When we asked people in Cairo which was the one Egyptian dish we absolutely had to try, the answer was unanimous - Koshary! Never even having heard that name before, we were intrigued and set about finding a good restaurant. Koshary turned out to be a delightful melange of rice, lentils, chickpeas and pasta, topped with tomato chili sauce and caramelized onions.
We quickly became fans of Koshary like all the rest of Egypt and had to have it several times during our stay! It is easy to understand why Koshary is considered cheap and cheerful comfort food in Egypt. The unlikely combination of ingredients is surprisingly good and quite addictive!
At first bite, the flavor of Koshary seemed vaguely familiar to Indians like us, and a
little research soon explained why. It is an Egyptian version of Khichri -
the mix of lentils and rice that has been a staple food in Indian
villages for millennia. Khichri is considered comfort food in India as well, especially soothing when one is sick.
It is an extremely adaptable dish - English settlers in India were quick to embrace it, calling it Kedegree. Indian troops based in Egypt in the late nineteenth century introduced the locals to Khichri, who fused it with Italian pasta and tomato sauce to produce the beloved modern version of Khoshary.
You will find Koshary being sold from street side food carts everywhere in Egypt, often with a long line up of hungry customers! The Khoshary man is an iconic figure in Cairo, and the noise made by his metal ladle rattling against the bowls he fills with amazing speed is instantly recognizable to residents of the city.
Although not strictly traditional, I like to serve Koshary with some grilled chicken over top. It rounds off the dish nicely, making it a meal in one. The aromatic marinade makes the chicken smell wonderful as it cooks. If you're grilling it outside, watch out - you might have unexpected guests dropping in for a taste!
Grilled Chicken And Koshary
The grilled chicken can be served by itself too. Leftovers make a great wrap when rolled up in a tortilla with some chopped salad and a drizzle of yogurt raita!
1 1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs, about 8 large
8 cloves garlic
2 tbsp each: plain yogurt, white wine vinegar, lemon juice, oil
Salt to taste
1 tsp each: toasted ground cumin, ground black pepper, red chili flakes
1/2 tsp each: ground cinnamon, ground ginger, paprika
Place chicken in mixing bowl. Combine remaining ingredients in mini blender or food processor until smooth. Pour over chicken, tossing to coat it well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
When ready to grill, preheat barbecue to medium. Lift chicken out of marinade and place on grill. Grill, covered for about 20-25 minutes or until chicken is cooked through, turning once in between.
Koshary is a delicious, healthy, simple and satisfying meal in itself and is also a great way to use up leftover rice or pasta!
4 tbsp olive oil, divided
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups canned whole plum tomatoes, pureed in food processor
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp each: ground ginger, ground cumin, cayenne pepper
Salt to taste
1 large Spanish onion, thinly sliced
1 cup each, cooked: rice, brown lentils, chickpeas
1/2 cup each, cooked: ditalini pasta or elbow macaroni, angel hair pasta or broken up spaghetini
Warm 1 tbsp oil in deep non stick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic
and saute until it browns lightly, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes,
vinegar, spices and salt to taste. Mix well, cover and cook for 10
minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, warm remaining oil in separate skillet over medium high heat. Add sliced onion and saute until browned, about 10 minutes.
Combine rice, lentils and chickpeas in bowl. Combine pasta in separate bowl.
serve, divide pasta between four bowls. Add a layer of rice and lentil
mixture, then sprinkle onions over top. Spoon some tomato sauce over
and top with 2 pieces of grilled chicken. Serve warm.