Archive for February, 2010

Egyptian takeout

I started a new job a little over a month ago, and with less time for cooking, I have been relegated to picking up soup almost every day from Milk Street Cafe, conveniently located across the street from my office. At first it was a treat, buying lunch every day, but as I’m adapting to my job, enough is enough. I like to know what’s in my food and I like my way of spicing things. And I like spice!

My lunch requirements are pretty simple. Warm (especially these days). Filling. A good mix of protein and carbs. But not too heavy to leave me sleepy.

This weekend, I finally recreated the koshary that I tried in Egypt about 2 months ago, and have found it to be a perfect pack-up-and-go lunch of comfort. This makes sense because koshary is a very inexpensive, ubiquitous, vegetarian street food. To get authentic koshary, I asked my tour guide to take me to one of the hole-in-the-wall koshary establishments. She suggested that the driver pick some up for me while I was at the Egypt museum, but I insisted on going to pick it up myself. Little did my tour guide know that I was hoping to ask for the recipe.

After the museum, I hopped back into the tour bus and reminded my tour guide that I wanted to get koshary. “Are you sure you really want to get it yourself?” she asked. Again. I tried to explain that I like cooking and wanted to take pictures as the driver left the main highway and turned onto narrower and narrower streets lined with parked cars and pedestrians. Eventually the driver pulled over onto the sidewalk and the tour guide walked me past the takeout window and into the restaurant.

The tour guide led me into the small restaurant lined wall-to-wall with customers. We joined the line in front of the register and I paid 5 Egyptian pounds (less than a dollar) for my lunch. I took my ticket about 6 feet over to the right to the cooking and serving station and picked up my lunch. I then asked the tour guide to help me inquire about the recipe. But she just wanted to get out and continue on our tour. So, I settled for a few pictures and left without my recipe. We were in and out in less than 5 minutes.

We hustled back to the bus and I settled down to eat my lunch.

The bus lurched to a start as I opened up the packages. The larger one contained pasta (a slightly bizarre mix of short spaghetti, a lentil and tomato sauce (with a few chickpeas thrown in), and covered with fried onions. The smaller one  tasted like white vinegar with salt and pepper.

About 20 minutes later, and almost at the bottom of my koshary, we arrived at the pyramids at Giza.


This recipe is my attempt to recreate the koshary that I tried. Its not necessarily authentic but it tastes great. My adaptation eliminates chickpeas and fried onions tossed on top. But I  could not neglect the splash of vinegar at the end. This is great served fresh or packed up for lunch the next day. You do need to plan this recipe a bit in advance as the lentils need to be soaked for 8 hours before cooking.

– 1 C French (de Puy) lentils, uncooked

– 2-3 T olive oil

– 2 medium onions

– 2 T cumin

– 1 T coriander

– 1-2 t cayenne pepper

– 2 t sumac

– 1 28-oz can chopped tomatoes

– short noodles, e.g., broken angel hair, macaroni, or ditalini

– white vinegar

Prepare lentils. Soak lentils 8-hours or overnight in more than enough water to cover. The water will turn a reddish brown. Drain and rinse, and then bring to a boil in a large pot of water. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Even though de Puy lentils are less likely than brown lentils to become mushy, you still don’t want to overcook.

Make sauce. Chop onions and saute in olive oil. Add spices and continue to cook until fragrant. Add tomatoes and simmer for 15 minutes, adding lentils after the first 5 minutes.

Boil. Make pasta according to the package directions.

Assemble dish. Fill bowl halfway with pasta and top with the same amount of lentil sauce. Toss on a splash of vinegar.

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