Brown rice and lentil pilaf (Fages)
One of my favourite Cypriot meat-free meals from my childhood, is Fages. This humble dish, also known as Moutzentra or Fagi as my mother called it, is a Greek pilaf traditionally cooked with green lentils and white long grain rice. Some families add other vegetables to the dish like carrots, others make it saucier (with more water or stock). My version uses the very basic ingredients. I also prefer to soak the rice and lentils but this is optional. The method my family used was to bring lentils and water to a boil, cook for a few minutes, then drain and add fresh water with the pre-rinsed rice. This method is perfectly fine. What I learned at Integrative Nutrition School is that rice is better digested when soaked. I've been following this method for over a year now and so far I have no complaints. Even my 5 year old who usually prefers white rice, eats the brown rice version. I soak both rice and lentils together for convenience.
Using white or brown rice depends on personal preference and / or health reasons. I keep both in my pantry and prefer buying organic rice. Brown rice has the added benefit of naturally containing nutrients in the bran layer - it's high is B vitamins and fiber.
Reasons to soak your grains:
Softens the grain (and cooks faster)
eliminates phytic acid (anti-nutrient)
Grains can be soaked for 1 to 8 hours. The soaking water is discarded and soaked grains are rinsed.
Brown rice and lentil pilaf
1 cup brown rice
1 cup green lentils
2 cups of water
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 large brown onion, peeled and diced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Soak the rice and lentils in a bowl of water for at least 1 hour. Drain and rinse.
Add to a pot with 2 cups of room temperature water and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and cook with the lid askew for 20 minutes (add a little more water if necessary), until the rice and lentils are cooked and most of the liquid has reduced. Remove from heat and discard the bay leaf. Stir in the lemon juice to brighten the lentils and rice and check seasoning.
In a stainless steel frying pan, heat the oil on medium heat (never high heat with olive oil) and add the onion. Season with sea salt and cook until the onions are golden. Immediately pour the onions and oil over the pilaf and lightly toss. Check seasoning.
Serve with a platter of freshly cut seasonal vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, spring onion or shallots, celery, fresh herbs and lemon wedges. You can also serve with Greek yoghurt on the side.