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  • Writer's pictureMei Chin

Koshari (Egyptian Vermicelli, Lentils, and Tomato Sauce)

Dublin-Egyptian Hader Serour @sanaa_kitchen shared this recipe for an Egyptian street staple. Hader has been a fixture in Ireland; she has astonished us with her culinary and historical knowledge, her exuberance, her wit and her intellect. She was the heart, soul and driving force behind our Egyptian shopping list. While she is an engineer, Hader has been getting back in touch with her roots by opening a series of falafel pop-ups in Amsterdam (Egyptian style, and therefore pale green with broad beans), where she currently resides.

This is a long recipe, which means that it tells a story as much as it instructs. Koshari is an Egyptian staple street snack, and also part of the legacy of the Italians who lived there, with its pasta and tomatoes. The recipe’s intricacy provides an insight into the intricacy of what lies behind “street food.”

This is what Hader says about koshari, because it's complicated! Recipe follows after her thoughts.

Koshari in Cairo

I was thinking about what makes koshari the most delicious street food in Egypt. (By the way, it’s also vegan.) I’ve figured it out. Yes, these are just grains, noodles, and legumes, but the layers of flavour and texture are crazy. You can choose to skip cooking the rice in lentil water and onion oil. You can also use tinned brown lentils. However, if you want the full street koshari experience, this is what you need to do.

This easily feeds 4-6 people. My tips for making this at home for the first time are the following:

  • This is a two day job if you’re working alone or a one day job if you have help. Just make the Duqqah in advance.

  • Remember not to drown your bowl in your salsa, as this isn’t pasta.

  • Everything that isn’t pasta or a grain is a condiment, so treat them as such. Add the salsa a little at a time and see if you want more.

  • If you love tomato sauce, go ahead and double the salsa recipe. It’ll keep in the freezer if you have any leftovers, and it is delicious on everything.

  • I have been told adding flour to the onion slices makes them crisp better. I myself haven’t tried this but I trust the people who have told me.

  • If you make your onion the day before and it softens overnight, just stick it in the oven for three minutes in a 180 degree oven and let the onion slices cool again in one layer.

  • You can do everything in advance, and make the rice and vermicelli thirty minutes before mealtime. Heat up the salsa and combine the rest at room temperature.

Hader Serour

Recipe (serves 4-6)

For the Duqqah

1 heaping tbsp crushed garlic

1 1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 1/2 tsp ground coriander seed

1/2 cup vinegar

3/4 cup water

Put all the ingredients in a jar and shake it. Make this at least a day in advance.

For the Salsa (tomato sauce)

1 tbsp olive oil

4 garlic cloves, crushed

4 cups (or 800 g) of tinned, crushed tomato

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 bay leaf

Over low heat, sauté the garlic in the olive oil until soft and fragrant. Add the crushed tomato, coriander, and bay leaf. Let the sauce simmer and thicken on the medium-low heat for at least half an hour. I like my tomato salsa thick, so I let it reduce until it looks like there is no water in it at all. Add the salt and vinegar. If you are somewhere (like Ireland) where the tomatoes are not naturally candy-sweet, trust me, this sauce needs a pinch of brown sugar.

Remove bay leaf and puree until smooth with a blender. (If you have an immersion/stick blender, it is handy.)

You can make this in a day in advance and reheat at mealtime.

For the Sheteita (hot sauce):

1 ½ tsp cayenne powder

2 tbsp liquid Duqqah (see above)

4 tbsp salsa (see above)

The magic third condiment that makes koshari a hundred times better. Place all the ingredients in a jar, and set aside.

For the fried onions:

1½ cups canola oil

4 small onions

Thinly slice four onions. Heat the oil in a deep frying pan or wok. Test the oil’s heat by placing one slice of onion in the oil. If it bubbles rapidly around the onion then the oil is ready. Add batches of the onion slices and fry until deep golden brown in colour. Let them rest on kitchen paper towels to soak up the extra oil. Leave them out to dry. Set the frying oil aside for further use.

You can make these a day in advance, just make sure that they are fully cool before you put them in a container.

Assembling the Koshari:

For the pasta:

1 cup small pasta (like macaroni or ditalini)

1 cup broken spaghetti

1 pot of water

2.1/2 tbsp salt

Bring a pot of water to boil, and add the salt. Add the pasta. You can cook the different pasta types separately or you can cook them in the same pot. Cooking them in the same pot can be easier if you buy pasta that has the cooking time clearly stated on the packages. If one pasta takes 12 minutes to cook and the other takes 10 minutes, add the first two minutes before the second. A timer is your friend here.

When the pasta is cooked, strain and rinse it with cold water to stop it from cooking further.

Note: If you are making this in advance, place it in a container and drizzle it with some oil. Cover the container and shake it about to make sure that the oil is evenly distributed.

For the lentils:

1 cup brown lentils

2 tbsp of oil (which can ben used for the oil used to fry the onions, see below)

9 cups water

½ tsp salt

Add oil, water, and lentils in a pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat down to medium and let it simmer for 30-40 minutes. After the first 20 minutes, add the salt and stir. You are looking for cooked lentils but ones that still hold their shape. Reserve the lentil cooking water for the rice and vermicelli.

For the rice and vermicelli:

2 tbsp of the onion frying oil, aka the oil leftover from frying the onions (see above)

1 cup vermicelli

2 cups white medium grain rice

1 ½ tsp salt

1 cup lentil water (see above)

3 ½ cups of additional water

Use the smallest hob on your stove for all of the following steps. In a pot, add the onion frying oil on medium heat. Add vermicelli and stir to coat in the hot oil until it is golden grown. Add the rice and stir to coat it in oil. Add lentil water, regular water, and salt. Stir one last time. Watch the pot and wit for the water to start bubbling. As soon as it does, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and bring the heat to low. Set a timer for 18 minutes. When the timer goes off, turn the heat off and do not uncover the rice. Let it continue steaming for a further five minutes.

For the chickpeas:

1-2 cups of chickpeas

I use tinned chickpeas because I am not a masochist. I advise you to do the same.

Serving the Koshari


In a large bowl, add the pasta, rice & vermicelli, and the lentils. Mix them together with tongs. Add one ladle of salsa to the top in the centre. Throw the chickpeas around the edge, and sprinkle a handful of the fried onions on the very top.

The liquid Duqqah, Sheteita, extra Salsa, and extra fried onions are on the table to be added to everyone’s taste.



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