Thursday, Apr. 05, 2007
Dear Diary:

A watched onion never caramelizes.

Easter is coming up, the first big family holiday since the death of my-mom-in-law. She always made a big fuss over all the traditional holidays, insisting that all the generations of the family come together at her home to enjoy a potluck meal.

For this particular holiday, her big country kitchen always looked like an Easter factory had exploded, with bunnies and bunny-related paraphernalia everywhere. I used to kind of smirk over the campiness of it, but this year I feel downright wistful thinking about it all.

With her gone, there's a tendency for us to fracture. Two of my nieces live in Ottawa, my daughter is in Montreal, and our sleepy valley seems far away from their busy urban lives.

The spousal unit's middle brother, though, is deeply committed to keeping the extended family congregating, at least for a while. And so, at his behest, e-mails were sent out, people changed their plans, and my nieces and their kids, my daughter and her sweetie will appear on Sunday.

The original plan was to hold an Easter potluck picnic at the sugar house, since the odds would be good that we would be making maple syrple that day. But the long term forecast now is looking too cold to sugar. Without the arch running the sugar house is frosty indeed so a Plan B was hastily concocted and it looks like my home could be the gathering spot.

No biggie, except for the fact we're only accessible by foot or by snowmobile this time of year and I'm not sure what my grandnieces or grandnephew will think about that. "Think of it as an adventure," I gaily told my nieces in today's update e-mail. I'm sure they're just thrilled at the prospect.

One of my nieces is a vegetarian. Don't Judge Me. I didn't raise her and to this day I don't know where it all went terribly, terribly wrong with her. Everyone seems to be making meat centric dishes for the picnic, except for her contribution, a chocolate tofu pie. I really, really want to mock this pie, but I can't. It is stunningly good. You can well imagine my horror.

I decided that today I'd get a jump on some of my food for the picnic and make two things in advance that freeze well and that she could eat. One was my fakelafels, a caricature of a falafel, the delicious deep-fried Middle Eastern chickpea croquette. My fakelafel has oat bran bread crumbs in it and is fried in a non-stick pan instead of deep-fried.

As long as you've never tried a real falafel, they're quite tasty in an alarmingly, disgustingly healthy way.

The other dish I made was megadarra, sometimes called m'jaddara, which is a simple brown lentil and brown rice dish that would taste like mud except for the fact it has mass quantities of carmelized onions. I love this dish but I almost never make it because of the caramelized onions.

There is no fast and easy way to caramelize onions. The version of this dish that I make starts with seven cups of sliced onions and three tablespoons of olive oil. With such mass quantities of onions, I have about half an hour of gently stirring over medium heat until they turn a dark caramel colour. There is no fast and easy way to do this without scorching the onions.

Don't ask me how I know that, I just do.

I am not a patient cook. Actually, I'm not really a cook at all. I cook because I'm the one who works from home and it's just more convenient for me to do this stuff. Caramelizing onions is the fourth circle of hell for me because a) it is stupidly boring b) I cannot let my mind wander because it doesn't take much to burn the onions c) it is stupidly boring.

Yet this afternoon, much to my surprise, I found myself patiently stirring a mountain of onions until they gradually cooked down to a tiny, caramel hill.

There are so many ways to say, "I love you" to someone. Apparently one of mine is a hefty pile of brown onions.


Megadarra (Brown Lentils, Brown Rice and Carmelized Onions)
from Cooking Light Magazine with a tiny bit of tinkering from me

7 cups yellow onion, sliced lengthwise
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

5 cups water
1 � cups brown lentils
1 � cups brown long grain rice (I use brown basmati rice)
1 tsp. salt
� tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. cumin

Heat the oil in a large, non-stick frying pan over medium low heat. Add the onion, cover and cook for 15 minutes or until soft, stirring occasionally. Uncover, increase the heat to medium and cook 25 minutes or until the onions are golden brown. Stir, stir, stir. Do not think about all the other things you could be doing. Stir, stir, stir.

About five minutes from the end, throw in 1 tsp. of cumin. The longer you cook the cumin, the hotter it will get, but don't worry if you misjudge when you add the cumin�the rice and lentils are so bland that they'll easily blunt a tsp. of cumin. When your onions are done, set aside and keep warm.

While the onion is cooking, bring the 5 cups of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the lentils and cook them until they're tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in half the caramelized onions, rice, salt and pepper. Cover and cook 25 minutes or until the lentils and rice are both tender. You may need to top this up with a bit more water, depending on what your lentils soak up. Lentils are sneaky. Never trust lentils.

Spoon the lentil rice mixture into a shallow dish; top with the remaining caramelized onion. You can serve this warm or at room temperature. I prefer it warmed up a bit myself. If you want to make it richer, drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over the lentils.

P.S.--This is meant as a side dish, and makes about 11 servings of 1/2 cup each

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