This was one of the first few dishes that I taught in my early days of teaching vegetarian cooking, so there is a nostalgic element to it. I also had the privilege of eating it in Egypt where it is a very popular street food. Traditionally it is a stove top dish, but I have finished it off by baking it in the oven. This is my version without the vermicelli, so any Egyptians reading this please forgive my transgression. —vegetarianirvana
cup red wine vinegar
red serrano peppers [deseeded] I prefer to leave them on as I like it hot!
1 and 1/4
cups of whole peled tomatos and juice [from a can]
Rinse the rice and soak in warm water for at least half an hour. This ensures long elegant grains. Add 4 cloves and 1/4 teaspoon of salt to the rice and cook the rice al dente. I cook my rice in a rice cooker in 2 1/4 cups of water. Once cooked spread on a plate to cool, so it does not continue to cook. When fluffed you will get almost 4 cups of rice [lightly packed] if the Basmati is of good quality. Remove the cloves
Soak the lentils for the same amount of time. They say soaking makes it easier to digest. Cook in 2 cups of gently simmering water. Add 4 cloves and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Test the lentil, when it is cooked al dente drain any excess water and spread on a plate to prevent further cooking. Remove the cloves.
Prepare the Tomato Sauce. Puree the garlic, vinegar and serrano chillies in a blender. Set aside. Add the tomatoes and the juice to the blender, puree and set aside.
Warm a tablespoon of oil and saute 1/2 cup of diced onions for a couple of minutes and add the cumin powder and stir for a couple of seconds. Then add the chilli vinegar puree and let it come to a boil and then add the pureed tomatoes, salt to taste and let it come to a boil and continue to cook for a couple of minutes. This should yield about 1 and 1/2 cups of sauce.
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter, let it turn slightly brown. Add the cinnamon powder and pour onto a square baking dish and smear all over.
Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over a low fire till it turns slightly brown. Increase the heat and add the sliced onions and cook stirring often till it caramelizes to a rich nutty brown color. If using raisins, add at this stage, stir and turn off the stove.
Now we have everything ready to assemble.
Spread half the cooked rice in the baking dish over the cinnamon brown butter. Dot the surface with 2-3 tablespoons of the tomato sauce [depending on how spicy you want it] and gently spread. Sprinkle half the herb of your choice.
Spread the lentils over the rice and spread 2 -3 tablespoons of sauce over the lentils. Sprinkle the remaining herbs
Repeat with the remaining rice and top with 2-3 tablespoons of sauce. Now spread the caramelised onions over the rice and tightly cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes so all the flavors marry nicely. Remove the foil as soon as you get the dish out of the oven and serve with the remaining sauce