Lentils with caramelized onions

I have a big coffee table book called The Healthy Gourmet which is still available at Amazon, used, for a penny! (I just looked it up and they have 53 copies left).  I look through it from time to time because it has recipes from all over the world.  A Lebanese dish called Rushta caught my eye and I wanted to try it because it was made with Swiss chard, which is one of our favorite vegetables and the only one, really, that I grow every winter.

I did an Internet search on Rushta and found that it is also spelled Rishta or Reshta and  that many bloggers had included it in their repertory.  As it happens with a traditional dishes, there are many slight variations to this dish which is classed as a soup in most blogs.

Basically all recipes call for combining lentils, onion, garlic, and either Swiss chard or spinach, and flavoring it with lemon.But other than that, the method in arriving at a soup or a vegetarian dish seems to differ from blogger to blogger as do the added flavors used.  Finishing the dish with cilantro or with parsley? A lot of garlic or just a touch? Cooking the lentils in water and sautéing the onions and greens in a pan and then combining?  Or simply (doing as I did!)  using one pan?  I suppose the reason I like traditional ethnic dishes so much is that variation from cook to cook that occurs while still being faithful to the  concept.

The dish is not labor intensive, but like a lot of the ethnic dishes, it is assumed “la mamma” is nearby to stir, mince, chop, etc.  Traditional dishes were developed when food preparation was part of the daily routine.  What takes a bit of time is caramelizing the onions, so plan on making your rushta/reshta/rishta when you will be in the kitchen or nearby to spend the time needed to stir the onions!


  1. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  2. 2 medium size onions, sliced very thin
  3. 4 cloves garlic, minced
  4. Spices*
  5. 1 large bay leaf
  6. 1 teaspoon salt
  7. 1/2  cup lentils
  8. 1/4 cup Arborio rice
  9. 6 cups of water
  10. a large bunch of Swiss chard or spinach coarsely chopped
  11. 1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro or parsley
  12. juice of one lemon
  • Spices – my family likes spices, so I tend to use more than a lot of people.  I like to add cumin, and or  coriander, or a spice mix such as garam masala, ras al hanout, or quatre epices.


Using a large heavy pot (with a lid), heat the olive oil to fragrant and add the onions.

Put the lid on the pot and lower the temperature to medium low and cook the onions until they have softened – about 10 minutes.

Take the top of the pot off and stir the onions.  Continue to cook the onions stirring occasionally and then more often as the onions caramelize. This will take about 30 minutes or so.

lentil swish chard_0

Add the garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes until the garlic softens.

lentil swish chard_1

When the onions are a nice caramel color – they will be rather sticky – add the bay leaf and the spices, and  mix them with the onions and garlic.

Add the lentils and the rice along with the 6 cups of water and the salt.  Turn up the heat until the water boils and then immediately turn it down to a high simmer.

Cook the lentils and rice mixture for 20 minutes.

Add the Swiss chard and cook just long enough to wilt the greens – about 5 minutes.

Correct the seasoning, take out the bay leaf, and add more water if needed for the desired consistency.

Serve with the chopped cilantro or parsley and squeeze a lemon over the dish.  The lemon REALLY adds flavor and finishes off the dish nicely.


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