There’s no denying that lunch at work can be a pretty grim affair; you are either at home grabbing a slice of toast if you remember, or you are trying not to weep over yet another flaccid and tasteless sandwich which has cost you over a fiver. It is more than depressing and the sad truth is that most people do not take any kind of lunch break but will sit, hunched over their desks, dropping crumbs into their keyboards and cursing Pret A Manger for pulling them in back in again. The average worker in the UK takes only 29 minutes for their lunch break if they take one at all. With current and very real worries that people have about holding onto their jobs, I am certainly not going to try and persuade you to take a full hour every day (even though you are probably contractually entitled to it), but just suggest something here which might make lunchtime a little more palatable.
In the manic rush of the mornings, there are very few people who have time to put together something fresh and interesting for lunch. The trick is to sometimes try to make a few big dishes over the weekend and then you have a delicious lunch ready to go every day. I know this sounds very idealistic, too domestic and you probably hate me for even suggesting you might have enough time to even brush your hair at the weekends, let alone plan lunch for the week. I can only say that this is one of the great things about this dish-it is the work of moments and the reward is much greater than the effort. You probably still hate me, but I will persevere.
Lebanese mezze is a favourite of mine; most of it is a great lunch option as it keeps well and can usually be eaten hot or cold if you do not have the means to heat it up. I have used Lebanese Seven Spice before in my recipe for Hummus Kawarma . It is a really worthwhile addition to your kitchen cupboard as it adds a warm spice and depth to so many dishes. Here it is added to cooked green lentils and rice to create a dish called Mujadara, which is a staple on most tables of mezze. Some versions make it with lentils and bulgar wheat, which is also delicious, but I have found that the grains of rice stay separate for longer than bulgar if you are keeping a big tupperware of this in the fridge to have for lunch every day. Not only is this dish a real surprise in terms of how full of flavour it is, but it is also incredibly healthy. The lentils and rice create a perfect protein and carbohydrate balance and there is very little fat in the recipe as a whole.
I am aware that lentils are often a contentious point at the table; many people claim to dislike them, thinking them bland and a bit too worthy. I have never needed persuading of their versatility and ability to be totally delicious, but if you do, I urge you to try this recipe. The list of ingredients does not seem to be very inspiring, but it is much more than a sum of its parts, with a deeply savoury taste from the lentils and rice which is tempered wonderfully by the sticky sweetness of the onions.
This recipe makes enough for a big bowl to put on your table of mezze or five generous servings. However, no-one wants to eat the same thing every day for lunch, so it is worth experimenting with what you can add to this dish to give yourself a bit of variety each day. It is wonderful on its own, but also great with hummus, natural yoghurt, cooked chicken or crumbled feta. You could also add toasted almonds, pumpkin seeds, fresh parsley or spinach; there really is no excuse for a soggy sandwich. Otherwise, I’m sorry, please don’t hate me.
makes enough for five large servings
200g green lentils
100g white rice
3 medium onions, sliced into thin half moons
1 tsp Lebanese Seven Spice
1/2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 tbs olive oil
Black pepper to taste
Wash the lentils, place in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring up to the boil then turn the heat down low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
At the same time, heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan and add the onions. Cook your onions over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they are dark, sticky and caramelised. This will take about half an hour.
Wash the rice and add it to the lentils. Cover the pan again and leave to steam for about 10-15 minutes or until the lentils and rice are soft. If the mixture starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, add a dash of water.
Add the spices and salt. Mix and season with pepper to taste. Put the lentil and rice mix in a bowl and top with the sticky onions.
Serve warm with a parsley and tomato salad or cold for a satisfying lunch. It will keep in the fridge for up to a week.