This hearty yet simple 'rice and lentil' dish is one of the most ancient of Arabic rice meals. The dish is elevated by the addtion of caramelised onions as a garnish.
Rinse the lentils then put them in a pan. Add 3 cups of water. Bring to a simmer over low heat and skim off any foam that floats up as the lentils cook. Once tender (but still retaining their shape) drain and set aside.
In the meantime, rinse and soak the rice for about 20 minutes.
Heat the oil in a pan, add the bay leaf and cumin seeds and allow them to splutter. Then add the cinnamon stick followed by the chopped onions and fry until the onions are slightly golden. Stir in the garlic paste until fragrant, followed by the powdered spices. Drain the soaked rice and add it in, stir it gently so as not to break the grains. Next add the boiled lentils followed by 2 and a half cups of water and 1 and half tsp salt. Stir and then bring to a simmer. At this point you can taste for seasoning and adjust to your taste. Turn the heat down to low, cover and allow to cook until most of the water is gone. Give it a final stir. If you feel the rice is still not tender, add a little extra water. Then cover with a tight lid and allow to steam for another 10 minutes.
When ready to serve, gently fluff up the rice and squeeze in the lemon juice for an added burst of zesty freshness. Serve with the fried onion and fresh coriander. I also enjoy this dish with a dollop of thick spiced yoghurt.