On the Streets of Egypt

I have Egypt on my mind. While Egyptians have risen up like a tsunami that will not abate until it has destroyed the Mubarak regime in its wake, all I can do is follow the news. While history is being made on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, all I can do is write about my favorite Egyptian street food. But Egypt is also on my mind for another reason. The pictures below are from three weeks ago when my Egyptian friend Yasmin invited a few of us to lunch to learn how to make Koshary just a few days before she was about to leave for Egypt for a month-long vacation.  A few hours ago, she posted a quick note on Facebook to let us know that she is fine. Relieved, it struck me how today events around the world affect me in a much more personal way than even ten years ago. And in my small way, writing this post inexplicably makes me feel closer to the people of Egypt.

Koshary is one of the ultimate street foods. Just like Egyptians from many walks of life have come together to create the perfect storm of a protest, the many layers in this humble dish come together to make a very satisfying dish. It is affordable, filling and fairly healthy though loaded with carbs. While the various ingredients take time to assemble, it is simple to make. Rather than the pyramids or the sphinx, this dish is one of my favorite things from my trips to Egypt.

There are many recipes for Koshary and some include toppings that others don’t. It is up to you to decide which of the toppings to include although I highly recommend keeping all of them. Koshary is typically served with a tomato sauce and a garlic sauce. Yasmin combined the two sauces for ease. This recipe serves 4. The various ingredients could be prepared ahead of time and brought to room temperature or warmed before serving.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup short grain rice
  • 1 cup brown lentils
  • 1 cup elbow macaroni or dittalini
  • 2 large onions (or store-bought fried onions if you’re feeling lazy)
  • 4 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 dried red chili of medium heat (or 1/2 teaspoon of crushed chili flakes)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin, freshly powdered
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar (or cider vinegar)
  • 5 tablespoons tomato paste
  • Salt to taste (roughly 1.5 teaspoons)
  • 1 can of chickpeas, thoroughly rinsed and drained

Recipe (Steps 1-3 can be done in parallel)

1. Place rice in a pot. Rinse the rice 3 times and drain. Add 1 and 3/4 cups of water. Bring to boil, lower heat to medium-low and cover pot with lid. Cook for 20 minutes or till rice is soft and tender. Keep lid on for another 5 minutes.

2. Place the lentils in another pot. Rinse and pick out stones or other impurities. Add 3 cups of water and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low and cover pot with lid ajar. Cook for 20 minutes or till lentils are cooked and soft but still retain their shape.

3. Follow manufacturer’s instructions on pasta package to cook it.

4. Slice the onions very thinly (thinner than in the picture). Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and 1/4 teaspoon salt (helps to cook the onions faster). Stir occasionally. Turn the heat down to medium once the onions start browning. Saute till nicely brown and well caramelized. This step takes some time and requires patience. To speed this step up, consider dividing the onions and cooking in two skillets.

5. Peel and mince the garlic. Break the red chili into 3 or 4 smaller pieces. Grind the garlic and red chili using a mortar and pestle. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the crushed garlic, chili and the cumin powder. Stir regularly while sautéing for 30 seconds to release all the flavor. Add the tomato paste and stir for another 30 seconds. Add the vinegar and 1 cup of water. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and cook for another 10 minutes. Add 1/2 – 1 teaspoon salt or to taste. Keep in mind that the sauce should be a bit on the saltier side as it will provide the flavor for the rice, pasta, chickpeas and lentils.

6. Place all the ingredients into individual bowls. Make your koshary by adding the ingredients in layers on your plate or bowl. Start with the rice and macaroni, and then add the chickpeas and lentils and finally garnish with the onions. Sprinkle sauce over your dish. Mix it all up or enjoy the various textures of this amazing dish separately.

Notes

1. Although the texture will be different, you could substitute brown rice for the white rice. Many recipes call for long grain or basmati rice.

2. Use what rice you wish but the more traditional recipes seem to call for short grain rice. If you use a different rice, please note that the ratio of water to rice will vary.

3. If you find legumes difficult to digest, add a piece of kelp seaweed or kombu while cooking. The kombu softens the legumes and makes them easier to digest. Even if you use canned chickpeas, soak them in some water and kelp before draining and using.

Finally enjoy this dish with family and friends.

Keeping my fingers crossed for a smooth transition to a government of the people in Egypt.

Peace,

Veena

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8 Comments

Filed under Egypt, Recipe

8 responses to “On the Streets of Egypt

  1. Veena – wow, what a great post. I am moved as well as inspired by it, which with the recent events in Egypt could not be more timely. I find myself longing for a repeat of that afternoon when we made koshary at Yasmin’s! Perhaps when she is safely home again we’ll need to organize another gathering to make Egyptian food again and hear all her stories. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Thanks for reading and your comment Hannah! I would love to do a repeat of that afternoon when Yasmin is back. I’m just relieved that she’s OK and like you just can’t wait to hear of all the events as they unfolded.

  2. Τhora

    Amazing Koshari! All my friends loved it.

  3. Paris

    Lovely post! It brings so many memories back from the time I spent in Egypt! (^_^)

  4. Wow you actually make koshiry look appetising! I’m not a fan – but your one looks quite good. You might have persuaded me to try it again!

    • Thanks! I love the various textures in koshary and that you can customize each serving! I do notice though that I like my sauce spicier and saltier and topping off with a lot of onions, more than most.

  5. hello veena,
    Very inspiring blog post on koshari, last week i had it in london and it was amazing … looking at your recipe i think even i can cook koshari. you made it so simple to understand the ingredients… thanks for sharing it

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