A Mess of Pottage

by abbamoses

Here’s a simple dish that I think of as the primal Middle Eastern meal. I bet more than one family in the Middle East is eating this right now.

  • 3 onions, sliced into thin half-moons
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 1/2 cups water

Cook the onions gently in a skillet in oil until they’ve caramelized — that is, turned golden brown without burning. [If you’re not using oil, you can skip this step and continue with raw onion; it will taste different but will still be good. Or maybe you could try roasting the sliced onions in the oven to brown them?]

Put the onions and all the remaining ingredients in a pot. Stir well. Bring to a boil, cover, turn to low heat, and simmer for about 45 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed. Let sit for 10 minutes or so before serving.

Obviously, you can vary the seasonings to suit your own taste.

• • •

This is adapted from the “Lentils and Rice” recipe in Arthur Schwartz’s excellent What to Cook When You Think There’s Nothing in the House to Eat. He says that this may be the “mess of pottage” for which Esau sold his birthright. I can see how the famished Esau would have been tempted: it’s tasty.

I like What to Cook because the recipes tend toward the simple and basic — and because Schwartz doesn’t mind describing a dish as “filling” — a very basic desideratum for affordable eating, but not a word you see very often in cookbooks.