Friday, 25 May 2012

The Pyramids of Koshari

Koshari on the streets of Melbourne!

Walking in search of a quick bite to eat in downtown Melbourne one lunch time, we  found ourselves being led by the nose into a newly opened Egyptian eatery. We were greeted by the owner, an effusive gentleman speaking with a very strong yet attractive Arabic rhotic accent. The deep baritone rolling the Rs added to the ambience of the little place that replicated a roadside Cairo restaurant, as did the plastic flowers, vinyl table covers and hubbly bubbly sheesha hookas.

Nodding enthusiastically at my rather timid but hopeful query,” What’s that aroma? Is it something vegetarian?” he proceeded to describe the dish that was giving out the tantalising aroma.

“ This is Kosharrri…the national dish of Egypt… it is rrrice and macarrrroni and chickpeas and lentils and tomato sauce with cumin and garlic and maybe a hot hot sauce with more garrrlic and chilli…you like chilli, eh-  you Indian? Raj Kapoor? Amitabacchan? Hahhaa! I know, see?… and frried onions... I make frrresh frrresh for you!” The singsong intonation continued, but I suddenly started worrying about what kind of a dish he was talking about. Even in my most zealous ‘let’s clean the fridge and finish all leftovers, there are starving people in India and here we are wasting so much food’ I had not dared to mix such disparate things together and present them with so much aplomb!

But hunger and curiosity both fuelled by the appetising smells, got the better of us and after my routine tick and flick check on ‘no meat or chicken stock, no fish sauce, use fresh pan, no contamination for religious reasons (this one works for sure)’, we succumbed to his very hospitable offer to sit down and wait for him to fix us a portion each of the mysterious dish that smelt so good.  

Bursting with curiosity and as is our wont with anything new, we googled ‘Koshari’ on our phones to discover that it was a national dish of Egypt, very traditional and popular, that is was a fast food, a street food, very cheap and filling and even read a theory that the Koshari could possibly be a cousin of the Indian khichdi introduced to Egypt by British troops in the early 20th century - that makes sense, khichdi= hotchpotch= koshari! ………but then where does it leave the claim that the Koshari is a traditional Egyptian dish?

When the plates arrived, heaped like little pyramids with stuff covered with tomato sauce and crispy onions, the mystery (and apprehension) deepened… but once we began our dig and excavated the mound, we realised it tasted every bit as delicious as it smelt! The variety of textures, the chewy pasta, the fluffy rice, the perfectly salted and floury chickpeas and the thick skinned soft centred lentils set teeth and tongue to task. The tangy and garlicky tomato sauce drugged with cumin facilitated the movement of the hotchpotch around the mouth and the crunchy fried onion sent star bursts of taste in between. The hot sauce, of which we had dared take only a little, was most remarkable in its taste and heat of capsaicin.  

We just loved this dish koshari! And like all the dishes we love, I had to make this at home. So here it is…

Koshari is served as a mixture of the cooked ingredients smothered in the tomato sauce and topped with crispy fried onions. I have assembled the ingredients in this fashion to show them (off!)   :)

1 cup brown lentils (sabut or whole masoor) (soaked for 5-6 hours, cooked with salt until soft, excess liquid drained)
1 cup chickpeas soaked and cooked as above or 2 cans chicpeas (drain the brine)
1 cup long grain rice (cooked with a little salt)
1 cup macaroni (or any short pasta) cooked al dente as per package instructions
3 large onions, sliced into thin rings and fried in oil until crisp and brown

For the sauce

2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 teaspoons white vinegar
5-6 large cloves garlic (or more), crushed
1 heaped teaspoon roasted and ground cumin
1 teaspoon roasted and ground coriander (optional)
2 cups tomato paste (I used crushed tomatoes with seeds and blitzed them, so the colour wasn’t that great!)
Water to cook/dilute
5-6 dry red chilies (or more), seeds removed, roasted and ground into a powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1-2 teaspoons sugar to taste (optional)
Salt to taste
Chopped coriander or flat leaf parsley to garnish


Sauté the chopped onions in the olive oil and add the vinegar to keep the onions crunchy. Add the garlic and sauté more. Add tomato paste or pureed tomatoes and some water to adjust to a flowing consistency and allowing for some reduction. Add the cumin powder, coriander powder (optional), prepared chili powder, pepper, salt and sugar (optional). Adjust the taste to your liking. The sauce should be really spicy and served hot.

Combine the cooked rice, lentils, chickpeas and macaroni in a large pot or in individual portions. Cover with the hot sauce and sprinkle generously with the crunchy fried onions and chopped coriander.

Serve as a snack, a main meal or even as breakfast as the Egyptians do!



  1. Will this dish be good for summer warm evenings or wintry evenings?

    1. Good question! We were served with hot mounds of koshari, so I think hot will be better. But I can't see any reason why one can't eat it cold like a wild rice salad or tabouleh...

  2. Wonderful blog Shruti, your passion for cooking and sharing reflects in your beautifully prepared and presented dishes!

  3. Where in melbourne did you encounter koshari?

    1. Hello Anonymous! :)
      There used to be a little restaurant on Elizabeth Street in the city - very close to the Vic Market. The owner was from Egypt... sadly his restaurant did not do well... but I am sure there must be other Egyptian places in and around Melbourne.

  4. Hi there, would you mind copying the pic for koshari dish? thank a lot

  5. Hello Mohammed! Go ahead and use the photo- I am honoured that someone from Egypt should ask to use my photo! :) Please do credit it though! :)

  6. tomato paste? you mean tomato sauce


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