aside.

In a large pot or dutch oven (a Le Creuset pot works perfectly here), heat 2 T of olive oil over medium heat. Add half of the onions and a pinch of salt, and cook until the onions are soft and translucent, a few minutes or so. Add the lentils, rice, curry powder, a generous pinch or two of salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir together and let cook for a minute. Add 3 cups of water, increase the heat to high, and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover with a lid and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes until the rice and lentils are tender. Remove from the heat and let the pot sit, covered, for another 10-15 minutes.

While the lentils and rice are cooking, fry up the remaining onions with a pinch of salt in a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until the onions are soft, brown, and fragrant. If they start burning, lower the heat slightly.

Fluff the cooked rice/lentil mixture with a fork, and serve warm topped with caramelized onions. This dish will keep well in the fridge for a couple days, and is delicious reheated for lunch.

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