Mujadderah-Filled Roasted Red Peppers in Tomato-Garlic Sauce

Roasting removes the callow edge from crisp red peppers, turning their flavor sophisticated—at once hauntingly smoky and sweet—and their texture soft and voluptuous. If I’m going to the trouble of stuffing peppers, it’s roasted red ones I’m after.

For a Sukkot dinner, I wanted a vegetarian filling to equal the flavor of these peppers, one that would not make you feel there was something missing where the meat should be. Popular all over the Middle East among Jews and Arabs, mujadderah, a rice and lentil combination made scrumptious with a shower of golden fried onions, was the perfect fit. It needed only sweet toasted pine nuts for textural contrast and cilantro to lend an herby freshness.


For the Peppers

  • 1 cup brown lentils
  • Salt
  • 4 tablespoons well-flavored extra virgin olive oil (the rich taste of the oil should shine through here)
  • pounds onions, thinly sliced (5 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
  • 1 cup long-grain white rice
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin, preferably freshly toasted and ground
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 large red bell peppers (choose peppers that are unblemished, sturdy, and thick-walled)
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, plus additional for garnish (optional)

For the Tomato-Garlic Sauce (See Cook’s Note)

  • 2 teaspoons chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound fresh plum tomatoes, peeled (procedure) and coarsely chopped, or about2 cups Italian canned tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Pick over the lentils carefully, discarding any stray objects or discolored beans, and rinse well in cold water. Drain, combine them in a large saucepan with 4 cups fresh cold water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add salt to taste about 5 minutes before the end of cooking. Turn off the heat, and leave the lentils in the saucepan, covered, until you are ready to add the rest of the mujadderah ingredients.

While the lentils are cooking, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a 10- to 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, sprinkle with salt, and sauté, lifting and turning them occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic, and cook another 15 minutes, or until the onions are a rich caramel color.

Add about one third of the sautéed onion mixture to the cooked lentils, leaving the remaining onion mixture in the skillet. Stir the rice, cumin, and plenty of salt and pepper to taste into the lentils. If necessary, add more water so that everything is completely covered by about ½ inch of water. Mix the ingredients well, cover, and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 30 minutes, until the rice is tender and all the liquid is absorbed. Peek every now and then to see if more water is needed, and give the mixture a stir.

While the mujadderah cooks, roast the bell peppers. It’s best to do this over a gas flame, since you need to char the outsides quickly, without overcooking the tender flesh.

If cooking over a gas flame, use a long-handled fork and spear the pepper through the stem only, making sure not to pierce through the pepper anywhere else. Roast them, like marshmallows, over the open flame. Or place the pepper on a roasting rack set over the flame. Keep turning the peppers until the skins are lightly charred on all sides.

You can also roast them under the broiler. Place the peppers on a foil-lined broiler rack under a preheated broiler, as close as possible to the heat source. Turn the peppers as the skins blister and blacken.

Put the charred peppers in a paper bag and twist the bag closed, or put them in a covered bowl. Let them steam just until cool enough to handle so that they will be easier to peel. Rub the peel off with your fingers. Because these peppers are thick-walled, you can also rub off the peel with a dry paper towel, replacing the towel as it becomes saturated with the charred peel. Don’t worry if you don’t remove every piece of blackened skin—a few bits here and there will add to the smoky flavor. (Don’t peel the peppers under water, because they will get too waterlogged.)

Using a small, sharp knife, cut out the peppers’ stems and discard. Carefully pull out the seeds and membranes and discard (see Cook’s Note).

Prepare the tomato-garlic sauce: the success of this quickly made sauce depends on cooking the ingredients in a skillet, rather than a saucepan, so the watery juices evaporate before the fresh taste is lost.

In a 9-inch heavy skillet, sauté the garlic in the oil over medium heat until fragrant and softened—don’t let it color more than pale yellow. Add the tomatoes, and salt and pepper to taste, and turn the heat up to high. Cook, stirring for 6 to 10 minutes, until nicely thickened, with a still-vivid tomato taste. Adjust the seasoning.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Generously salt and pepper the remaining sautéed onions in the skillet and cook over medium-high heat, lifting and turning, until slightly crisp in places and tinged a toasty brown. When the rice and lentils are cooked, stir these onions into them. Then stir in 3 tablespoons of the pine nuts and cilantro, if using.

Spoon some of the sauce on the bottom of a shallow baking dish just large enough to accommodate the peppers when standing upright. (Alternatively, if peppers tore and you are stuffing the pepper halves, choose a dish in which all the peppers will fit comfortably when lying flat.) Fill the peppers with the mujadderah (see Cook’s Note) and sprinkle the tops with the remaining 1 to 2 tablespoons pine nuts and garnish with some additional cilantro, if desired. Arrange the peppers in the pan and spoon the remaining sauce over them. Bake for about 20 minutes, until heated through.

For dairy meals, accompany the peppers with rich yogurt cream or labneh.

Optional Accompaniments for Dairy Meals

  • yogurt cream or labneh, seasoned perhaps with minced scallions, chives, or other fresh herbs