I first learned about koshari, a popular Egyptian street food, by chance. While half-watching an episode of No Reservations, I caught host, Anthony Bourdain, at a Cairo eatery savoring a tasty vegetarian meal for breakfast. He was eating koshari, often regarded as the national dish of Egypt.
Rustic and hearty, koshari is a medley of rice, lentils, pasta and garbanzo beans that you top with spicy garlic and vinegar laced tomato sauce and fried onions. Like Americans and their “secret” chili recipes, every Egyptian cook and restaurant offers a unique version of koshari. Fortunately, the basic recipe invites variation – great news for those of you who love to tinker with ingredients.
In my kitchen, koshari is a favorite dish for cool weather menus – I add a green salad and warm pita bread to complete the meal. The dish is also budget-friendly and doesn’t use any exotic or hard-to-find ingredients. I often double the recipe to give my leftover-loving husband and me lunch or dinner for the next week.
My recipe deviates from classic koshari recipes in several ways. First, I omit the pasta. For some reason, I don’t like the pasta’s texture in this dish. You may include pasta, often elbow macaroni, for a more authentic koshari. To serve, layer the macaroni on top of the koshari. Then add tomato sauce and toppings.
Second, I use long grain brown rice instead of basmati or Egyptian (short grain) rice. If you don’t use brown rice, be sure to reduce the amount of water used to cook the rice and lentils. Third, while many recipes treat the garbanzo beans as a garnish, I like to mix them with the lentils and rice. Finally, instead of fried onions, I make caramelized onions with balsamic vinegar. Balsamic vinegar gives the onions a sweet and tangy flavor that works well with the spicy tomato sauce.
If you’re looking for an easy international recipe, try Egyptian koshari. After you do, let me know that you think and how you customized the recipe.
Food fact: The word, koshari (ko-shah-ree), is a variant of kitchri, Hindi for “a dish of rice and lentils.” In the late 19th century, the British presumably brought koshari from India to Egypt. Koshari has many spellings including koshary, kushari, koushari and kosharee.
Your turn: What is your favorite international dish to cook and eat?
Koshari Recipe from CHEFS Mix
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
1 cup lentils, any variety or combination, rinsed
1 cup long grain brown rice
4 cups water
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 cup cooked garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas or ceci beans)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 to 3 tablespoons vinegar or to taste
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1 jalapeno or other hot chile pepper, chopped (optional)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Garnish and Topping Suggestions
Chopped cilantro, fresh mint or parsley
Bacon jam (not vegetarian but delicious)
1. Make the koshari. Heat Dutch oven on medium heat. Add oil. When oil is hot, add chopped onions. Sprinkle onions with pinch of salt and stir well. Cook until onions are translucent and soft. Add lentils and brown rice to pot. Mix thoroughly to coat lentils and rice with oil. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, place lid on pot, and simmer, for about 1 hour. Stir occasionally, adding more water, if needed. Lentils should be tender and rice, slightly firm (al dente). Add garbanzos and mix well. Cook 5 more minutes or until garbanzo beans are heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste.
2. While lentils and rice simmer, make tomato sauce. In saucepan, heat oil on medium heat. Add chopped garlic and cook until aromatic, about 10 seconds. Add crushed tomatoes, ground cumin, salt, pepper, vinegar, cinnamon, jalapeno and red pepper flakes. Stir well to combine. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes or until sauce thickens. Stir occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning.
3. While koshari and sauce simmer, make or prepare your choice of toppings.
4. To serve, mound the koshari in an individual soup or pasta bowl, spoon tomato sauce over the koshari, and garnish with caramelized onions or other toppings. Serve immediately with pita bread. Makes 4 to 6 servings.