The Vegetarian Option: Moudardara at Old Jerusalem Restaurant
After enjoying the vegetarian combination platter at Old Jerusalem a couple weeks ago, I returned to try another vegetarian dish. This time I ordered moudardara ($12.50), described on the menu as steamed rice and lentils topped with roasted onion. The entree is served with either salad or home strained yogurt (labneh).
It turns out that moudardara is also spelled "mujaddara," which is Arabic for "smallpox." That doesn't sound very appetizing, but apparently the lentils look like pockmarks. A version with meat was served during medieval celebrations, while the meatless version I enjoyed was a common food among the poor.
The dish is extremely simple, definitely something you could make at home. It appeared exactly as described on the menu, a heaping plate of rice and lentils topped with slivers of onions blackened beyond caramelization. The onions were surprisingly delicious though, with a mixture of smoky char and sweetness. I tried to get just a little onion in each bite, and was careful not to run out of onions before I finished the rice and lentils, which on their own were a bit bland.