Koshary- the ultimate comfort food of Egypt
By: Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer
Koshary is the ultimate Egyptian comfort food:
If there is one dish served in countless Egyptian homes, street corners, and restaurants, it would have to be the ubiquitous koshary. Koshary is Egypt’s national dish that originated during the mid-19th century, during a time when Egypt was a multicultural country in the midst of an economic boom. This ultimate Egyptian comfort food started out being sold in street food carts, then became hugely popular, taking over the restaurant scene as well. The whimsical elements of the dish borrow from both Italian and Indian cultures, with a dusting of Middle Eastern spices.
Koshary is made of rice, macaroni, and lentils mixed together, topped with a spiced tomato sauce and garlic vinegar, then garnished with chickpeas and crispy fried onions. It is often served with a drizzle of cumin garlic oil and vinegar, and the occasional hot sauce. Italian cuisine inspired the pasta and red sauce addition, while the Indian dish called Kichdi influenced the rice and lentil addition. The name “koshary” actually comes from “khichri,” as the British brought this Indian dish with them when they arrived in Egypt in the late 1800s. The Egyptians then gave this dish their own flair with spices like cumin and coriander, along with crispy onions and garlic. Egyptians also added vinegar to the tomato sauce, which gives the sauce a distinct tang that is quite different from Italian marinara.
While some might think the combination of so many starches in one bowl is bizarre, the mixture works and is quite addictive. The earthiness of the legumes like chickpeas and lentils combined with the chewy rice gives the dish a comfort food quality. The caramelized onions and tomato sauce add sweetness, while the aromatic and pungent garlic, cumin, coriander, and vinegar balance out the dish. The hollow elbow macaroni brings a lightness to this carb loaded mixture, and adds a fun textural element. Egyptian workers and laborers depend on the heartiness of this starchy dish to fuel their work days. Even the Egyptian football superstar Mohamed Salah can’t wait to dig into his own bowl of kushary the second he lands into this home country. This dish has also spread in popularity to the Persian gulf countries, Yemen, and surprisingly, in Japan.
Even the preparation of koshary on the streets of Cairo is an entertaining experience. The vendors line their street carts with massive metal containers filled with the dish’s various ingredients. Then they robustly throw scoops of each ingredient into the air onto a metal bowl, clanging on the metal on the side after each item. Tourists flock to the symphonic sounds of the koshary making process. During busy hours, vendors work with such laser-focused speed that they can assemble a whole koshary plate in under 5 seconds! Now you too can make this beloved dish, with ingredients readily available in any supermarket. To see the technique, click on the video below:
Egyptian Koshary Recipe:
Ingredients for Koshary
For the crispy onion garnish
- 2 onions cut into thin slices
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- Salt to taste
For the tomato sauce
- 1 small onion grated
- 4 cloves garlic crushed
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- Dash red pepper flakes (optional)
- 6 roma tomatoes, or 3 large beefsteak tomatoes, sliced and pureed(can also use a can of tomato sauce for a shortcut)
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 3 tablespoons white vinegar
For the cumin sauce (kamouneyah)
- 4 cloves minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons water
- 4 tablespoons vinegar
- Salt to taste
For the koshari
- 1 cup brown lentils well-rinsed and drained
- 1 cup medium grain rice previously soaked in cold water for 15 minutes, then drained
- 1 cup elbow macaroni pasta
- Salt to taste
- Pepper to taste
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 1/4 cup boiling water
- 15 oz can chickpeas drained
Fill a large pot halfway with water, and add a dash of salt. Bring to a boil, then add the 1 cup of pasta. Cook according to package directions, then drain and set aside.
Soak 1 cup of lentils in one bowl of water, and the rice in another bowl of water for about 15 minutes, then rinse and drain each, keeping them seperate. Now that you finished cooking the pasta, use the same pot to parboil the lentils. Add the lentils to about 3 cups of water, boil for 15 minutes, and then drain. Add the lentils back to the pot, along with the drained rice, ½ tsp coriander, salt and pepper to taste, an 1 tbsp of olive oil. Saute this rice and lentil mixture with the oil for about 3 minutes to bring out the spices. Then add 2 ½ cups of boiling water and bring the whole thing to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the lentils are tender.
For Caramelized Onions:
While the rice and lentils are cooking, heat the ¼ cup of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and fry until dark brown. Using a slotted spoon, remove them from the oil and place them on paper towels to drain and cool.
For Tomato Sauce:
To make the tomato sauce, heat the 1 tbsp oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and add the onion. Cook until soft and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the 4 cloves minced garlic and saute until golden brown. Add the tomato puree, salt and pepper to taste, red pepper flakes (if using) and vinegar. Bring it to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
For Cumin Sauce:
In a saucepan, sauté the garlic and cumin until they are fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add the vinegar, water and salt to taste. Keep warm until ready to serve.
For the garbanzo beans:
Add to a skillet and warm them up for 5 minutes before serving
To Assemble the koshari:
Fluff the rice and lentils with a fork and transfer to a large platter. Garnish with macaroni, the caramelized onions, and ½ of the can of warmed chickpeas. Drizzle with the tomato sauce and cumin sauce, and serve the rest of the sauces and beans on the side so people can add them as they wish.
Blanche Shaheen is a journalist, host of the YouTube cooking show called Feast in the Middle East and cookbook author. For more authentic and classical Middle Eastern recipes, you can now purchase her brand new cookbook: “Feast in the Middle East, A Personal Journey of Family and Cuisine” by clicking HERE:https://secure.mybookorders.com/Orderpage/2189
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