Happy Birthday Grandma Fritzie!

Left to right: Adele Abadi, Grandma Fritzie, Abe Abadi, and Great-Grandma Esther Nahum Abadi, 1923.

In 1923, an eight-year-old Syrian girl, her mother, and her younger brother and sister boarded a ship from a port in what was then Palestine (established as Israel in 1948) and made the thirty-day journey across the Atlantic to come to America. That little girl was my beloved Grandma Fritzie, who became an artist, and never forgot the sights, tastes, and sounds of her first days in her new “Promised Land.” Years later I spent time cooking with her to learn and preserve all of her delicious recipes from Aleppo so that my own family could continue to prepare these dishes in the future.

Today is her birthday and I am thinking of preparing M’jedrah
rice and lentils — in her honor (please see recipe below).
Happy birthday Grandma Fritzie!

Grandma Fritzie in her art studio on West 23rd Street, NYC, 1955.
Four women in a boat,” by Grandma Fritzie, 1950s.
Still life by Grandma Fritzie, 1950s. 
Still life by Grandma Fritzie, 1963.

M’jedrah:
Rice and Lentils with Fried Onions
Yield: Serves 8

For Rice and Lentils:
2 cups dried brown lentils, rinsed in cold water then drained
2 ½ teaspoons salt
2 cups long-grain white rice,
soaked in cold water for 10 minutes then drained

For Serving:
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 to 3 cups thinly sliced yellow onions (about 3 medium)
2 tablespoons salted or unsalted butter, cut into tiny bits
1 recipe Cucumber-Mint Yogurt Dressing (Leban; recipe following)

  1. In a heavy medium-size saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil over high heat. Add the lentils and cook 10 minutes over a medium-low heat, uncovered, until the lentils are halfway cooked and somewhat chewy in texture. Remove from the heat.
  2. Drain the lentils over a strainer, reserving all of its liquid.
    Combine the reserved liquid with enough water to equal 3 3/4 cups,
    and pour it into the same saucepan. Add the salt and drained rice, and mix. Bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered.
  3. Once the rice is boiling, add the drained lentils, and stir twice gently so as not to mush them. Boil, uncovered, until the liquid appears mostly absorbed and reaches the level of the surface of the rice and lentils, about 3 to 5 minutes. Cover tightly; reduce the heat to its lowest possible level, and steam until the rice is soft but not mushy, about 15 minutes. Once rice is tender, gently stir by folding from the bottom to the top. Keep covered at room temperature until ready to serve. (Note: If you need to reheat before serving, pour rice and lentils into an ovenproof, heavy-bottomed pot, cover, and warm in a preheated
    250 degree F. oven until warm, about 20 to 30 minutes.)
  4. 30 to 45 minutes before serving, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat and fry the onions until very brown (almost black!) and crispy, about 25 to 30 minutes. Arrange the rice and lentils on a serving platter or bowl and pour the fried onions and their oil over the top. Do not mix. Dot the top with the butter and serve at once. Eat with several spoonfuls of this yogurt dressing (leban) on top of each individual serving.

Leban m’Naa’na: Cucumber-Mint-Yogurt Dressing
Yield: Makes About 2¼ cups

2 cups plain whole milk yogurt (low fat or nonfat yogurt can be substituted)
1 tablespoon dried mint leaves
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 cups peeled and finely chopped or coarsely grated Kirby cucumbers, excess liquid drained

  1. Place the yogurt in a small bowl and stir until creamy.
  2. Add the dried mint by crushing it between the palms of your hands.
  3. Add the garlic powder and salt and mix well.
  4. Fold the cucumber into the mixture, cover, and chill until serving time; it will keep, refrigerated, for up to 2 days.

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