Chefs At Home: Sammi Chloun • By Karla Wall
A Mediterranaean Jambalaya
Chef Sammi Chloun Of Toga Grill Shares His Recipe For The Ancient Mid-Eastern Dish Mujadara
Sammi’s father, Jammal, brought his family from Lebanon to Lake Charles in 2006, and opened Toga Grill in Lake Charles in 2009. The menu offers authentic Lebanese and Greek fare.
Like jambalaya, mujadara is simple — a peasant food that blends simple, inexpensive and easily accessible ingredients into a comfort food. Mujadara combines rice and onion with a regional staple — lentil beans.
“It’s an ancient, mid-eastern comfort food, famous all over the world,” Sammi says. “And it’s one of the most popular dishes in the restaurant. We use it on every plate in the restaurant, and we have it at home at least once a week.”
Sammi begins by chopping an onion and sautéing it over medium-high heat in olive oil. While the onions are cooking, he soaks “a cup or two” of rice in water. While that’s soaking, he brings a pound or so of lentils, with a pinch of salt, to a boil; he lowers the heat, and simmers the beans for about 10 minutes. Then he drains them.
“They will be about halfway cooked,” he says.
The onion, says Sammi, must be sautéed until well browned. “The onion adds most of the flavor,” he says, “so it’s important they’re dark.”
When the onions are sufficiently browned, he adds a dash of salt, then adds the lentils, the drained rice and two cups of water. He brings the mixture to a boil, and simmers it for 10-15 more minutes. The dish is served warm, with a bit of olive oil.
The result is astounding, given the simple ingredients. The lentils, still a bit firm, give the dish good texture, and it plays well off the creamy onions. As Sammi promised, the onion and olive oil shine through in every bite. It’s simple, basic, earthy peasant food. It’s filling and healthy. It’s pure comfort.
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups rice
4 cups water
Soak rice in two cups of the water. While the rice is soaking, sauté the onion over medium-high heat until well browned.
While onions are sautéing, add lentils, covered in water and with a pinch of salt added, to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10-12 minutes. Drain.
When onions are browned, add drained beans, drained rice and two cups water. Bring mixture to a boil. Lower heat, and simmer 10-15 minutes, until rice and beans are soft. Serve warm, with a drizzle of olive oil.
*This is the first in what will hopefully be a regular feature in Lagniappe — Home Appétit: Chefs at Home, in which we visit with the area’s best professional chefs and learn their favorite dishes to make when they’re in their home kitchens, cooking for themselves and their families — and how you can make those dishes yourself.
In each issue, an area chef will discuss why he or she chose the dish being featured. We’ll follow along as the chef prepares the dish, giving you a step by step guide to use in your own kitchen, and follow that with a recipe.
So read on … get to know the area’s top chefs, perhaps learn a few tips and techniques, and add a few new dishes to your own repertoire.