The Kid Stays in the Kitchen: Leila’s Kitri


Welcome back to our student cooking series, “The Kid Stays in the Kitchen.” Each week a student is assigned to cook a traditional dish with a friend or family member and document the experience in photos and words. This week features Leila, who may look familiar to you because she is the twin sister of Tammi, our first contributor to the series.  Leila and her mom, Ellen, chose to make Kitri, an Iraqi rice and lentil dish. You’ll get to meet the whole family in this post as each played a role in its creation…and consumption. My favorite photo by far is the one of Ellen, not only for her priceless expression, but also for the fantastic wall of Tammi-Leila pics on the refrigerator behind her.  Thanks for letting us peek inside your home! — Ms. Boylan

Kitri is the Iraqi take on rice and beans. It combines Basmati rice, lentils, onions and tomato sauce together to make a delectable dish that is full of flavor and character. Yes, Kitri even has character! It is traditionally made for dinner on Thursdays because it is a meat free alternative before the heavy Shabbat meals that begin on Friday night and commence with Saturday dinner. It is also customary to have Kitri as the dinner before the Tisha B’Av fast that takes place in the summer. I had never acquired a taste for the lentil and rice dish until a year or two ago. I have vivid memories of going to a family dinner at my aunt and uncle’s house, and my older cousins chowing down on it.  The red rice looked so appealing, but I just couldn’t bring myself to enjoy the texture of the lentils. Another cousin of mine was so impressed with the Kitri that her future husband once made her, that when they got married, my Dad claimed it was because of the Kitri!

As I have grown however, my tastes have changed and I now love eating it. I prefer it with plain yogurt because it adds a nice contrasting coolness to the warmth and texture of the lentils, but my parents enjoy it with a fried egg as well. It is usually served with Zabzi, “greens” such as scallions, radishes and lettuce. Because of my family heritage, my mother’s Kitri emulates an Iraqi version, whereas the Persian variety contains raisins, dates, saffron and green lentils rather than red. It is a treat when my mother makes the dish and because it is so easy, it will be my fallback in college! — Leila H.
Recipe for Kitri by Leila’s mom, Ellen
  • 2 Cups Basmati Rice
  • 1 Cup Red Lentils
  • 1 Onion
  • 2 Teaspoons Chopped Garlic
  • 1 ½ Cans Tomato Sauce (15 oz)
  • Cayenne Pepper

In separate bowls, soak the rice and lentils in water and salt. Rinse the rice and lentils until the water in the bowls is clear. Chop up the onion and put it in the pot on the stove. Oil the added onions with vegetable oil. Turn the stove on high and stir the onions for a few minutes. Then add the chopped garlic and continue stirring. Add the tomato sauce, then fill the empty can with water and add that to the pot as well. Add salt and cayenne pepper to taste. Put the lid on the pot and bring to a boil. Pour the water from the bowls of rice and lentils into the sink. Pour the lentils into the pot followed by the rice. Boil uncovered until the liquid evaporates (approximately ten minuets). Then lower the heat to medium so the mixture does not burn once the liquid has evaporated. Pour some olive oil into the mix. Place two paper towels on the top of the pot and put the lid on. Be sure to cut off the corners of the paper towels so the paper doesn’t burn. Leave on high until steamed and test by licking your finger and tapping the outside of the pot (don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt). If moisture sizzles, then that’s a good sign. Lower to medium heat for approximately ten minutes and then to a simmer for 45-60 minutes. Serve with plain yogurt, fried eggs and greens.

  1. Rachel

    Oh my gosh this looks delicious! Thank you for the recipe.

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