A Comforting Rice Dish That Won’t Break the Bank

A bowl of lentils and rice is essential comfort food across so many cultures, be it South Asian khichdi, Middle Eastern mujadara or Greek fakorizo. No matter how traditional recipes differ, combining lentils and rice always results in a dish that’s thrifty, hearty and infinitely adaptable, inspiring as many appealing variations as there are inventive cooks.

Recipe: Adas Polo ba Khorma
(Persian Lentil Rice With Dates)

For Nasim Alikhani, the owner of Sofreh restaurant in Brooklyn, lentils and rice means adas polo, a recipe she brought with her when she moved to New York from Isfahan, Iran, at age 23.

“It was my budget meal for those first years in the U.S.,” she said, a filling, fragrant and highly economical mix of lentils, rice and onions that she cooked for herself when she was a student, and then later for her family when she was a young mother.

During Ramadan, which begins this year on March 10, adas polo is also a staple for breaking the fast. Some years, when Ms. Alikhani was growing up, her family cooked hundreds of containers of the dish to distribute as an act of charity, which is customary during the holy month.

“It’s what you serve when you want to feed a lot of people,” Ms. Alikhani said.

A touch of turmeric and cinnamon warms up the lentils and rice.Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

The beauty of the recipe is that it can be as simple or elaborate as you like. Some cooks mix in morsels of lamb or beef. Some lay lavash or potato slices on the bottom of the pot to create a crispy tahdig. Dried fruit like apricots, prunes, raisins and dates can add sweetness; nuts give it a crunch. At Sofreh, Ms. Alikhani sprinkles the dish with saffron and rose water-scented clarified butter, which emits a delicate perfume.

But this more minimalist version, the one she still cooks at home, is closest to Ms. Alikhani’s heart. In it, she simmers the lentils and rice with just a touch of turmeric and cinnamon, then serves it layered with caramelized onions, butter-warmed dates and a handful of fresh herbs. A dollop of yogurt and, occasionally, a fried egg, are all it needs to make a complete meal.

“At the restaurant, I have to fight with people not to eat it with the fesenjan or beef stew,” she said. “It’s better on its own.”

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