Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Revolutionary Food: Koshary (Kushary) El Tahrir

The most recent issue of Saveur features the "Chef 100," whereby 100 hundred well-known chefs gave readers their suggestions on food, restaurants, cooking utensils, cookbooks and unique ingredients. Though Anita Lo probably doesn't have a direct line to the newsroom, she recommended koshary - a vegetarian dish from Egypt that features pasta, lentils, chickpeas and onions. (It tastes wonderful when topped with tomato sauce and vinegar.) The koshary recipe she recommended originates from a little cafe in Cairo's Tahrir Square.  This is what Anita said about the ultimate Egyptian street food:
"Served in a plastic or metal bowl, the food is many shades of brown: a mixture of toasted pasta, rice, lentils, chickpeas, and fried onions — perhaps a staff meal creation of some hippie distance runner just enrolled at the Natural Gourmet cooking school. But pour on a little of the garlic-vinegar and tomato-pepper sauces that sit on every table, and you've got some seriously delicious comfort food. Complex, earthy flavors from the legumes mingle with toasty, nutty pasta and the rich, caramelized sweetness from the onions, all offset by the zingy sauces."
I was curious. I was also feeling somewhat humbled because I had never heard of koshary. How did I miss this popular Middle Eastern staple? I eat tons of Palestinian food and I'm very familiar with Lebanese, Syrian, Israeli (this recipe), Iraqi and Moroccan dishes. I guess Egypt's cuisine flew under my radar. My only exposure to Egyptian food was at Ali's Kebab Cafe in New York's Little Egypt on Steinway Street in Queens. (The Kebab Cafe features Alexandrian cuisine, so in addition to kebabs and meze platters, there are also dishes that infuse Greek and French influences - which is appropriate for a city with a history like Alexandria.)  I remember what we ate and koshary wasn't even on the menu (which is delivered orally).  
Well now I'm in-the-know. Here is one of Egypt's most famous street foods and my attempt to try something new...
Let's hope the revolution in the streets of Cairo (and throughout the country) help bring a vibrant and transparent democracy to the people of Egypt.
KOSHARY EL TAHRIR (Published in Saveur Magazine
4 oz. ditalini or macaroni, cooked
2 oz. spaghetti, cooked
4 oz. brown lentils, rinsed
Kosher salt, to taste
1 cup cooked basmati rice (optional)
1 cup canned chickpeas, drained
2 cups canola oil
1/4 cup flour
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes (I used an organic pureed tomato sauce because I prefer that texture) 
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar

Combine ditalini and spaghetti in a bowl; set aside. Put lentils and 4 cups water into a 2-qt. saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender, 20 minutes. Season lentils with salt, drain, and transfer to a bowl along with rice and chickpeas; set aside.
Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Put flour into a bowl, add onions, and toss to coat. Working in 2 batches, add onions to hot oil and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer onions to paper towels to drain; reserve oil.
Spoon 4 tbsp. oil from skillet into a 2-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic, cumin, cayenne, and ginger; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add tomatoes and vinegar and bring to a simmer; cook for 5 minutes. Season with salt and remove from heat. To serve, divide pasta mixture between 4 bowls; top with lentil mixture and fried onions. Spoon tomato sauce over each bowl. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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  1. YUMM! I've been wanting to try this for ages. Pasta and rice together as one...sounds heavenly!

  2. Oh man, that looks good! Amazing pictures, as always!

    Check this article out, too, for an interesting meditation on the connection between food and revolution in Egypt:

  3. Your plating of kushary is picture perfect. It reminds me of home.

  4. Your kushari looks good but our onions are definitely darker, almost burnt-looking. And they're diced! I'm actually very interested to see that people are starting to take interest in our cuisine. Thank you for sharing a piece of my culture and allowing it to flourish.

  5. Thanks for your comments. @Buttered Up: It's funny, the first round of onions got so burnt that I threw them out. Now I know that would have been more authentic :) Happy eating!

  6. I am an Egyptian living in London. This kushary reminds me of home. Beautiful post. Next you should make ful medammis (or ful).

  7. This almost looks like our local kushari dishes! :D
    And yes I agree with Buttered Up.. The onion should be darker, see these 2 pics for guidance

    And you should try the "da-ah" sauce too.. it's basically (1/2 a cup of lime juice + 1/4 a cup of white vinegar + lots of crushed garlic + salt) blended together and tossed on top of your kushari dish, trust me you'll love it!

  8. P.S.. don't add ALL the da-ah dressing to your dishes.. just serve them aside, and individually add to get the desired taste :)

  9. Hi! Thanks for your comments! I love them. Yes, I can see that the onions really are more fried. Next time I won't be afraid to burn them...and the dish will get topped with some da-ah dressing. Are there any other Egyptian dishes I should make? I made Shorbet Ads (Lentil Soup) and it was great-- you can search for the post. Happy Cooking!

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