A Go-To Meatless Monday Meal

Lentil, eggplant, and cauliflower rice pilaf:

This is one of my most frequently cooked fall/winter vegetarian dishes.  It was inspired by one of my all time favorite Middle Eastern chefs, restaurants, and cookbooks.  Rawia Bishara is the owner (along with her beautiful daughter, Jumana) and chef at Brooklyn’s award winning Tanoreen.  She’s also the author of one of my favorite cookbooks, Olives, Lemon, and Za’atar. My copy is stained with olive oil and the pages are somewhat worn from all the use it has gotten.  If you ever have the chance to dine at Tanoreen, you should and you’ll thank me. It’s worth the long subway ride to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.  If you can’t get there, get the cookbook.  Actually, get the cookbook either way.  It’s a treat to read, as Rawia’s stories are just lovely, and her cooking is inspired  by family and tradition; it’s delicious and approachable. I am betting her recipes will become staples on your family table as they have on ours.

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For many years, in our life before kids and suburbia, my husband and I dined at Tanoreen about once a week.  Back then it was a tiny store front with about ten tables.  And, while the restaurant is now much larger and fancier, it has not lost any of the features that attracted us to it– it still serves up amazingly scrumptious Middle Eastern cuisine and, as Rawia or Jumana makes her way around the dining room, checking in on guests, you still feel like you’re part of the family, coming home to dinner.

This recipes is everything that good vegetarian food should be.  It is incredibly nutritious, but it’s still loaded with flavor from caramelizing the onions and roasting the vegetables until they’re golden.  It is also hearty because of the lentils and brown rice.  I like to finish it off with a dollop tahini/lemon sauce or a simple yogurt/lemon dressing and a bunch of sauteed baby greens– spinach, kale, or dandelion greens work well here.

What you’ll need for the pilaf:

  • 1 cup of brown long grain rice
  • 1 large sweet onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic grated or put through garlic press
  • 1 head of cauliflower florets, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 large eggplant, diced into 1/2 cubes
  • Olive oil
  • Cumin
  • Tumeric
  • Coriander
  • salt

What to do:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degress.
  • Cook the rice according the directions. Once it is done, set it aside.
  • Cut the onion in half then slice thinly slice it.  Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a large sautee pan.  Once hot, place onions in the pan along with a sprinkle of salt and lower the heat.  Allow the onions to cook until very tender and caramelized.  This will take about 45 minutes.  Be sure to stir them occasionally.
  • While the onions are caramelizing, chop the cauliflower and eggplant.  Place each on a baking sheet.  Drizzle each vegetable with a generous amount of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt, cumin, tumeric, and coriander. Place in oven to roast for approximately 16 minutes, checking after about 8 and tossing.
  • While the vegetables are cooking, make the lentils. In a medium sized saucepan, add one cup of lentils, a teaspoon of salt, and 3 cups of water.  Bring the water to a boil then reduce to a simmer, covering tightly.  Simmer until they are tender, approximately 15 minutes.
  • Finally, add an additional tablespoon of olive to the 1 teaspoon to the pan with the onions, followed by a teaspoon each of cumin and coriander.  Then add the other vegetables and the lentils.  Finally, add the rice. Stir until everything is well incorporated.
  • Top with chopped flatleaf parsley, a dollop of either the tahini or yogurt sauce (recipes below), and a nice scoop of sauteed greens (recipe below).

Tahini/lemon sauce: (Adapted from Olives, Lemon, and Za’atar)

What you’ll need:

  • 1 cup of tahini
  • Juice of 3 lemons
  • 2 large cloves of garlic put through a garlic press
  • salt to taste

What to do:

Place all ingredients in the bowl of a small food processor, and process until smooth.  If it seems too thick, add some water until you reach your desired consistency.

Yogurt/lemon sauce:

What you’ll need:

  • 1 cup of strained Greek yogurt
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1/2 a seedless cucumber, diced into cubes
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • salt to taste

Place all ingredients in a bowl, mix until everything is evenly incorporated. Salt to taste.

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