"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.