“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”
– James Beard
A couple of years ago, we had a big family get together. Ostensibly, it was a celebration for my mom’s birthday but in reality we were celebrating a time of change and celebration. My mother and two of my sisters had birthdays that needed recognition. As it was the beginning of the summer, it was a last opportunity for everyone to enjoy each other’s company. We bid adieu to my brother as he left for a year of travel and work in Italy and Korea. Another sister, plus her family, was moving to Minnesota for 6 months as her husband was going to work at the Mayo Clinic. And the youngest member of our family was going too. Taking the opportunity to work in Minnesota for the summer and help our sister with the move. It was a fun but emotional day as everyone chopped, sliced, diced and came together. While we ate many incredibly dishes, most of which were from Extending the Table by Joetta Handrich Schlabach, one dish clearly stood out as the winner: Egyptian Rice and Lentils or Koshary/Kusherie. This has become a firm favourite for my family, and I consider it one of my “signature” dishes to cook whenever I want to impress my friends. It’s easy, mouth-watering, flavourful, and filling. However, if you decide to make it just for yourself, remember to halve the recipe!
Koshary is essentially an Egyptian street food. It consists of rice, lentils and macaroni topped with tomato sauce and fried onions. It is inexpensive to make and has few ingredients but a surprisingly satisfying flavor. While the method of cooking the lentils and rice needs to be followed exactly, it is not difficult or overly complex. The simplicity of this dish both in method and presentation makes this a perfect dinner for those who don’t have the luxury of a four-ring hob or indeed an eighteen piece dinner service!
Last week, I’d some friends over for dinner where this was the centre piece/main dish of the meal. Some of my friends who were there had eaten this dish before. In fact, the first time I made it for them, everyone at the table was completely silent for more than ten minutes. One of my friends even claimed that he’d forgot he wasn’t alone. If that’s not a huge compliment for this dish, I don’t what is! This time, while there wasn’t complete silence, every scrap of the koshary was gone by end of dinner. Further, it definitely got the stamp of approval from everyone as I was immediately requested to post about it on this blog. Now, I just hope that everyone who makes this dish, feels the same way!
I made everything myself except for the Tempeh Crisps which I bought in a local Asia Mart.
The morning was spent shopping in Home Plus and the afternoon cleaning and cooking. I had meant to serve some avocado tortilla roll ups as a starter but I forgot about them until 5 minutes before my guests arrived. So, instead, we had a Veggie Cream Cheese Dip. I prepared the Koshary sauce first, followed by the Basic Sesame Noodles, Salata Batatis, Koshary Macaroni, the Koshary Rice and Lentils and, finally, the No-dressing Salad and Drumsticks. I’m really lucky that my friends are really adaptable and laid back as, despite having the entire day off, I’d to push back dinner by 15 minutes – and even then I wasn’t fully ready. But no one complained.
When I was ready, I served everything Korean style: basically everything arrives at around the same time and is placed on the table together, starters along with the main. My lovely guests provided cheer, funny faces, drinks, bread and dessert.
I just want to take the opportunity to thank my sister who introduced me to Koshary and helped edit this post for me. Thanks!
Egyptian Rice and Lentils or Koshary
- ¾ cup tomato paste
- 3½ cup tomato juice, tomato sauce, or pureed tomatoes*
- 1 green pepper, chopped
- 3 tpsp of celery leaves,** chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tbsp of sugar
- 1¼ tsp of ground cumin
- ¼ tsp of ground red pepper or crushed red chilies, to taste.
- 1¼ cup lentils,*** washed and picked over
- 1½ cup rice, washed and picked over
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 cups boiling water or stock
- 2 tbsp oil
- dash of pepper
- 2 cups of macaroni, cooked in salted water as per package directions.
- 3 tbsp of sauce (above)
- 1 Tbsp oil
- 3 onions, sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tbsp oil
- Combine in a saucepan*, all the ingredients for the sauce. Stir.
- Bring to the boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 20-30 minutes
- Meanwhile, in a heavy saucepan with a cover, heat the 2 tbsp of oil over medium heat.
- Add the lentils and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Carefully add 3 cups of boiling water or stock, the salt and pepper.
- Cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes over medium heat.
- Stir in the rice and remaining water or stock.
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 25 minutes****
- Cook the macaroni, as per package directions, in salted water.
- Drain and mix with the oil and tomato sauce
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan
- Fry the onions and garlic over medium heat until brown, for around 10-15 minutes,
- Once cooked, pile the rice lentil mixture on a platter with the macaroni and spread the sauce all over it. Top with the browned onions. If you like you may serve with some plain, natural yogurt.
While I do find it necessary to follow the directions for each section meticulously for the success of this meal, this recipe quite adaptable in other ways. For example, I always make the main mixture of rice, lentils and sauce. However, this was my first time making the macaroni and I thought it was a lovely addition. Just remember, when serving gluten-free friends, it’s best to leave it off. I usually include the onions and garlic as well, but on this day I completely ran out of oil. I’ve no idea how it happened. I didn’t even have butter. So, sadly, we did without the onion-y goodness.Sometime, I will make the whole dish properly!
I have made this recipe just for myself but, when I do, I halve the lentils and rice. Don’t forget to also halve the water – I’ve forgotten that before and it was gloopy mess. I usually keep the sauce at the same amount and freeze what I don’t use.
*At home in Ireland, rather than use tomato sauce, I used crushed tomatoes. I find the tinned tomato sauce, here in Korea, is too thick and has exploded over my kitchen more than once! Therefore, when I make this in Korea, I use one tin of chopped tomatoes and the rest is tomato sauce.
**I don’t always add the celery leaves.
*Always use whole lentils – again, this time I used green lentils, but I’ve used whole red and brown ones before too.
***As I’ve only one ring, I made the sauce in my slow cooker. Put everything in the slower cooker pot, stir and cook on low for 4-5 hours. If you want to make this and only have one ring and no slow cooker, make the sauce first, then the lentil mixture. When the sauce is cooked, keep a lid tightly on it to keep it warm. If needed, reheat just before serving. If you want to include the macaroni, make that before the rice and lentils. Prepare your platter with the rice, macaroni and sauce whilst frying your onions.
**** I’ve noticed that sometimes on the electric stovetop, the rice and lentils will cook for between 20-25 minutes. So I usually check at 20 minutes.