Monday, May 2, 2011

Meatless Monday: Kushari - Egyptian Lentils and Rice

Kushari with my beloved Harissa beside it.

You spell Koshari, I spell Kushari.  It's spelled many different ways, but the memory of an evening spent in a toga was the inspiration for dinner tonight

Barely pinned into a toga, with braided hair and gold jewelry, boys in white sheaths and Nemes headresses, Kyle in a Shendyt we arrived along with a large platter of this fabulously simple meal to contribute to the end-of-school Egyptian dinner which culminated a year of studying ancient cultures.

Having not tried the finished product, I wasn't prepared for just how good it would be.  It's about as basic as it gets - lentils, rice, macaroni, tomato sauce, and fried shallots all layered together.  It's eaten all over Egypt and is the national dish with some restaurants specializing in this one meal.

I've had my lentils in my cabinet for months and I've been wanting to use them for a meatless Monday meal.  Lentil soup is really just boring and since it's warming up, I just can't get myself to make soup anymore, so that was out.  I've done bean cakes so that didn't seem very original.  Then I remembered this spectacular meal as I saw the brown basmati sitting there alongside the lentils.  I had whole grain pasta in my pantry of course along with the canned tomatoes, onions, garlic and shallots necessary.  It was all there.  I simply left off the garbanzo beans since they were still in their dry form.

With so many elements we were able to customize for each person.  Kyle and I are watching the simple carbs so we skipped the pasta. The sauce was a bit like a marinara and perfectly mild for the boys.  Then the harissa paste I bought a few weeks ago  offered the perfect spice to the finished product for Kyle and I.  (I have to admit as I type this, I'm salivating a bit just thinking about the tangy spicy paste...I think I'm addicted.)

CWYG Stats
Veggie Box - nothing

CWYG List Items - lentils, brown rice, pasta, onions, garlic, shallots, canned tomatoes, olive oil,
apple cider vinegar

Kushari - My Way
There's really not much of a recipe, but I'll offer what I did.  One thing to note, the sauce really should have a good dose of vinegar to make it more true to the Egyptian sauce but I totally forgot this fact and really missed the punch that it offered the first time I made it.  (The harissa added a little but it wasn't as good as that vinegary tomato sauce.)

2 shallots, peeled and very thinly sliced
canola oil for frying shallots
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp red pepper flakes or 1/2 tsp cayenne, optional
1 small onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes, pureed (or just use tomato sauce or puree if you have it on hand)
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1 cup green or brown lentils*, cooked in water or broth until tender (about 30 minutes)
2 cups brown rice, cooked (My favorite method for cooking)
8 oz small pasta, such as macaroni or pennette cooked according to package

1 1/2 cups chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained well, optional

Pour enough oil in a 1 qt saucepan to make about 1" deep.  Fry the shallots in batches until golden brown.  Drain on paper towels and salt well.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil then saute the onion until softened.  Add the garlic and saute for minute.  Add the chile flakes or powder then the tomatoes.  Cook for a couple of minutes, covered, to limit spattering.  Add the vinegar.  Cook for another minute, then taste.  Add more vinegar and salt until it tastes good to you.  (Unless you've actually had this in Egypt, you probably won't have a grid for what it's "supposed" to taste like, so go for balanced but tangy.)

You can either lay out all the elements and let every make their own, or simply layer the ingredients in this order:
  • rice
  • lentils
  • pasta
  • chickpeas, if using
  • sauce
  • shallots
 *Other colors may break down to much and become mush instead of being individual little "coins".

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