What is koshari?
Koshari (كشري) also called kushari or kosheri, is one of the most popular dishes in the land of the Pharaohs, a delicious vegan combination prepared with chickpeas, lentils, macaroni and rice.
Egyptian koshari is also called koshari abu gibba. The full name can be explained by the presence, in the recipe, of black lentils, also called ads abu gibba.
The composition of koshari
Koshari, along with falafel, is one of the most popular street foods in Egypt. Koshari is the favorite dish of the Egyptians, whether it is tasted from a street vendor’s cart or in a chic restaurant, it will always keep its original ingredients and its unique taste.
It is indeed a very inexpensive vegan dish made from chickpeas, lentils, macaroni and rice. The whole is enriched with fried onions and a tomato sauce flavored with chili, coriander and cumin.
The character is given by the spicy tomato sauce, lightly flavored with vinegar. This tomato sauce can sometimes be flavored with an excellent blend of spices called baharat, which combines paprika, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, cloves, coriander, nutmeg, saffron, black lime (noomi basra), and black pepper.
Although it was originally a vegan dish, the custom of adding fried poultry liver or shāwarmā meat as an additional layer is spreading more and more in Egypt, given their low cost.
How to make koshari
The koshari recipe is quite simple to make, even if it requires several steps for the cooking of the different ingredients.
To speed up the preparation of the recipe, it is possible to buy precooked lentils and chickpeas.
This recipe is very common in all the restaurants of the country, so much so that there are even restaurants dedicated exclusively to the koshari.
Behind the bay windows of restaurants or on the shelves of food carts that sell koshari in the streets, sit large containers with the ingredients already cooked. These ingredients are simply reheated over high heat and flavored. It is a quick and simple dish to prepare, inexpensive and at the same time extremely nutritious thanks to the quantity of proteins and carbohydrates.
What is the origin of koshari?
Although positioned as the Egyptian national dish, koshari is clearly of Indian origin.
Koshari arrived in Egypt in the mid-19th century, when the country was an important crossroads of cultures and food.
The Egyptians then experimented and added their touch to this simple, varied, colorful and spicy dish from India.
Koshari therefore has similarities to the famous Indian dish called khichdi, made from rice and lentils, but the Egyptian dish has more ingredients and flavors, especially the sauce which gives it its unique taste.
Some believe that koshari was first prepared in Egypt during the British occupation (1882-1914).
Indian khichdi is found under other names including khichari, khichadi, kohsheri, khicaṛī, or even khichri and it is considered to be one of the oldest dishes in India.
Moroccan jurist and frequent traveler Abū ʿAbdallāh Muhammad Ibn Battūta, who visited India in the 14th century, already mentioned khichri in his writings as a popular breakfast. Also, Afanasy Nikitin, the Medieval Russian traveler and merchant and one of the first Europeans to document a trip to India mentioned khichri in his writings.
In the Mughal Empire, the very popular khichdi was mentioned several times in the meal plans of the Mughals.
There are also several references to khichdi in the writings of Abu’l-Fazl ibn Mubarak (1551-1602), an Indian chronicler and historiographer, who wrote his works in Persian, notably in his work Ain-i-Akbari.
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1605 – 1689 a), a French traveler and baron of Aubonne in Switzerland, brought back to the 17th century a variant of khichdi with green lentils, rice and ghee.
During the colonial period in India (1858-1947), the British immersed themselves in Indian cuisine and therefore among other recipes, khichri.
In British households in India, khichri was often served for breakfast with fish, which was usually eaten in the morning with boiled eggs, immediately after fishing.
British India brought back khichdi to England under the famous name of kedgeree, which is made from fish, rice, eggs, butter, cream and curry.
It would therefore be the British who probably made the koshari popular in Egypt.
You will find khichdi and kedgeree much later, via the British army which, passing from one colony to another carried along the culinary habits of “British India”.
This is how koshari was introduced into Egypt towards the end of the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th century.
We can easily deduce that this vegan dish is able to satisfy the Coptic diet during Lent, because it is devoid of meat. The Copts are the Christian inhabitants of Egypt.
It is also a dish that can not only be prepared quickly but is also particularly profitable. The high cost of meat, in fact, does not allow the poorest social classes to buy it.
We will also mention mujaddara, a close cousin of koshari, which is prepared with rice and lentils only, and which is also consumed during the Lent period in Lebanese Christian communities.
In addition to 2 cereal-based products such as rice and macaroni, koshari contains 2 kinds of legumes: lentils and chickpeas.
Legumes are edible seeds, the most used in human nutrition are beans, lentils, chickpeas, and peas. Their nutritional use dates back to prehistoric times and, although considered a popular food, not suitable for “refined” tables since they have always been nicknamed the “meat of the poor”, legumes are still eaten daily worldwide.
Indeed, they are capable of fulfilling an important energy function thanks to their exceptional content of carbohydrates and vegetable proteins. However, it is important to note that the proteins in legumes are nutritionally inferior to those of animal origin because they are poor in the essential amino acid, methionine.
Legumes are therefore a food category that is precious for our health, given the preventive role they play in various diseases such as diabetes, hypertension or obesity.
In addition to being a valuable source of fiber, they are also an important source of minerals and vitamins and ensure a good supply of potassium, calcium, iron, phosphorus and magnesium, but also in B vitamins, which is why they must be consumed as part of a balanced diet. They are indeed essential.
Koshari is the ultimate comforting dish. Serve it with a salad, or a yogurt sauce, it will delight the palate of vegetarians and vegans alike, as well as the omnivores.
- 2 onions cut into thin rings
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 1 onion grated
- 4 cloves garlic crushed
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 3 cups passata (tomato coulis)
- Vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons white vinegar
- 2 teaspoons crushed garlic
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 tablespoons water
- 6 tablespoons vinegar
- 1 cup brown lentils well-rinsed and drained
- 15 oz can chickpeas drained
- 1 cup medium grain rice previously soaked in cold water for 15 minutes, then drained
- 2 cups macaroni pasta (ditalini or elbow)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- vegetable oil
- Pat dry the onion rings in paper towel to remove the excess humidity.
- In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat, fry the onion rings, stirring often, for 12 to 15 minutes or until they turn to a caramelized brown color. The onions should be crisp, but not burnt. Set aside.
- In a saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil.
- Add the grated onion, cook over medium-high heat until the onion becomes a little golden and translucent (do not brown it).
- Add the garlic, coriander and red pepper flakes, and sauté briefly.
- Add the tomato sauce and salt.
- Bring to a boil and cook for about 15 minutes or until the sauce thickens.
- Add the white vinegar and lower the heat.
- Cover and keep warm until ready to serve.
- In a saucepan, sauté the garlic and cumin until they are fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add the vinegar, water and salt to taste.
Bring the lentils and 3 cups (750 ml) of cold water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat.
- Reduce the heat and cook over low heat for 15 minutes or until the lentils are slightly tender. Drain and season with salt. Lentils should not be fully cooked. They should only be pre-cooked.
- Drain the rice.
- Mix the pre-cooked lentils and the rice in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and add the coriander. Mix well.
- In a Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat.
- Sauté the rice and lentil mixture for 3 minutes, stirring regularly.
Add about 3 cups (750 ml) of hot water to cover the rice and lentil mixture.
- Bring to a boil, the water level should reduce a little.
- Cover and cook on low to medium heat for about 20 minutes or until all of the liquid has been absorbed and the rice and lentils are cooked through. Remove from heat.
- While the rice and lentils cook, prepare the macaroni according to the directions on the package by adding them to boiling salted water. Cook until the pasta is al dente. Drain.
- Rinse and drain the chickpeas.
- Cover and briefly warm them in the microwave before serving.
- To serve, fluff the rice and lentils with a fork and transfer to a serving dish.
- Garnish with macaroni, half of the tomato sauce and half of the cumin sauce, before adding the chickpeas and finally half of the reserved crispy onions.
- Serve with the rest of the tomato sauce, cumin sauce and crispy onions separately.