I Always Make This 3-Ingredient Anti-Inflammatory Dinner When I Get Home from Vacation
Plus this food editor's family favorite relies on pantry staples.
Reviewed by Dietitian Maria Laura Haddad-Garcia
My family just got back from a 10-day trip to Italy. We dined on risotto with shaved truffles in Florence, crispy pillows of gnoccho fritto with shaved ham in Parma, and tagliata (grilled steak) in Conegliano. We also drank lots of wine and ate lots of gelato. We moved our bodies a lot (including a massive hike up Mount Pizzoc!) but I still felt really heavy. And if I'm being honest, stopped up.
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My husband and I were chatting at the end of our trip, and we realized what the problem was—we were missing vegetables in our diet. We did our best to order them when we went out to eat (which was 90% of our meals), but to be honest, our only option was often a basic green salad. Even our 11-year-old daughter Lila said she was craving a salad when we were in the airport coming home!
My family eats a lot of vegetables—recipes like Caprese-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms, Cheesy Spinach-Zucchini Lasagna and Noodle Bowl with Rainbow Veggies & Peanut Sauce are in regular rotation. When I asked them what they wanted me to make for dinner when we got home, they said almost simultaneously—mujadara and Greek salad.
I won't be surprised if you've never heard of or eaten mujadara. I didn't have it until my early 20s. The dish, which has origins in the Middle East, is humble. The most basic version consists of lentils and rice cooked with loads of caramelized onions. My dad's family is Lebanese, and while he'd talked about how much he loved it, as the youngest child, he never learned to make it himself. When I asked him for suggestions for a Lebanese recipe to make for my vegetarian friend, my dad suggested I call my aunt and ask her for the recipe.
One hour and several pages of notes later, I was armed with a recipe. I made it for my friend, and we both fell in love. (She even texted me the other day asking for the recipe 20-plus years later—hi, Sarah!)
Mujadara has been in rotation ever since. It's a family favorite—my husband and daughter request it regularly and almost always after we get home from vacation. A couple of years ago, I created a version of it using my Instant Pot, which made it all the easier. I sometimes struggled with getting the rice and lentils cooked in one pot, but this version always gives me perfect results. I usually serve it with strained yogurt, lemon wedges and chopped fresh mint on top and a big Greek-style salad on the side.
Lentils and rice have been served together across the Middle East for centuries; they make a nutritious and satisfying vegetarian meal. This Instant Pot version is inspired by Lebanese mujadara, a variation that combines lentils, rice and caramelized onions.
Not only is this meal satisfying and healthy, but it's also loaded with anti-inflammatory benefits. Lentils are rich in antioxidants that may help lower one's blood pressure, cholesterol and risk of certain types of cancer, and help manage type 2 diabetes. Plus, brown rice contains phenolic acid, a compound that can help protect cells from oxidative damage, according to a 2018 review published in the journal Antioxidants. And onions, perhaps the star of this recipe, have loads of health benefits. Not only are they rich in quercetin, which has been associated with a lower risk of developing heart disease, they can help regulate your blood sugar. The salad I serve alongside is loaded with anti-inflammatory ingredients as well, including olives, tomatoes and romaine lettuce. And we can't forget to mention fiber, which is found in all of these ingredients. Fiber is an essential nutrient to feed our gut bacteria, supporting our immune system and lowering systemic inflammation.
The mujadara holds well, too. Dan and I are happy to reheat bowls of it for lunch. It freezes well, too. If you have an electric pressure cooker, I hope you give a try and fall in love with it as much as my family has.