Arabic Comfort Food.

I was raised on what I suppose could be called a fusion diet. When I was growing up, most of the cooking was done by my Filipina mother, but a majority of the meals she prepared were Armenian, Lebanese or Middle Eastern in origin, to please my often-nostalgic father. Otherwise, we ate Asian dishes, and items like Italian-ish pastas, Spanish-y paellas and vaguely French chickens. Cuisine notwithstanding, I’ve come to realize that my mother is a completely intimidating force in the kitchen. She can bang out dinner for twelve as easily as she can for two, without ever compromising on taste or quality. Additionally, she has the ability to tease the most flavorful results from a new recipe, a skill I’m terribly envious of.

One of my favorite dishes from my youth actually has Arabic roots; I know I’m butchering it by attempting to spell it with the English alphabet but here goes: mejadara. I had to consult my dad to get the most accurate spelling; even he was uncertain as to what vowels and consonents to string together.

Mejadara is as easy to make as it is difficult to spell; literally all the cook must do is combined sweet caramelized onions, earthy lentils and nutty bulgur. Served warm, cold or at room temperature, it’s my equivalent of comfort food.

Mejadara
makes six generous portions

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Ingredients
1 cup lentils
1 cup bulgur
2 medium-sized onions, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
salt, to taste

img_2191.jpg1. Melt butter over high heat. Add oil and continue to heat until the mixture is very hot but not smoking. Add the onions and immediately reduce flame to medium. Stir frequently, adjusting heat and adding oil as necessary so that onions do not burn. Continue until the onions are golden brown, approximately twenty minutes.

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2. In the meantime, combine lentils and three cups of water over medium fire. Add a pinch or two salt and cook until the water is almost completely absorbed by lentils, about twenty minutes. Add more water if the lentils are still a bit hard.

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3. Add bulgur and three additional cups of water, as well as another pinch or two of salt. Mix well with lentils and cook until the water is almost completely absorbed by lentils, about twenty minutes. Add more water if the lentils are still a bit hard.

4. Combine lentil/bulgur mixture with onions and serve.

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Dinner at Red Bones.

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My cousin Niki moved to Boston (and the States in general) from the Philippines in January, and I’m thrilled beyond the gills that she is obsessed with food, just like me. We’ve gone out twice now and have plans to keep doing so; unsurprisingly, most of our schemes involve eating.

Last night Keith and I took her to Red Bones, a barbecue joint in our old neighborhood. When we lived within walking distance we used to go down quite frequently; now that we’ve moved away it’s not nearly as easy to meander down the bike path for some ribs and pulled pork. When we have friends visiting from out of town — or relatives who are new to town — we almost always bring them to Red Bones. In fact, Keith first took me years ago, before I had memorized the subway system. That was my introduction to barbecue; I come from Armenian/Lebanese/Filipino/Asian stock, and the only barbecue I knew prior involved potato chips. (For the record, I only like Wise.)

For me, Red Bones is all about two things: corn fritters and barbecue hash. Dense and chewy, the corn fritters arrive in a bowl of maple syrup and are absolutely delicious. How could they be otherwise, with their pool of syrup? The hash has no syrup, but it does have a fantastic texture and an even better combinations of flavors — tangy, vinegary, spicy. I order both fritters and hash, in appetizer sizes, and make my meal out of that, without fail. Last night we also shared some hush puppies; whenever I eat these puffy cornmeal balls, I’m always surprised by how strangely well the taste goes with the sour vinegar dipping sauce.

Part of what makes Red Bones so fantastic is the atmosphere; it is laid-back and convivial to such an extent that it’s no wonder that the bar, upstairs dining room and downstairs space is always busy. On Monday night, every table in the black-walled basement was taken. And why shouldn’t it be thus? The cornbread is freshly baked, the beverages are served in Mason jars, the beer selection remains impressively diverse, and the barbecue is literally finger-licking good.

Red Bones
55 Chester Street
Somerville, Massachusetts 02144
617.628.2200
redbones.com

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