I like trying weird food. Of course, the definition of “weird” can be highly relative. Having grown up with standard American fare and a healthy dose of Italian tradition, things from cultures I’m not used to often strike me as unusual. All the more reason to give them a try, right?
That’s part of what prompted me to take a crack at koshari. The Forks Over Knives cookbook has a whole-grain, no-oil vegan version that caught my eye as I was perusing the for lentil recipes. I wouldn’t actually call it a lentil recipe, per se, because it balances the lentils with a healthy dose of rice and pasta. Rice, lentils and pasta? How could I resist three of my favorite comfort-type foods all in one dish? Apparently it’s Egyptian street food, and after having made it, I have to say I wish I could wander up to a food vendor around here and order something even half as interesting!
Because this dish uses three different things that need to be cooked separately before being added to a skillet at the end, I decided to make all three in advance, earlier in the day. That eliminated the problem of having to wash a million pots and pans the next morning and of trying to coordinate three different cooking times. I wound up having to use rotini instead of elbow noodles since there were no whole wheat elbows to be found around the house (a fact which I remedied during my next shopping trip). Shape doesn’t matter so much as taste, though, so it all worked out in the end.
Speaking of the end, that’s really where koshari comes together. You don’t have to do much of anything until it’s time to make the chunky, sauce-like topping for the lentils, rice and pasta. It’s incredibly simple, with just some garlic and onions, fresh tomato, tomato paste and spices. Discovering that I was also out of allspice, I scoured the Internet for a suitable replacement and wound up with a combination of ginger, cinnamon and cloves. For the tomatoes, I was lucky enough to still have a fresh, ripe one left from our garden. Given that I cooked this in early November, that was no small feat! (Can I get a “hooray” for cold storage?) All in all, it takes about a half an hour to cook the sauce, since you want the onions to be nicely browned and the tomatoes to release their juices and start cooking down.
Once all’s said and done, the last step is to mix everything together and serve it! I made green beans for a side, but a big salad would also be tasty. The flavor combination is very warming, reminiscent of some African stews that I’ve tried, with a hint of Moroccan flair. I had to add a bit more of the spice blend due to the fact that I keep forgetting one important thing about lentils: they need salt! I’ve never liked the taste of salted food, so I tend to go very light on it or omit it from recipes entirely. However, lentils always come out bland without it, something I need to keep in mind when cooking dishes like this.
Though koshari has a lot of delicious ingredients, many of which I eat separately in other dishes on a regular basis, I decided that it wasn’t one of my favorites. On the other hand, it’s far from bad. I can see making some and having it around to eat for lunch with some greens or to take along when I’m going somewhere that doesn’t have food I can eat. I think the one thing that it’s really lacking is a crunchy component to the texture. The lentils, rice and pasta are all on the soft side, and the sauce is thick enough that it only adds to that feel. Using leftover rice rather than freshly cooked might help give it a bit of chewiness; I’d have to try it. Overall, if you like comfort food, I’d say give koshari a try and let me know what you think!
What flavor(s) seem strange to you, and have you been adventurous enough to try them?