Step 1Place the rice in a strainer and rinse under the faucet, shaking to stir frequently. Transfer to a bowl and add enough lukewarm water to cover. Stir in 2 tablespoons salt and set aside to soak for at least 1 hour, preferably 2 hours.
Step 2Add the lentils to 1 cup water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook until they are almost tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Step 3Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, add 2 more tablespoons of salt, then add the rice and orzo and boil gently for 3 to 4 minutes, until almost cooked. Check by trying a grain: It should still have a bit of bite to it. Drain, rinse and set aside to drain.
Step 4In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sugar, and season with one-fourth teaspoon salt and one-eighth teaspoon pepper, or to taste. Cover the saucepan and cook gently until the onions are tender, about 5 minutes. Uncover the pan, increase the heat to high and stir in the lemon juice. Cook, stirring, until the onions are browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Do not let the onions scorch.
Step 5Add the rice, lentils, orzo and chickpeas to the saucepan and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, cumin, red pepper and 1 teaspoon salt. Sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of water. Cover the pan with a tight lid and cook on the lowest possible heat for 35 minutes (a heat diffuser helps).
Step 6Turn off the heat, wrap the lid in a tea towel, cover the pan and set aside for 10 minutes. Use a fork to stir in the cilantro and serve.