Last week’s events in Egypt had the world watching, waiting, analyzing, and on Friday celebrating. Egypt’s revolution deserves homage and our attention. And while it’s natural to ask “what’s next” or “how will this affect us,” I think we should be recognizing the historic nature of such an accomplishment. In a time when our advancing society has sometimes fragmented us into complacence and apathy, it is inspirational to see such raw expression of the collective organizing for their voices to be heard. For me, Egypt’s revolution is an incredible reminder of the power of our humanity and our ability to transform simple ideas into change.
And I wasn’t the only one inspired by Egypt. The last couple of weeks everything Egypt has been on the news and internet, including food. I started seeing koshary recipes popping up in commemoration of the uprising and although I didn’t know what it was I soon came to find why people were talking about it. Koshary is the most popular street food in Egypt made with rice, pasta, lentils, chickpeas and topped with a spicy, garlicy and vinegary tomato sauce. It’s a carbo-loaded dish that upon first glance seems to serve one function: a cheap way to get you full and keep you going for the rest of the day. The seemingly bizzare mish-mash of textures and flavors didn’t make much “culinary” sense to me until I actually made the dish. It reminded me of one of my favorite Lebanese dishes, mujaddara– just accessorized.
The meal is sold by restaurants and vendors all over Egypt and even though it is considered poor man’s street food, every Egyptian has a special place in their heart for koshary. And there’s good reason behind that. Even as someone who has no personal connection with this dish, once I tasted koshary I loved the hearty, soul-soothing quality of it. And although preparing each component can be time consuming, all the ingredients are things you can easily find in a supermarket, making it accessible for any home cook.
Serving: Feeds an army
- 2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
- 4 oz of dried lentils
- 1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 8 oz of macaroni elbows or similar pasta
- 2 cups of basmati rice
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 tsp of cumin seeds, divided
- ½ tsp of coriander
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 3 cups of canned crushed tomatoes
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 tbsps of white wine vinegar
- ½ tsp of cayenne pepper
- ½ tsp of ground ginger
In a large heavy pan, heat a few tablespoons of oil over medium high heat. Throw in your onions and begin to sautee them so they start softening. Sprinkle some salt over them. Turn down the heat on very low and continue to cook then stirring every few minutes until they turn nicely caramelized and brown. This will take a long time but should be done by the time you finish cooking and assembling the rest of the koshary.
Place your lentils (make sure they’re picked through to remove any rocks) into pot and fill water until they are covered by half an inch of water. Bring to a boil and gently simmer them for about 15 minutes until they are cooked through but not mushy. Drain them and set aside.
Bring a pot of water to a boil and salt it well. Cook the macaroni elbows according to the package and until al dente. Drain and toss in some olive oil to prevent it them from sticking together
To cook the rice, rinse the rice gently and well until the water runs clear, and drain the rice. In a pot, heat a couple tablespoons of oil on medium heat and toast the 2 cinnamon sticks, ½ tsp of cumin and ½ tsp of coriander for a couple minutes until fragrant. Then toss in the rice and gently toast in the oil for a couple of minutes. (In general, be gentle with the rice because you don’t want it to break). Pour in 3 cups of water and bring the heat on high until it starts to simmer. Then turn the heat down to low and cover with a lid. Cook for 10 minutes and lift the lid and gently fluff with a fork. If it still looks wet, steam for few more minutes until the rice is dry and fluffy.
Add the rice and pasta together, gently folding so they’re both incorporated. Add the lentils, chickpeas, and caramelized onions and a hefty pinch of salt and toss together.
To make the sauce, heat some extra virgin olive oil over medium heat in a pan and add the garlic, cayenne pepper, ½ tsp of cumin, ground ginger. Cook briefly (make sure the garlic doesn’t burn!) and add in the tomatoes and white wine vinegar. Simmer for about 5 minutes and add a generous pinch of salt.
To serve this, pile a heaping of the koshary in a bowl and top it off with a spoonful of the spicy tomato sauce. Enjoy!