Back in the dot.com day when I lived in San Francisco and worked in SOMA (That’s South of Market, where all the cool startups were), there was a disheveled little storefront that stood out between the gleaming lofts and trendy bistros. It was owned by a Lebanese family who apparently were the only business owners for miles who’d turned their noses up at developer money, seeking to buy their building and turn it into another work-live loft space.
Walking into this humble shop was like walking into a more sensible time, before commerce was optimized, when people didn’t expect the biggest and brightest and latest thing. Dimly-lit, random selection of groceries for sale on dusty shelves, and a modest deli, you could have called it a dingy hold-out. But for all I knew it was the last family-owned lunch counter in the city at the time. Which is why I walked there almost every day for lunch.
Also, I could get m’Jedrah there.
M’jedrah (Lots of ways to spell it in English) is a humble dish of Lebanese origin. Simple, nutritious, and, to those of us who prefer simple rice and lentils over, say, coq au vin, super yummy.
The father of this mom and pop operation loved that I loved m’jedrah. “How do you know m’jedrah? We eat it in my country.” I’d just smile and shrug. Clucking like a Jewish mother, he’d always slip me the larger sized container when I’d payed for the smaller. “That’s not enough for lunch. Eat more.” So I always did. He kept peach Snapple on hand just for me, too.
But, all good things come to an end, especially in a boom. One day I wandered down after a week’s absence to find the place closed, windows papered over and a padlock on the door. No note. No goodbye. I could only hope they took the money some developer offered them and ran.
I didn’t run across m’Jedrah for a long time after that. But yesterday, I sat wondering how, exactly, one caramelizes onions, and why is it I’ve never tried, when I remembered: M’Jedrah!
Apart from Googling caramelizes onions, I went out on my own from memory. Here’s what I did:
3/4 cup brown lentils, washed and picked over
1/2 cup basmati rice
3 cups of chicken stock (I know, there goes my veggie cred, but it’s all I had)
chopped carrots to taste
half an onion, sliced and caramelized.
sea salt and pepper to taste
The hardest part for me of course was the onions. Things started out well enough. But then in the time it took to chop up some carrots, I burnt the dang things to a crisp.
But they still worked.
SOMA pic from LiveSoMa/Flickr