Mujadara with Harissa Tomato Sauce, Parsley Pesto and Lemon Tahini Sauce

This healthy mujadara recipe tops the traditional Middle Eastern dish of lentils, brown rice and caramelized onions with a spicy harissa tomato sauce, parsley pesto, and tahini sauce. 

By posting this recipe, I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by USA Rice Federation and am eligible to win prizes associated with this contest. I was not compensated for my time. 

Living in South Carolina, a state basically built on rice, I was excited to see the latest Recipe Redux contest was sponsored by USA Rice Federation. Rice is a huge part of lowcountry cuisine, served with gravy at almost every meal. When I was working at a hospital, a patient once told me he would rather pull his fingernails out one by one than give up rice. I think he was serious.

Luckily, that man is still in possession of all 10 fingernails, because there's absolutely no need to give up rice. Brown rice is a nutritious, and versatile whole grain, one of my favorites to cook with. Let's take a deeper look at why you should think rice.

WHOLE GRAIN // Brown rice is an intact whole grain, meaning it still has the germ and bran intact. That's where most of the vitamins, minerals and fiber is stored. Whole grains, like brown rice, are beneficial for blood sugar control, cholesterol lowering and are protective against certain types of cancer.

CHOLESTEROL LOWERING // Rich in soluble fiber, a type of fiber that binds to cholesterol, rice is incredibly heart healthy. Studies also show the natural oils in rice may help lower cholesterol as well.

GLUTEN FREE // If you're on a gluten free diet for health reasons, you'll be happy to know rice is naturally gluten free!

BONE HEALTH // Most people think of calcium for bone health, but there are other bone building nutrients of equal importance. Magnesium and phosphorus are two, and a cup of brown rice contains about 20% daily needs of both.

SELENIUM // Selenium is an antioxidant mineral that helps support healthy thyroid function. A serving of brown rice contains 35% your daily needs.

I thought about creating a lowcountry inspired dish for this contest, featuring South Carolina's famous Carolina Gold rice, but I wanted to highlight rice's versatility in regards to different cuisines. It is one of the most widely consumed foods in the world! Think sushi in Japan, arroz con polloin South America, risotto in Italy, biryani in India, congee in China, gallo pinto in Central America, paella in get the point. At the risk of sounding cheesy, rice connects us all!  

Speaking of which, cheesy rice...mmmm.

So, I came up with this gussied up version of mujadara, a traditional Middle Eastern dish of lentils cooked with brown rice, topped with caramelized onion. It's an incredibly simple dish. The first time I saw a recipe for mujadara, I thought there's no way it could be anything but boring. The only reason I made it was out of empty kitchen-too lazy to go to the grocery store necessity.

Alternate title: Mujadara, fully loaded.

Basic mujadara is comfort food at it's best, but when is anything not improved by a spicy tomato sauce, a garlicky herbs and copious amounts of tahini? To save time, you could leave off the extra sauces, or just make one, but they don't take long, so you might as well go for the whole shebang.

Mujadara with Harissa Tomato Sauce, Garlicky Herbs & Tahini Sauce

Serves: 4-6


  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large yellow onions, halved and very thinly sliced
  • 3/4 cup lentils, picked over for stones
  • 3/4 U.S.-grown brown rice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Harissa Tomato Sauce, for serving
  • Parsley Garlic Sauce, for serving
  • Lemon Tahini Sauce, for serving


  1. In a large skillet, heat the oil on medium heat. Add the onions, season with salt, and cook, stirring every so often, until a deep, caramel color, about 50 minutes.
  2. While the onions are cooking, cook the lentils. Place the lentils in a medium pot, cover with water by about an inch, bring to a boil on medium-high heat then reduce heat and simmer. Cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  3. When the onions are done, set half aside for garnish. Add rice and lentils with salt to the pot along with 2 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 40-50 minutes until rice and lentils are tender and water is absorbed. Season with salt.
  4. Serve garnished with caramelized onions, tomato sauce, parsley garlic sauce and lemon tahini sauce.

Harissa Tomato Sauce

1 1/2 cups


  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons harissa
  • 1 14 ounce can tomato puree


  1. Heat olive oil in a small pot on medium heat. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. Add harissa and saute an additional 30-60 seconds until fragrant. Add tomato puree, bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer 5-10 minutes. Set aside for serving.

Parsley Pesto

1/2 cup


  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt


  1. Place ingredients in a food processor and pulse until finely minced. Set aside for serving.

Lemon Tahini Sauce

1 cup


  • 2/3 cup tahini
  • Juice of 1/2-1 lemon
  • Salt


  1. Whisk together tahini and juice of 1/2 lemon. Taste and add the rest of the juice if desired. Season with salt and set aside for serving.