Thursday, March 3, 2011

Koshary or Egyptian Chilli, in details..

Koshary is a popular traditional Egyptian national dish. It consists of a base of rice, brown lentils, chickpeas, pasta and a topping of spicy tomato salsa. Fried onions and a garlic-vinegar dressing are usually added as garnish. Koshary is a vegetarian dish, the food of choice for poor people in Egypt and tourists as well.

One of the first places a foreigner in Egypt would want to visit would most definitely be downtown Cairo's Koshary El Tahrir; one of many restaurants specializing in this dish.
Koshary is so popular that when Egyptians wanted something like America's Finest News Source, The Onion they came up with Egypt's Most Reliable News source: El Koshary Today!

However most Egyptians would probably never cook Koshary at home. It's much easier to buy a large bucket of ready made Koshary for 5 EGP at Koshary Hind in Korba, which you could also have delivered to your doorstep. Or at least that's what my Mom suggested I do when I asked her on the phone if she knows how to prepare Koshary.
And while I realize she wanted to save me the trouble of going through an easy, but long process, I wasn't going to give up on trying to impress Mr.WD40 with my Koshary skills just yet. And it was so worth it, after he took the first taste of my very first attempt he admitted that that was the best plate of Koshary he's ever had in his life. Ha!
At first I really did think that it's a very long recipe to put together, but after making it, I was kinda relieved and surprised by how easy it actually was. One thing that sucks about this recipe is how many different saucepans it requires! So be prepared to face a full sink after all is said and done.

Egyptian Koshary Recipe:
This recipe was given to me by Iman, my grandmother's maid.
Serves: 4


Tomato Salsa
Fried Onions
Garlic-Vinegar Dressing (optional)

Tomato Salsa:

4 Tbs Oil
2 Onions, minced
2 Jalapenos, finely chopped
3.5lb Tomatoes, washed, peeled, seeded and processed in a food processor
1 1/2 Tbs Salt (or to taste)
1/2 Tbs Black Pepper
2-4 Tbs Chili Powder (or to taste)
2 Tbs Tomato paste


1. In a large saucepan, heat oil and fry onions in oil until tender. Add Jalapeno and stir around for a couple of minutes.
2. Add tomatoes to pot, and increase heat until it's bubbly and tomatoes reach a darker red color. About ten minutes.
3. Add salt, pepper, chili and stir until incorporated.
4. Add tomato paste and stir. Let simmer for 10-15 more minutes, or until mixture reduces and is thickened into a salsa.
Tip: You can definitely make the salsa ahead and keep it in the freezer for when you plan to make Koshary.


2 Cups Cooked Rice with Vermicelli, but follow these changes:

1. Cook rice in oil instead of butter.
2. Increase the ratio of Vermicelli to rice to 1:1.
3. Don't brown the Vermicelli in oil so much before adding the rice. Go light on the browning, in other words.
4. Omit the bay leaves.


2 tsp Oil
1 Medium Onion, minced
3/4 Cup Brown Lentils, rinsed
1 tsp Cumin
1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
2 Cups Water


1. In a medium saucepan, fry onions in oil until translucent.
2. Add lentils, Cumin and salt. Stir for a minute to combine.
3. Add water, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 20 minutes stirring occasionally until lentils until are tender, but not mushy.
Tip: If water is evaporated but lentils are still undercooked, you can add a little more water until lentils are completely cooked. Be careful not to add too much water though.
4. Set cooked lentils aside.


1 Cup Ditalini or Elbow Pasta
150g Spaghetti or Spaghettini
Boiling Water


Boil both pastas individually according to directions and set aside.
Tip: Don't cook pasta al dente. It has to be a little more tender than that. It shouldn't really bite like it should in an Italian pasta dish.


1 Cup Cooked Chickpeas or canned chickpeas drained.

Fried Onions:

4 Onions
1/2 Cup Flour

1. Cut onion in half, thinly slice each half.

2. Put flour in a bowl and add sliced onions, toss to coat.

3. Put floured onions into a sieve and shake off any excess flour.

4. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking.

5. Working in batches, add onions to hot oil, let sit for 20 seconds without stirring.

6. Stir onions constantly until browned and crisp, about 7 minutes so it doesn't over brown. Be careful not to burn them.

7. Transfer onions using a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain oil and set aside.
Tips: If you happen to burn the smaller pieces, just discard them and add the large unburnt ones to your stack of fried onions.

Garlic Vinegar Dressing: (Optional)

4 Cloves Garlic, minced
3 Tbs Vinegar
1/2 Tbs Oil


Add all ingredients together in an oil bottle. Shake until thoroughly mixed.

When it comes to a plate of Koshary, to each their own. For instance Mr.WD40 prefers a small portion of lentils mixed with rice and double that in pasta. He likes it drenched in extremely hot sauce and all the fried onions he could get, but opts to skip the garlic-vinegar dressing. So it's actually a matter of preference when it comes to serving one's own plate, which only seems to be another reason to cook one's own Koshary!

Koshary Assembly:

1. Toss Rice and Lentils together to combine.
2. Put a portion of the rice and lentil mixture in each plate.
3. Toss together the two types of Pasta, and divide them between the serving plates.
4. Top with desired amount of Salsa.
5. Add a handful of chickpeas on top of the salsa.
6. Garnish with Fried Onions.
7. Add a splash of the Garlic-Vinegar Dressing.
8. Mix it all up.


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