Koshary: Egyptian, vegetarian, delicious
By Ronnie Fein, JTA
Koshary, an Egyptian specialty, is one of the best vegetarian dishes I have ever tasted.
It’s street food, sold everywhere you look, including carts and stalls in Cairo — along with everywhere else in Egypt. It’s carb-loaded and comforting, bountifully flavorful and rib-sticking.
My grandma would have said that koshary has the “tata and the mama” in it. Indeed, this dish contains a lot of stuff!
Koshary developed as an offshoot of other Middle Eastern and South Asian foods by people who migrated to Egypt during the late 19th century, when the British occupied parts of both areas. It’s similar to both mujadarah (Middle Eastern) and kitchari (an Indian specialty), which are both based on rice and lentils, but which don’t include tomato sauce.
There is also some speculation that koshary’s closest ancestor is an Iraqi Jewish dish called kichri, although that dish has no pasta and is often eaten topped with a fried egg or a dollop of yogurt.
Although you have to cook koshary’s several parts separately, you can do the work piece by piece and ahead of time, then put the different elements together at the last minute and reheat the dish in the oven. I’ve even nuked it in my microwave oven.
For serving, you can arrange the different elements in layers or side by side, as you wish, and serve the sauce on top or separately.
Koshary (Yields eight servings)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp. finely chopped fresh ginger
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
28 oz. can Italian-style tomatoes, including liquid, chopped
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
6 oz. small pasta such as elbows, farfele
1/2 cup lentils
1/2 cup white rice
3 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 large onions, sliced
1 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
First, make the sauce: Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Add the garlic and ginger and cook briefly. Add the cinnamon stick and cook briefly.
Add the tomatoes, cumin, coriander and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and set aside.
Preheat the oven to warm (about 225 degrees).
Next, make the koshary elements: Cook the macaroni until al dente. Drain and set aside.
Cook the lentils in lightly salted water for about 20 minutes or until tender. Drain and set aside.
Combine the rice with one cup of water in a small saucepan.
Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat to low, cover the pan and cook for 18 to 20 minutes.
Remove from the heat but keep the cover on the pan to keep the rice warm.
Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a large sauté pan over low-medium heat.
Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Remove the onions to a bowl and set aside in the oven to keep warm.
Next, reheat the tomato sauce.
Add a half tablespoon of olive oil to the sauté pan used for the onions. Add the cooked macaroni and cook over medium heat without stirring, for about two minutes, or until the bottom is crispy.
Stir and cook for another two minutes to crisp the pasta. Remove the pasta to a serving dish.
Add a half tablespoon of olive oil to the sauté pan. Add the lentils and cook for one to two minutes or until lightly crispy.
Spoon the lentils on top of or alongside of the macaroni. Add the rice to the serving dish.
Add a half tablespoon of olive oil to the pan.
Add the chickpeas and cook briefly to warm them. Spoon the chickpeas onto the serving dish.
Spoon the caramelized onions onto the serving dish. Spoon the tomato sauce on top or serve separately.
Ronnie Fein is the author of four cookbooks: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cooking Basics, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to American Cooking, Hip Kosher, and The Modern Kosher Kitchen.