Rachel spent the last two years getting her Master’s degree in Bowling Green, Ohio—a very small town. We were there for her graduation a couple of weeks ago and a month before that, for her recital. She lives right on Main Street in the center of town, across the street from the post office, the library, a great little coffee shop/used bookstore, and a Ben Franklin, a store I haven’t seen since I was a little girl, a store that is alive and well in Bowling Green, Ohio. Forgot coffee stirrers for an after recital party? Go to Ben Franklin’s. Want some superglue, a birthday present, party supplies, fabric, baking pans or even gluten-free pancake mix? Ben Franklin has them all. It even has really cheap moving boxes, Rachel found out, and since the store is so close, she can grab a few at a time whenever she needs more for her upcoming move.
I suppose drug stores have become our modern-day variety stores, but for some reason, CVS gives me hives and Ben Franklin makes me feel like home and apple pie and everything that is right with the world. Something about the eclectic and random combination of so many wonderful things packed into one store is comforting. The minute I walked through the doors I warped back to the 60’s where every town had a five and dime store on the corner and you saved your allowance to spend there…on marbles or paper dolls or a raft. I am not normally a nostalgic person, but being in the Ben Franklin made me, just for a minute, close my eyes and remember the way it used to be.
Main Street Bowling Green is also the home of several great and homey eateries. We ate fabulous hippy food at The Happy Badger, scrumptious Bulgarian food at Naslada Bistro, and Turkish coffee, Lebanese food and real Italian gelato at Café Havana. And this brings me to my post. Larry and I got food to go for the plane ride home from Café Havana as they had several gluten free vegetarian choices. We loved the food so much that I decided I wanted to try out the lentils and rice dish, a traditional Arabic recipe, at home.
Lentils and rice is a staple dish all over the Arab world. In Lebanon it’s called Mdarda (also called Mjadra or Mujadara) and is traditional comfort food. What makes this dish so unbelievably delicious is the caramelized onions on top. But also, it’s easy, quick and super nutritious. It’s also very baby friendly. I decided to use quinoa instead of rice because I like adding in the extra protein to our diet and the quinoa worked perfectly. I think I even like it better with quinoa.
You can improvise the recipe to suit your tastes. Add several spices or none at all. Here is my version. (If you want to make the traditional recipe, substitute rice for the quinoa.)
3 large onions, sliced
¼ cup olive oil
1 ½ cups quinoa, washed thoroughly
4 ½ cups water
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon allspice or cinnamon (optional)
1 cup brown or green lentils, washed and sorted
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste (leave out for babies)
Toast cumin seeds in dry hot skillet until they start to brown. Set aside. Add oil to pan and saute onions on medium-low heat until golden brown, crispy, and caramelized. Meanwhile, add two cups of water, ground cumin, cumin seeds, allspice or cinnamon and bay leaves to the lentils. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Add 2 ½ cups water, salt, and quinoa. Bring back to a boil and cook until all water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve topped with caramelized onions. Makes 4 generous servings.
Rebecca has a no-cook version of this recipe. Just combine pre-cooked lentils and pre-cooked quinoa. (You could add cumin, cinnamon, and the onions to make it more like mine). This is Bo and Revi’s favorite dinner. I made my version for them yesterday and they gobbled it up (sans the onions, pepper and cinnamon—cinnamon gives Bo a rash.)