Chef Mica Talmor-Gott’s Majadera with Lamb Kefta

Popular throughout the Arab world, majadera is an uncomplicated concoction of spiced lentils and rice, most often served with a generous swirl of tahini sauce and a topping of fried onions. At Ba-Bite in Oakland, it can be ordered with lamb kefta (as above) or in many other variations.

Popular throughout the Arab world, majadera is an uncomplicated concoction of spiced lentils and rice, most often served with a generous swirl of tahini sauce and a topping of fried onions. At Ba-Bite in Oakland, it can be ordered with lamb kefta (as above) or in many other variations.

From AT HOME IN OAKLAND by Alix Wall

With a garnish of fried onions and a healthy drizzle of tehina-yogurt sauce, majadera is certainly delicious enough to be eaten on its own. At Ba-Bite, the lentil and rice dish becomes a hearty base for various items such as fried cauliflower, roasted eggplant, roasted salmon, lemon saffron shrimp, chicken or lamb shishlik (cubes of meat, marinated and grilled), or lamb kefta (spiced ground lamb).

Serves 8

Majadera

4 ounces petite French green lentils (about ½ cup)
2 cups white basmati rice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2–3 tablespoons canola oil
2¼ cups boiling water

Soak the lentils overnight to aid in digestibility, if that’s a concern. Otherwise, start by filling a small saucepan with cold water and adding the lentils. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook the lentils until tender, about 25 minutes. (If you have soaked them, they only need a few minutes.) Drain and then rinse them in cold water.

Measure the spices, salt, and sugar into a small bowl. Pour the oil into a medium pot and heat it until it shimmers. Add the spice mixture and sauté, stirring frequently, for one to two minutes: It should bubble without burning. Add the rice, stirring to coat each grain, then sauté for a few more minutes, stirring constantly until the rice turns opaque.
Pour 2¼ cups of hot or boiling water into the pot, and add the lentils. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat to a simmer, then cover the pot tightly and cook for 13 to 15 minutes.
When done, turn off the heat, fluff rice with a fork, cover again, and allow the rice to steam for another 10 minutes. Remove lid, and fluff again, then serve.

Lamb Kefta

Many chefs first grill meat or fish and then finish it in the oven. Mica Talmor-Gott recommends the other way around. “You get the same flavor, and it makes it easier to handle.”

2½ pounds ground lamb
1 bunch mint, leaves only, finely chopped
1 bunch parsley, avoid large stems, finely chopped
1 yellow onion, finely diced
1 ounce puréed garlic (about 6 cloves)
2¼ teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1½ teaspoons ground allspice
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1½ ounces toasted pine nuts (about ¼ cup)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Chop the mint, parsley, and onion by hand and then mix together with the lamb, garlic, spices, and pine nuts. Shape onto a metal skewer, if desired, into a sausage shape. Cook for 5 minutes in the oven on a tray, and then finish on the grill, on a grill pan, or in a skillet until all sides are browned.

At Ba-Bite Mica Talmor-Gott uses only local organic produce and sustainably raised meat, but she makes an exception for her tahini, insisting on Al Arz, a brand from Nazareth, which can be found at many halal or Middle Eastern grocers.

Tahini-Yogurt Sauce

2 cups low-fat yogurt
½ cup raw tahini
1 garlic clove, puréed (about ¾ teaspoons)
¾ teaspoon lemon juice
1½ teaspoons salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Let stand for 15 minutes for flavors to meld. Taste and adjust with salt and lemon juice as needed.
Fried onions

Deeply browned onions take a bowl of ho-hum rice and lentils to the next level. While many places caramelize them for several hours, Mica Talmor-Gott fries them until crisp and dries them overnight by the heat of the pilot in a gas oven.

2 or 3 yellow onions
3 to 4 cups canola oil, depending on the size of the pot

Slice the onions thinly (by hand or with a mandoline), making sure slices are the same size so they’ll cook evenly. Put ¼ cup oil in a large skillet and heat until shimmering. Add the onions, and sauté them for 8 to 10 minutes, until they lose most of their moisture.

Heat a pot of oil to 350° and set up a tray lined with paper towels. With a slotted spoon, transfer a few onion slices at a time from the skillet to the pot (do not overcrowd), frying until lightly browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on the towel-lined tray. Sprinkle with salt and then place in a very low oven overnight or in a 200° warming drawer for an hour.

If you don’t want to do this multi-stepped process, Mica recommends skipping the sautéing stage and deep-frying them a bit longer, or just caramelizing them in a skillet for about 30 minutes.

To plate: Put a layer of majadera in a shallow bowl. Place two lamb kefta on top. Liberally drizzle with about ¼ cup tahini-yogurt sauce, then top with a handful of fried onions.

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