Cypriot peasant cuisine: Moujendra
When I was
growing up in my ethnically mixed family, we ate quite a number of
foods native to Cyprus and the eastern Mediterranean region. One of
these I especially came to like and we still eat it in our home. It is
primarily consists of lentils and rice. Take the following ingredients:
lentils in a pan of boiling water and cook until tender. About a
teaspoon of salt should be added to water. This should take between 30
to 40 minutes. About ten minutes or so into the cooking of the lentils,
add the rice. If using brown rice, start it first and then add the
lentils later. Longer cooking time will lead to a porridge-like
mixture. Shorter cooking time will keep ingredients more al dente.
onions and celery. In a separate shallow pan cover the bottom with the
pomace olive oil and turn on heat. Add chopped onions and celery and
sauté. Add pepper and coriander. Once this mixture has been
sufficiently, add it to the lentils and rice. Mix and then add the wine
vinegar and extra virgin oil to taste.
Other ingredients can be
added as well at various stages in the process, including chopped
carrots, sliced kalamata olives, sun dried tomatoes or roma tomatoes.
Feel free to experiment. That's what peasant cuisine is all about.
virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing of the olives. Thus it
is the richest grade of oil and the deepest in colour. Pomace oil comes
from the later pressings and is quite adequate for cooking. Although
Italian olive oil is more common in North America, I strongly recommend
the Greek variety. Italian oil has a fruity taste, while the Greek oil
has a quite different taste that I am at a loss to describe because I
grew up with it. To me, it's just, well, olive oil!
Incidentally lentils contain tryptophan,
an amino acid that boosts serotonin levels in the brain. Low levels of
serotonin accompany clinical depression. That means lentils are a great
mood booster — even better
caffeine, whose side effects include
heightened anxiety. When I'm feeling down, there's nothing like
moujendra and a green salad to pick me up again. I call it the "lentil
Legumes and grains together contain a complete protein and can
thus be used as a meat substitute.
1 cup dried green lentils
1 cup rice
2 to 3 bulb onions, depending on size
2 celery stalks
olive oil (both pomace and extra virgin)
1 tbsp red wine vinegar