Egyptian koshary is the ultimate street food; it’s cheap, filling, nutritious (to an extent) while packing loads of flavour and spiciness. This recipe is a lighter, modified version that provides the flavour with fewer carbs but more plant protein.
In Egypt, koshary is comfort food. Normally, it’s a sumptuous, delicious carb-fest with layers of rice, macaroni, fried vermicelli…something suitable for a marathon runner trying to load up on carbs. For the rest of us regular folk working at desks in front of computers all day, it can provide way too much energy that will just get stored as fat. The interesting thing is: Egyptian koshary is actually a vegan dish, thus proving that the word “vegan” isn’t always synonymous with healthy.
That said, according to my mother, koshary wasn’t always so carb-heavy. In its most basic form, it is simply rice with lentils with a spicy sauce on top; the pasta and noodles are more recent additions to bulk it up and make it more filling. The koshary of my mother’s youth is very similar to the recipe I have here, which is less carb-heavy, contains more plant protein and is much lighter and less calorific. Although I adore the modern-day version of koshary sold at little corner shops in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt, this version makes me feel a little less guilty and makes a great weekday lunch or dinner.
It’s no secret that I’m a garlic and onion fiend; I think I add copious amounts of both (especially garlic) to almost everything I eat that isn’t dessert. This recipe naturally calls for both garlic and onions, but I tend to add a bit extra just because everything is better with more garlic. Feel free to cut back if you aren’t as passionate about garlic and onions! I also love chilli peppers; those I even like adding to desserts because a little heat makes everything more interesting. Again, feel free to use less, but note that koshary isn’t the same without the chilli.
- 1/2 cup uncooked white rice (you can use medium-grain rice or long-grain, although traditionally in Egypt we use medium-grain).
- 1 cup cooked/canned brown lentils (you can use green lentils too, but not the split, red lentils). You can use canned lentils since they require less cooking.
- 1 large onion plus 1/2 an extra onion for the topping
- 6 cloves of garlic
- 1 teaspoon chilli flakes
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon each of powdered coriander and cumin
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- In a medium pot, heat 1 tablespoon canola oil. Add half a chopped onion and 2 chopped garlic cloves. Sauté until they’re brown, taking care not to burn them.
- Add the lentils, 1/2 the cumin, salt, 1/2 of the coriander.
- Stir for 2 minutes then add 1 cup of water. Let it come to a boil and add the rice. Stir once, lower the heat to the lowest possible setting and cover. Let it simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, set aside and let it steam with the cover on.
- In a saucepan, heat up 1 tablespoon canola oil. Add half a chopped onion, the rest of the chopped garlic and tomato paste.
- Let cook for a minute or two, then add the vinegar, sugar, chilli flakes, salt, pepper, the remaining cumin and coriander and 1/2 cup of water. Let simmer on low heat for 5 minutes; add extra water if necessary to reach the desired thickness. Should look (and kind of taste) a bit like ketchup.
- In the meantime, heat up 1 tablespoon of canola oil, add the last chopped half onion and fry it until it becomes brown and crispy. Alternatively, you can always use store-bought crispy fried onions if you want to skip this step!
- To assemble: ladle the rice and lentil mixture onto a plate, add a layer of sauce, then top it off with a layer of fried onions. You can add extra chilli flakes if you like, and you can serve with a yogurt dip/salad to cool things down! Enjoy!
Have you ever tried koshary? Have you ever tried making it at home? Did you customize it in any way? Let me know in the comments!
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