Friday, January 24, 2014

Koshary - Egyptian Rice, Lentils and Macaroni with Spicy Tomato Sauce and Crispy Onions

I'd been meaning to make this dish forever. I can't remember where I heard about it (probably when I was experimenting with vegan recipes) but it looked really good and I can't help but try what may be considered Egypt's national dish. I love trying to make "national dishes".

I'll quote wikipedia to describe it: "Kushari originated in the mid 19th century, during a time when Egypt was a multi-cultural country and the economy was booming. The lower class's usually limited pantry became full with a myriad of ingredients: lentils, rice, macaroni, chickpeas, tomato sauce, onions, garlic, oil, etc. At the end of the month, families would usually have a little left of everything, so families would use it up by putting it all together into a tasty dish."

It's basically a carb-o-liscious amalgam of things, brought together (in this version) with a spice blend I've never had before that is reminiscent of North African/Middle Eastern cuisine called Baharat. It's kind of similar to Ras el hanout.

This dish does take a few pots to make but it wasn't a big deal for me to complete.

Koshary - Egyptian Rice, Lentils and Macaroni with Spicy Tomato Sauce and Crispy Onions
(also, a simple Tomato/Cucumber Salad)
(from here)

Baharat Spice Mix
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon whole cloves
3-4 green cardamom pods
1 1/2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (sub ground if that's what you have but fresh is always better!)

2 tbs olive oil
1 cup medium grain rice
1 cup brown lentils
1 cup dry macaroni
4 cups vegetable stock, divided (2 for the rice, 2 for the lentils)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp cumin
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon salt

For the Sauce:
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons Baharat spice mix
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes (optional)
1 tbs red wine vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste

Crispy Onion & Garnish:
2 onions, finely sliced
Oil for deep-frying

1 (15 oz) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

Tomato/Cucumber Salad:
1/2 english cucumber (about a cup)
about a cup of cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (or lemon juice)
1/4 teaspoon salt
fresh ground pepper to taste (a few grinds)


I began by making the Baharat. You can buy this if you can find it, but I had everything on hand already to make it.

Put a small non-stick (preferably cast iron, but I don't have a small one) over medium-high heat for abut 5 minutes to pre-heat.

Toss in:
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon whole cloves
3-4 green cardamom pods

Heat, shaking the pan and stirring constantly for about 5 minutes or until you can smell everything toasting nicely. If you start to smell them burning remove from the heat immediately.

Better to under-toast than over-toast here. 

Meanwhile, Add the 1 1/2 tablespoons paprika, 1 teaspoons ground cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg to a spice grinder (or coffee grinder)

Add the toasted spices.

Grind until uniform.

You will love the smell of the toasted spices mixed together. Very nice.

Blurry pic, but you get the idea.

Next I made the tomato/cucumber salad because it can sit in the fridge all day. 

Simply dice 1/2 an english cucumber (about a cup)

Slice about a cup of cherry tomatoes in half or quarters.

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Now the kids can help.

Add 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Make it the best you have. 

Add 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar. You can use lemon juice if you don't have red wine vinegar.

1/4 teaspoon salt

Finally, a few grind of fresh black pepper.

Shake/mix it together and stash it in the fridge until dinner. It'll get better with time.


Next, we'll make the crispy onion topping - which I think makes the whole dish. It's very similar to the fried shallots I made for the green bean casserole on Thanksgiving, so I was familiar with the technique.

Just slice 2 onions lengthwise.

Toss into a wok or something that can handle them and add enough oil until the onions are just poking out. I used about a cup but yours may vary.

Fry over medium high heat for about 20 minutes, but keep an eye on these and stir quite often to avoid uneven cooking.

The onions will start to get a nice deep drown color.

Just before they get too dark, drain the onions into a heat proof container for the oil.

Place on paper towels to drain and reserve the oil. It's now "onion infused". Yom. I make hashbrowns all the time with oil like this.

Season with some salt and reserve for the final dish.

They look darker than they were. pull them before they get too dark.


Timing on this dish is a little tough since we need to make the macaroni, lentils, rice and tomato sauce (in addition to the fried onions) kind of all at once.

I'll just show you how I did it below. You can use your own judgement and timing to fit your kitchen and schedule.

I started with the macaroni. 1 cup.

Just prepare according to package instructions if you like, I usually cook mine in a 10" pan because I find it much faster.

Add 4 cups of water and a pinch of salt.

Bring this to a boil and when the water is absorbed the pasta is basically done.

I find it much faster than waiting for a whole pot of water to boil but that's me.

Meanwhile, start the tomato sauce. This requires the most time to cook because it needs some time to simmer.

I used a can of tomatoes (the fire roasted kind, hence the black bits) tossed into a food processor. I wanted the sauce smooth.

The kids love to help (between iPad viewings)

Buzz Buzz Buzz

Add to a small skillet or sauce pan with the tablespoon of olive oil over medium-low heat.

The olive oil gives the sauce some body and some flavor.

Next, add the spices:

1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons Baharat spice mix
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes (optional)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste

Bring to a simmer and let the flavors mingle, about 20 minutes.


Now we can make the rice and lentils.

Measure out a cup of rice and a cup of lentils. I used basmati rice and brown lentils.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the rice and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the 2 cups vegetable stock and bring it to a boil, decrease the heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until the rice is cooked.

Cook the lentils at the same time.

Add 2 cups of vegetable stock to the lentils in another sauce pan along with a minced garlic clove, 1 tsp cumin and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the lentils are tender. 

Add the 1/2 teaspoon salt after the lentils are cooked. I always heard that they don't get tender if you add salt before cooking. I don't know if it's true or not.

As my tomato sauce simmered, my rice was cooking...

...lentils were cooking and the finished macaroni was waiting.

Finished lentils:

Fish out the bay leaf.

Rice finished.

It was a tad moist for me but I don't know what the traditional rice is supposed to be like. It was still very tasty.

Combine the rice, macaroni and lentils in a large bowl or one of your pans. 

Give everything a nice stir. Season to your taste.


Now all we need to do is assemble the dish, which is very easy.

Just ladle the rice/macaroni/lentil mixture on a plate, followed by a healthy dollop of the tomato sauce (sorry you can't really see it in the pic, but it's there - I actually ended up using a little bit more as I ate the dish).

Top with some chickpeas straight from the can (rinsed and drained, of course) and a generous helping of the crispy onions.


This dish was a bit of work, I admit, but it ended up being very satisfying. The flavors of the Baharat spice mix with the tomato sauce was reminiscent of a Middle Eastern pasta dish but the crispy onions and chickpeas were a great texture element to the whole.

All in all it was a unique dish that I had fun making.

Give it a whirl!



  1. ok, I need to ask: what inspired this dish? You know I'm Egyptian, right? :) This is really impressive! Next time, try dry-toasting the elbow macaroni in a pan: it will add lots of colour and flavour to your dish! Traditional rice is supposed to be very soft and buttery--my grandmother often cooks her rice and potatoes in broth. And you NAILED the crispy onions! oh man!

  2. Ha! That's awesome, you had mentioned that you were Middle Eastern but I didn't know you were Egyptian.

    I think I did the rice right, as you describe it. It was very soft and creamy. And the dry roasting of the macaroni is a neat idea. I would never have though of that!

    Anyway, I hope I did you proud! I hate butchering a nation's food!

  3. My relatives actually like to toast dry pasta in butter for pretty much anything: soup, koshary, and this dish:

    The Levantines take rice over the top by adding ground beef, pine nuts, and some variation of Ras el Hanout. Heavenly! And YES, you certainly did us proud! :) Not many people have the patience to fry the onions crispy, but I find they make all the difference!

  4. Are there any other recipes I should try to make? Most of the stuff I've done from the Middle East is either Persian or over in North Africa, like Moroccan. I haven't done must looking into Egyptian food but the whole thing is fascinating to me.

    Weirdly, being in San Diego, it's actually easier for me to shop at Middle Eastern grocers than it is to go to the Asian or even Mexican markets. So I have a ton of specialty ingredients on hand but don't really know what to make!

  5. I just saw this! You should definitely try the following:

    -Bamia (okra stew with lamb):

    -Molokheya (jute/mallow soup): (I don't know why they have red onions on top in this recipe: NOT traditional!)

    -Taro and Lamb Stew/Soup: (we eat this on feast days: I think for Easter dinner)

    -Macarona Bechamel (Middle Eastern Lasagna): (I would tweak his recipe and use whole milk and ghee)

    -Stuffed eggplant and stuffed zuchinni (labor-intensive but WELL worth the effort!):

    (texture warning: the first three recipes are thick and soupy. If you have picky eaters in the fam, they may not like them. I find these dishes incredibly comforting, and they are super healthy to boot!)


    Basbousa (semolina coconut cake):

    Kahk (Mid Eastern shortbread): (BE GENEROUS with the powdered sugar!)

    More to come!


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