Koshary is the ultimate Egyptian cheap meal, though it is enjoyed by everyone, rich and poor. You'll find dusty construction workers gathered around street carts, you'll find the wealthy enjoying it at home, and in between you'll find a few restaurants serving koshary, and only koshary.
Koshary, in Egyptian Arabic, means 'mixed-up,' and that is what koshary is--a jumble of rice, pasta and lentils sauced with a vinegary tomato sauce and topped with a sprinkling of crispy fried onions and a few chick peas. A garlicky vinegar and hot sauce are generally provided for you to add as you wish.
Your visit to a koshary restaurant begins at the till where you'll order and pay. Your only choice here is size, and rather than small, medium and large, you simply tell the man how much you're going to pay. Your serving will be dished accordingly. When we lived there (until 2005), the equivalent of about 40 US cents was more than enough to satisfy my own, substantial, appetite.
Your koshary will be assembled by a man on a raised dais with a large metal spoon. In front of him with be massive stainless steel vats of the components and your better koshary maestro will flick a bit of each into your bowl with flair and rhythm.
Make your way across the sawdust-strewn floor to an open table, add the provided condiments as you like and enjoy.
This recipie is infinately scalable. The most I've ever done was when I pulled a guest chef gig at my daughter's school. We served 273 kids for about US$ 90, or less than 35 cents each. Our costs on dry goods are similar to what you pay in the US. The four main ingredients and their ratios, as dry ingredients, are: lentils (one part), rice (four parts), pasta (four parts) and tomato sauce (eight parts). —innoabrd
- Serves around six
large onions, sliced into very thin rings
Ghee, though vegetable oil can be substituted, but ghee is tastier!
lentils, brown (feel free to substitute another skin-on lentil that generally remains firm, such as green lentils)
rice, inexpensive short-grain is the most authentic, but long-grain will work as well. I've even used par-boiled, but not my favorite.
dry pasta, a mixture of broken spaghetti and small macaroni
Egyptian tomato sauce (see below)
can chickpeas (you can buy dry and cook them, which is cheaper, but sheesh...how cheap are you?)
- The Condiments
tomato paste (I tend to use the Italian stuff, which comes here in a 200 gram tube, but feel free to use a bit more or a bit less depending on what size you have available to you)
cloves garlic, minced
white vinegar (you really want a pretty plain, ie. cheap, vinegar)
salt and pepper
the rest of the bottle of white vinegar
cloves garlic, chopped
- First, make the crispy onions. This is the most difficult step, and I have to admit that my onions often end up tasty, but not crispy. One short cut is to buy ready-made crispy onions at an Indian or Arabic shop. Its a garnish, so what the heck, but you're being cheap, right? Salt your onions and leave them out in a colander or on paper towels to shed some of their water. Give them a good squeeze after 20 minutes or so and roll them around in a towel to get as much water out as you can. Heat a good half-cup of ghee (or oil) over a medium-hot flame. Once it's hot, add the onions, stirring regularly until they go brown. Then keep cooking them a bit, really just before you're going to burn them. Remove with a slotted spoon and spread out on paper towels. They should crisp as they cool. If not, they'll still taste good, just pretend you meant for them to be like that. I mean, how many of your guests will have eaten koshary in Egypt anyway?
- Rinse the lentils and then cover with water in a pot and simmer, skimming off any scum, until they are cooked, but still firm. You do NOT want mushy lentils. Drain and reserve in a bowl.
- While the lentils are cooking, heat a few tablespoons of ghee (or oil) in a pot large enough to cook your rice. When hot, add the rice and fry , stirring, until all the grains go a bit translucent. Add 3 cups water and a bit of salt. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat to low and cook until done, about 20-30 minutes, depending on your rice.
- Cook the pasta in the usual way in the usual salted water. As with the lentils, no mushy pasta! Drain and reserve in a bowl.
- Serve in good sized bowls so your guests can add condiments and mix to their hearts' delight. Start with a scoop of rice, then a scoop of pasta, and about 1/4 scoop of lentils. Sauce with some of the tomato sauce, then top with a sprinkling of crispy onions and a few (say, 3-6) chickpeas.
- The Condiments
- To make the Egyptian tomato sauce, heat a tablespoon or two of ghee or oil in a sauce pot. When hot, fry the onions until translucent, then add the 4 cloves of garlic. Stir for a few minutes more and once the garlic has released it's flavour, but not browned, add the tomato paste and water. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the sauce has darkened and cooked. Add the 1/4 cup vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes longer. The sauce can be made a day in advance, but should be hot when you dish out.
- To make the garlic vinegar, simply add the 8-10 chopped cloves to the remaining vinegar and let steep for a day or so. The vinegar should be on the table for guests to help themselves, so if you have a pretty bottle, feel free to use it.
- You should also have a bottle of hot sauce on the table. I use a store bought, but don't know what brands you have access to, so can't make a specific recommendation. I would stay away from sauces with very distinctive flavours, such as Tabasco or anything with chipotle peppers. You want guests to be able to add a bit of heat, that's all.