Opinions often diverge in Egypt, but one thing almost every Egyptian concedes is that Koshari – a unique Egyptian medley of starches – reigns supreme.
Other popular ways to spell Koshari are: Koshary, Kushari or Kushary.
What is Koshari?
Koshary is a delectable, any-time-of-day, year-round whole that is far more addictive than the sum of its humdrum base parts: pasta, rice, and lentils. The magic finish comes from a spicy tomato-sauce topping and garnish of fried onions, all enhanced by garlic-vinegar or chili. Koshari is one of the most common Egyptian Foods and kind of like a national dish.
The history of Koshari
This cheap, filling and healthy national dish is so popular that some restaurants in Eygpt, particularly Cairo, specialize in this alone. But although Koshary was the first Egyptian fast food, little seems known about its genesis. Educated conjecture suggests that it may have been created out of poverty – filling fare for people who couldn’t afford meat – or that, as vegan victuals, it was influenced by the vegetarian diet of fasting Coptic Christians. Whatever the case, meat – such as small pieces of fried liver, chicken or lamb – is now sometimes back in the bowl.
How to order Koshari
Whether purchased in a specialized restaurant or from a street vendor, Koshari is often alone on the menu; you need only say what size you want – small, medium or large. There’s also usually a choice of sauce: garlic-vinegar or a chili sauce as spicy as it looks. Many locals also squeeze in some lemon.
Where to get the best Koshari
For the best Koshari in Cairo, visit Abou Tarek Restaurant in Downtown. You can also book a 5-hour guided street food tour around Cairo and learn more about Egyptian cuisine and flavors.
This Koshary recipe serves 8 people.
For the Tomato Sauce, you’ll need:
- 3 tbs olive oil
- 1⁄2 cup onion, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 400g (14oz) tomato puree
- 3⁄4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1⁄2 tsp ground cumin
- 1⁄2 tsp salt
- 1⁄4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1⁄4 tsp chili flakes
For the Koshari itself, you’ll need:
- 1 cup rice (long-grain)
- 1 cup lentils (brown or black)
- 1 cup chickpeas, cooked
- 2 tbs white vinegar
- 1⁄2 tsp ground cumin
- 1⁄2 tsp garlic powder
- 8 tbs olive oil
- 11⁄2 cups onion, sliced
- 1 cup pasta (small macaroni or vermicelli broken into small pieces)
How to cook and prepare Koshari
How to cook the Tomato Sauce:
1. Heat the oil and onions on a medium flame until they are golden brown.
2. Stir in the garlic and cook for two minutes.
3. Add the tomato puree, cinnamon, cumin, salt, pepper, and chili flakes. Increase the heat a bit and let simmer uncovered, until the sauce thickens (ca. 15–20 minutes).
How to cook the Koshari:
1. Simultaneously, but in different pots, cook the rice and the lentils. The lentils should simmer, covered, until tender (20–30 minutes); then, use a strainer to remove the lentils (leaving the lentil water in the pot), placing them directly into a mix of the vinegar, cumin, and garlic powder.
2. Heat the oil on a medium flame; add the onions and cook, de-glazing as necessary, until they are light brown. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towel.
3. Stir the uncooked pasta into the same oil used for cooking the onions; saute pasta until lightly browned, then place in the used lentil water, bring back to a boil and cook until tender. Shortly before everything is finished, heat up the ready-cooked chickpeas.
4. Assemble the Koshari in eight bowls: lay down a base of rice, add a blanket of pasta with a few browned onions, and then a cover of lentils and chickpeas. Spoon the tomato sauce on top and trim with a few more onions.
Et voilà, a full portion of carbs that will keep you filled for a long time! Bon appetit!
Tip: Personally, I love to balance the spices with some added yogurt on the side. That’s not customary in Egypt, but if you cook Koshari at home you could give it a try 🙂
By the way, besides the food, there’s so many more reasons to visit stunning Egypt.