Cooking Koshary

Photo courtesy of Xin Tian — I’m just modeling here.

One of the main benefits of studying abroad is, of course, cultural exchange, which I’ve been experiencing a lot of since my arrival in Menton. I’m in France, studying at a French university that specializes in Middle Eastern studies, on a campus that has students hailing from all over the Middle East and North Africa, all corners of Europe,  as far away as Singapore, Mexico, and India, and a number from different parts of France. One of my favorite parts of this geographical amalgam is the wide range of cuisines that are represented — when I walk into the kitchen at Villa Jasmin I have an equal chance of finding someone preparing couscous, baking a quiche, chopping vegetables for a stir fry, or spreading liverwurst on a piece of bread (though to be honest, there’s always a much higher chance that I’ll find someone defrosting something in the microwave; we have a Picard right around the corner). So when a friend of mine asked if I would be interested in making koshary, an Egyptian staple, to raise money for our campus’s branch of Amnesty International, I jumped at the chance.

I don’t have any pictures of the preparation process, mainly because things moved too fast for me to have time to stop and snap photos. Koshary is a very basic dish, made with commonly found food and easy to prepare, but there are a LOT of different steps involved. There are separate preparations for the grains and lentils, the pasta, the tomato sauce, the fried onions, and the sour sauce. I’ll try to break everything down in a non-confusing way, but in the end I’m so glad I had the chance to make it myself; with dishes like this, the best way to learn how to make them is through experience.

Ingredients:

– Olive oil

– Vermicelli

– Long grain rice

– Black lentils, soaked beforehand if necessary

– Elbow pasta

– Garlic

– Onions

– Tomato paste

– Chile powder

– White wine vinegar

– Sugar

– More onions

– Flour

– More garlic

– Lemon juice

– More white wine vinegar

– Chick peas

– Plain yogurt

– Cucumbers

– Mint

(note that there are no measurements for any of the ingredients; you just have to eyeball it. If it helps, every successive layer should be less than the previous one. So you’ll want the most rice and lentils, slightly less pasta than rice and lentils, slightly less tomato sauce than pasta, etc)

For the base: Heat olive oil over high heat in a large pan. Fry vermicelli; when it turns red (not brown!) add rice, water, and lentils. Let cook until water has evaporated. Cook pasta in a separate pot according to package directions.

For the tomato sauce: Saute garlic and thinly sliced onions in olive oil. Add tomato paste and bring to a simmer. Add chile, vinegar, and a tablespoon of sugar; continue to simmer until sauce has thickened slightly.

For the fried onions: Cut onions into thin strips, cover with flour, and fry in olive oil until they turn red and crispy.

For the sour sauce: Chop garlic into fine pieces. Heat lemon juice and vinegar over medium-low heat, stir in garlic, cover and keep warm. After some time has passed, strain the garlic pieces and preserve the sauce.

For the tzatziki: Mix plain yogurt with thinly chopped cucumbers and mint.

ASSEMBLY: Start with the mixture of rice and lentils. Scoop a medium-sized heap onto a plate. Top with slightly smaller scoop of pasta. Add a slightly smaller scoop of tomato sauce. Add a sprinkle of fried onions (or break with tradition and add a lot, because fried onions are the best part), a tiiiiny bit of the sour sauce, and just a few chick peas. Serve with tzatziki on the side. And remember, this dish is extremely  filling, so you’ll need a lot less than you think.

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