Often called Egypt’s national dish, koshary began as street food for the country’s poor working class. A culinary mash-up inspired by the Indian rice-and-dal dish called khichri or kitchary and bolstered with pasta by homesick Italian-Egyptians, koshary is cheap, filling, and, most important, delicious.
And while cooking the rice, lentils, beans, and pasta can take time, if, like me, you’ve got a couple of those already cooked and the refrigerator, putting everything together goes much faster.
Cook the chickpeas earliest; they take the longest. My no-soak beans in the oven technique makes them easy, too. Combine about a half pound of chickpeas with at least 4 cups of water, a teaspoon of sea salt, and a few tablespoons of olive oil in an ovenproof dish. Cover them and cook at 250F for several hours, checking occasionally to make sure the beans are covered with water. Cooking time varies, but longer is better; the beans should be very tender but not mushy.
Cooking on the stove is a bit faster. Cover the beans (soaked or not) with a couple of inches of water, add salt, bring to a gentle boil, and simmer until tender, about 90 minutes.
The Sicilian lentils from Valdibella are probably most like Egyptian brown lentils, but any lentil that hasn’t had it’s outer hull removed (aka non-decorticated lentils such as French green or Pardina brown) will work. They don’t break down like the lentils used for dal.
Simmer a cup or so in salted water to cover for about 25 minutes or until tender; drain any excess water.
I cook rice the way the Italians, like pasta, using a big pot of boiling water and draining the rice once it’s done. If you like your rice cooker, or if you’ve mastered stovetop steaming, stick with it. For the Italian approach, boil a couple of quarts of water, add a pinch of salt, and pour in a cup of rice.
Brown rice is ready after 35 minutes at an active boil (eg, you see the water bubbling away), white rice takes about 9 minutes. You can taste the rice as it’s cooking, and if you like it softer or more al dente, adjust your time accordingly. When the rice is ready, drain off the water, cover the pot, and let it sit for 10 minutes.
Cook about a quarter pound of pasta, preferably a short shape like the trofie or rigatoni. Long pasta like spaghetti is fine, but break it up into shorter pieces before you cook it.
To make the sauce, chop a shallot or two (onions are fine, but shallots brown more quickly). Cook them in olive oil with a pinch of salt over medium heat until nicely browned, then add a teaspoon of New York Shuk ras al hanout spice blend and cook for another minute.
Add about a cup of Kitchen Garden tomato sugo, reduce the heat, and let the sauce simmer for a few minutes. Then add about a cup and half each of the cooked chickpeas, lentils, rice, and pasta. Cook gently until heated through and serve in bowls.
For more dramatic presentation, heat the chickpeas, lentils, rice, and pasta separately. Arrange them on a serving platter with the tomato sauce and let everybody mix their own bowl of koshary.