aboutWe are Akila and Patrick. Our minds (and waistlines) expand as we travel, cook, and eat our way around the world with our two dogs.
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mujadara
Mujadara

Mujadara

We fell in love with New Zealand the moment our plane crossed the Pacific Ocean and we set our eyes on what the Maoris named Aotearoa, the land of the clouds.  We had seen Lord of the Rings and heard from Kiwis and foreigners alike that we would be amazed by New Zealand, but, still, we did not expect the raw unimagined beauty of this nation.

New Zealand Western Alps by plane

New Zealand Western Alps From the Plane

Don't worry.  This post is not going to be me rhapsodizing on and on about crystal clear waters, snow-capped mountains, and the lush green valleys.  Nor, am I going to tell you about the bizarre places that make New Zealand unique, like the granite boulders that resemble dinosaur eggs on the coast of Moeraki. 

Moeraki boulder Moeraki boulder
Moeraki boulders Moeraki boulder

Moeraki boulders

Instead, I am going to tell you about our new digs.  If it looks small from the pictures that is because it is.  We now drive, live, cook, and eat in a 20-foot campervan, inexplicably named "Doc."  There are mornings when I wake up and my back aches from sleeping on the thin foam cushions that constitute our bed and I tell Patrick, "I hate this thing.  I don't want to sleep here anymore."  And, because I am blissfully ignorant as to the ways of manual shift, Patrick spends long, tiring days driving our “bus,” as we have come to call it, through mountainous passages and rounded valleys.

Xploremore Franz Campervan Interior of Franz Exploremore Campervan
Interior of Franz ExploreMore Campervan

Franz ExploreMore Campervan

Our campervan

But, then, there are days when it is all worthwhile.  On Patrick's birthday, when the brightest rainbow we had ever seen crossed above our campervan, at a site that nestled between a river and a ridge, we were happy that we chose this way of traveling through New Zealand.

Rainbow over Exploremore Campervan

Nature's birthday present to Patrick

We also love having a "kitchen," consisting of a miniscule fridge, a two-burner stove, and a baby sink over a cupboard that contains our pantry.  Often, we cook in the commercial-grade kitchens found in New Zealand holiday parks but, sometimes, we cook over a campfire. 

Tools to cook mujadara 

All you need for mujadara: a knife, cutting board, skillet, pot with lid, measuring cup, and spoon

This leads me to my dilemma.  I desperately want to help some of our fellow campers who don't seem to know how to cook.  The other night, we saw a woman make for dinner a plate of unseasoned boiled carrots with three boiled eggs while her husband ate a plate of plain boiled pasta with butter.  I wanted to go over and share some of our food but I thought that would be quite rude.  Instead, I will share with you our hostel/campfire/really-darn-easy recipes in the hopes that when you are stuck out in a hostel in the middle of New Zealand, you won't resort to rabbit food. 

Lentils and rice for mujadara

Lentils and brown rice

One of our favorite cheap and easy standbys is the Egyptian mujadara, a humble concoction of brown rice, lentils, and caramelized onions.  The rice and lentils match perfectly together resulting in a dish that far exceeds its individual parts. 

Caramelized onions

Caramelized onions, oh baby

And, people, even if brown rice and lentils sound unappealing to you, just think about onions slowly sautéing in a pat of silken butter, melding into rich brown, almost-burnt slivers of caramelized goodness.  Mmmmm.

Mujadara

The best part of this meal is that no one will believe that you put it together in less than an hour, with minimal ingredients and minimal kitchen tools.  I promise, I won’t tell.

Mujadara

Adapted from Lentils and Rice with Caramelized Onions from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything
Time: 45 minutes
Serves: 4 people

Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced (Bittman only recommends one onion caramelized but we really love the caramelized onion on top)
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin (optional) (I consider this an optional ingredient because we have made it with and without and, though it tastes better with the cumin, the cumin is not essential to the dish.)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups French green lentil or other firm lentil such as beluga
6-8 cups vegetable stock
1 cup brown rice (Mujadara is traditionally made with brown rice and I would not substitute white rice in this dish)

Directions

1.  In a large, deep stockpot or saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Add half a chopped onion and cook until onion becomes translucent, about five minutes.  Add garlic, cumin, and season liberally with salt and pepper for about two minutes or until garlic becomes fragrant.  Add lentils, stir, and add about four cups of stock.  Cover with a tight lid.  Cook the lentils for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure that the lentils don't stick to the bottom of the pan.

2.  In the meantime, heat two tablespoons olive oil in a saute pan over medium-low heat.  Add sliced onions and slowly cook onions for 40 to 50 minutes.  Stir onions occasionally and let them become a deep, dark, golden brown that almost looks burnt.  If the onions finish cooking before the rice and lentils, turn the heat to low and cover to keep warm.

3.  After the lentils have cooked for 20 minutes, add in the rice and the remaining stock.  Cover with a tight lid.  Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure that the rice and lentils don't burn.  If the liquid appears to be getting low, add a half cup of stock. 

4.  After 20 minutes, check the rice and lentils to ensure that they are cooked through and tender and the liquid has evaporated.  If they are not tender, add 1/2 cup of stock and cook for additional time until the rice and lentils are tender and the liquid has evaporated.  If the rice and lentils are tender but the liquid has not evaporated, remove the lid and raise the heat to evaporate the liquid quickly. 

5.  Check seasonings and add salt and pepper if necessary.

6.  To serve, spoon the rice and lentils into a bowl with a heap of the caramelized onions on top.

11/19/2009 13:20
I love the little camper van! When I was younger my family owned an RV and drove all over the US. It was so much fun.

It's nice to have the autonomy to drive where you like on your own schedule as opposed to being at the mercy of the train/bus system.
11/19/2009 15:51
I used to get this for lunch all the time when I was a university student in Montreal. This little hole-in-the-wall health food store across the street from my campus always seemed to have it, and it was SO GOOD and cheap. I haven't had it for years (haven't seen it in a store for years). You've just reminded me, and inspired me(!) to try to make this at home. It really is amazing how simple, but delicious this dish is.

Happy travels!
rebeccius's recent blog post: Mexico Itinerary
11/20/2009 13:25
OMG I am drooling as I read this! Sounds yummy....I love brown rice, lentils, & carmelized onions but have never thought of combining them. Now I can't wait to try it!

I agree with Stephanie that the benefits of the autonomy you get from your Campervan outweigh the inconveniences. Next stop in a big town pick up some extra foam for your bed :)
11/26/2009 21:41
I agree! NZ is an amazing place and I still marvel at its beauty! :)
12/01/2009 12:55
Thanks Shannon, rebeccius, and Trisha! It is amazing how easily mujadara comes together and I always forget how healthy it is while I am eating it.

Stephanie, Trisha, and Lorraine, we absolutely love New Zealand! The campervan does give us a great deal of flexibility and we have been pleased by how much we get to explore in our camper. We ended up buying a thick foam pad for $15 but it still isn't as comfortable as a regular bed! Oh well, I just chalk it up to the sacrifices we make for our fun travels.
Akila's recent blog post: sweet potatoes, three ways
12/16/2009 04:46
Oh aren't you nice wanting to share your food with the other couple although I agree sometimes people just aren't too appreciative of those kinds of gestures. NZ is one of the most amazing looking countries!
03/02/2011 08:25
Wow, the food you made looks almost as delicious as the scenery! I have heard before about the wonders of New Zealand but this is the first thing i've seen that's really made me want to go. A big thanks.
03/02/2011 10:19
Thanks Jay! New Zealand is beautiful!
03/28/2011 13:29
I'm going to try this next week - I've be just about starving now that I'm back home and fending from myself after Asia (where everyone cooks for you). Looks delicious and it's vegetarian, so I'm sold! :-) Thanks for posting the recipe!
08/09/2011 06:11
The photo with the rainbow was beautiful. Thanks for sharing.
08/09/2011 08:35
Thanks Originelle.
Akila's recent blog post: views from table mountain
10/24/2011 08:10
Really inspiring! I love "the granite boulders that resemble dinosaur eggs on the coast of Moeraki". I want to go there and touch them. Really amaizing. Thank you for sharing these pictures and info.!
diseño zaragoza's recent blog post: Recados Zaragoza una gran iniciativa
05/29/2012 03:16
Those huge granit boulders look fantastic. Are those Geods? The first looks like a bowling ball from the Flintstones.
05/29/2012 10:02
Thanks! I'm not entirely sure what they are. They are called the Moeraki Boulders and are naturally created by the movement of the ocean. Incredible, aren't they?
03/06/2013 10:50
Rohan
This is a very good, extremely simple, and easily reproducible mujadara recipe that produces tasty results, and I say that as someone who lives in the Middle East and has eaten many an excellent mujadara in both homes and restaurants; thank you, much appreciated!
03/11/2013 16:47
Thank you Rohan! I'm glad you enjoyed it. It's one of our favorites, as well.
09/05/2014 00:10
Absolutely love the photos! What software did you use to enhance the colors?
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12/16/2015 12:57
I don't know if it is niceness or pity! New Zealand is gorgeous - so far, it is the most beautiful country we have been to.
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