Okay, so I’ve been reading this book, “Dark Star Safari,” by Paul Theroux.
He’s one of my favorite travel writers because he goes to these out of the way places and has these wild experiences — such as kayaking from island to island in Polynesia (“The Happy Isles of Oceania”) or taking a train ride across China and Mongolia (“Riding the Iron Rooster”).
Theroux is such a skilled writer that he doesn’t need to rely on photos to bring the places alive. They aren’t traditional travelogues that describe only what tourists go to see, but instead focus on the everyday lives of the people who live in these exotic locales.
This book, which he wrote in 2002, chronicles his adventures traveling overland down the African continent, from Cairo to Cape Town. I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s terrific.
One of the things that struck me was Theroux’s description of Egyptian street life in Cairo and other cities. On every corner, he writes, a street food called Koshari (or koshary, kosheri, kushari or كشرى ) can be found.
Koshari is a mixture of lentils and rice that are cooked together, topped with a spicy tomato sauce and fried onions. Although it’s usually vegetarian, sometimes meat is added in the form of sharwarma, or fried liver.
Originally a Moorish dish, koshari evolved as an “end of the month” dish that was consumed by workers in labor camps. People would gather together all the odds and ends they had left over and create a shared dish that could be prepared and enjoyed communally.
It’s now the national dish of Egypt and is available on practically every street corner, marketplace and stall in cities and towns throughout the country, according to Theroux.
That reminded me of Red Beans and Rice, which started out as a New Orleans Monday morning stew made with whatever was leftover from the weekend’s more formal dinners.
Anyway, I knew instantly I had to make it, especially since my cupboard has been overflowing with half-packages of rice and lentils, tins of tomato sauce and other odds and ends.
In fact, I already had everything on this recipe’s long list of ingredients with the exception of cardamom. So I simply substituted curry powder for the Bahārāt, which is Arabic for “spice mix”.
I subsequently discovered that my local supermarket carries a Garam Masala seasoning powder (hooray for multi-culturalism!), which has practically the same ingredients as Bahārāt. I will be using that next time.
As it turns out Koshari is quite simple to make, but is one of those “use every pot and pan you have” dishes that is something of a chore to clean up after.
Having never made it before, I toned down the spices, especially the red pepper flake, because I wasn’t sure how strongly flavored it would be. It’s taste was delicious, but next time, I plan on bringing the bold, forward flavors this dish on full force.
2 TBS olive oil
1 cup Medium Grain Rice
1 cup Brown Lentils
2 cups Macaroni, dry
2 cups Vegetable Stock
1 Garlic Clove, quartered
1 tsp Cumin
1 Bay Leaf
½ tsp Salt
2 TBS Olive Oil
2 large Onions, thinly sliced
Sea Salt to taste
For the Spicy Tomato Sauce
2 TBS Olive Oil
1 small Onion, diced finely
2 Garlic Cloves, finely minced
15 oz can Tomato Sauce
2 tsp Bahārāt spice mix (or Garam Masala or curry powder)
¼ tsp Red Chile Flakes
1 TBS Red Wine Vinegar
Sea Salt & Fresh Cracked Black Pepper to taste
For the Crispy Onion Garnish
2 Onions, finely sliced
Oil for deep-frying
15 oz can Garbanzo Beans
- Heat 2 TBS of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the rice and fry it for 2 minutes, then add the vegetable stock. Bring it to a boil, decrease the heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until the rice is cooked.
- Rinse the lentils under cold water and add them to another medium saucepan with 2 cups of water. Add the garlic, cumin and bay leaf and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Once cooked, add the salt and stir to combine. Strain any excess liquid if necessary.
- Cook the macaroni according to package instructions until al dente. (Note: Prepare the rice, macaroni and lentils while the sauce is simmering and leave them covered in the pots to keep warm.)
- To make sauce, heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and add the onion. Cook until soft and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until golden brown. Add the tomato sauce, Bahārāt, salt and pepper to taste, chile flakes and red wine vinegar. Bring it to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- To make the crispy onions, heat the oil in a skillet. Add the onions and fry until dark brown. Using a slotted spoon, remove them from the oil and place them on paper towels to drain and cool.
- Add the rice, lentils and macaroni to a large bowl and toss to combine. Sprinkle a little Bahārāt over each portion and serve topped with some of the spicy tomato sauce. Top with garbanzo beans, the crispy onions and another sprinkle of Bahārāt. Serve warm.
Here’s the recipe for Bahārāt if you want to try making it yourself. You also can find premade Bahārāt at stores that feature Arabic foods.
Makes about 3/4 cup
2 TBS Black Peppercorns
2 TBS Coriander Seeds
2 TBS Cumin seeds
1 TBS Allspice berries
1 tsp Cardamom seeds
1/2 tsp Whole Cloves
4 (3-inch) Cassia or Cinnamon Sticks
2 TBS ground Sweet Paprika
1/2 tsp Nutmeg, freshly grated
Grind the whole spices using a mortar and pestle, spice mill, or coffee grinder. You may need to do it in several batches. Add the paprika and nutmeg and combine.
Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.