Koshary: An Inspired Egyptian Dish

by Karen on Tuesday, February 15, 2011

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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!

(Recipe adapted a bit from here and here)

(Images from here, here, here. Rest from Globetrotter Diaries)



Nadia February 15, 2011 at 4:01 pm

I was so emotional during the Egyptian protests, I am so glad they got what they set out to accomplish. This is a very lovely post. I have heard so much about koshary and have never tried it (that I remember, I did go to Egypt when I was 8). It always looks so hearty and satisfying.

Jennifer (Delicieux) February 15, 2011 at 5:31 pm

I’ve never heard of koshary before, but it looks very hearty and satisfying too. Thanks for sharing as I love learning about all the wonderful cuisines of the world.

Belinda @zomppa February 15, 2011 at 6:22 pm

And food is what brings us together!! This dish is going on my dinner table tomorrow!!

deana@lostpastremembered February 16, 2011 at 7:37 am

I think everyone was knocked over with what happened in Egypt and now everywhere in the middle east and Africa. If you never thought the internet was powerful..boy did it show what it can do!
I was going to look up Egyptian food because I know so little about it. Thanks for finding such a great representative of their cuisine… really looks delicious. Now, if I only could find out how Cleopatra ate….

Best wishes to everyone in Egypt… may the young of the country bring a great new era to their country

Karen February 16, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Cleopatra! Great idea for a new post 🙂

mlleparadis February 16, 2011 at 10:38 am

Felt quite the same emotions. Such an example of courage and forebearance. We don’t get to see it much in ordinary life these days, and it just goes to remind us, that it’s still possible to lead by excellent example.

Your recipe reminds too of why this action was necessary. Apparently there had been much hunger and food shortages for a long time already. For this reason high protein pastas were developed specifically for the Egyptian market and they became some of the biggest consumers of pasta in the world.

Looks like a yummy recipe! Thanks for this post!

Karen February 16, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Wow thanks for the additional insight and connection of Egyptians and koshary! Didn’t know they were big consumers of pasta but if it is as popular as it seems, I can see how.

Turkey's For Life February 17, 2011 at 12:38 am

Absolutely amazing what the Egyptians achieved!
I’ve never heard of koshary before but there are similar dishes to this in Turkey. Like you said – enough cheap carbs to fill you up and keep you going for the rest of the day. I’m going to try this because I love vinegary flavours.

Lentil Breakdown February 17, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Four carbs? I’m all over it! Never enough carbs! Kudos to your culinary derring-do. I have never even heard of koshary.

The whole Egypt issue has me flummoxed over why we in America can’t throw our own criminal regimes out of office, no matter the warmongering, torturing, election-stealing and bankrupting the country they are guilty of. But don’t get me started! (or is it too late? : )

Karen February 18, 2011 at 12:07 pm

You got started but that’s the kind of dialogue I love 🙂

elle marie February 17, 2011 at 11:33 pm

I must apologize for missing so many of your posts… my mum is sick and then…work/life was inundating me… but.. I’m finally getting the new site up… whew.

That said, I really love long grain rice, I’ve been missing that quite a lot. I have to agree with what Lentil said…. Why can’t other countries..namely the U.S. throw their criminal regimes out of office… Her statement… is why I no longer …. hm… this is a food blog, I think I’ll leave it at that.

Karen February 18, 2011 at 12:09 pm

O I’m sorry to hear about that. Hope things improve with your mom and life generally… no I love the conversation, I’ve always wanted this blog to be so much more than just food!

zerrin February 19, 2011 at 1:19 pm

This sounds like a great street food! We have a similar one in Istanbul. A combo of rice, chickpeas and shredded chicken. But this one sounds more flavorful!

rebecca February 19, 2011 at 3:11 pm

great post new dish to me now that is some serious carbs looks amazing though

Tanvi February 19, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Egypt uprising was indeed painful.But what the common mass achieved was much more joyous and worthy of the pain.I recently learnt that Koshari was actually the poor-man food, high on carbs etc but with advent of time, it reached the tables of rich.You recreation looks divine.

Mely (MexicoInMyKitchen) February 22, 2011 at 6:29 am

This is a very interesting combination. As you mention carbs loaded but it really looks interesting to try. I like the spices mix with the tomato sauce.
Thanks for all the information abotu the dish. I learned something new today. 🙂


Hilary February 16, 2012 at 5:17 am

Koshary is a staple for me. As a student in Cairo, it’s my delicious alternative to Ramen. Egyptians have been making it for centuries and I just wanted to leave a few notes on making it taste even more delicious. The crispier the onions, the better! With all of that mash up it is essential to have a good crunch on top. A lot of Egyptians I know dip the onions in corn starch before frying them. Also, adding garlic oil to the dish is almost a must. It’s in every koshary shop I know. Thanks for sharing one of my favorite foods. The struggle here in Egypt is really disheartening but it’s nice to receive some international sentiment.

Karen March 8, 2012 at 4:33 pm

Great tips I’ll have to try that next time!

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