Official Language(s): Arabic (Standard)
Some Other Languages Spoken: Bedawiyet, Domari, Kenzi, Nobiin, and Siwi
Ethnic Groups: Egyptian 99.6%, other 0.4%
Egyptian cuisine has been influenced throughout the country’s history, from Persians and Arabs to Greeks and the Ottomans. Great feasts and varying foods were depicted on tombs and temples by ancient Egyptians to later be discovered by modern day archaeologists. As evidenced by such depictions, bread has been a staple in Egyptian cuisine throughout it’s history. Though meats and fish are common, vegetable dishes are the most popular and utilize legumes, herbs, various leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, okra and eggplant. In addition to bread, rice is a common accompaniement and often takes center stage for special occasion dishes, such as Hamam Mahshy (rice stuffed pigeon).
Kushari is a vegetarian dish that has become a classic street food in Egypt. Loaded with inexpensive protein and carbs, it was also once considered a poor man’s meal, though now it’s often served in restaurants and frequently made at home by people from all social stratas. Kushari is a dish of layers: macaroni noodles are topped with rice and green lentils, followed by a garlic vinegar tomato sauce, and then garnished with crunchy fried onions. Flavor components vary greatly between recipes, from parsley to lemon to chili oil. Layers often vary as well. Traditionally, the noodles, rice and lentils formed one layer and would be added to the pot at differing times to cook properly. More recent recipes often call for each ingredient to be cooked separately to avoid timing issues. Grilled meats and side salads often accompany the dish.
4 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup long-grain or basmati rice
1 cup elbow macaroni pasta
9 cups water (divided)
1 cup dry green lentils
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 can (15 ounces) crushed or diced tomatoes
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2-3 teaspoons Kosher salt (or to taste)
1 tablespoon pepper vinegar
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
In a large skillet, add 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium high heat, fry onion and shallot stirring frequently, until brown and slightly crispy, about 10 minutes. Add red pepper flakes and then spoon into a separate dish and set aside.
Wipe out the same skillet with a clean towel and turn heat back to medium high. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and rice and stir to coat. Then add raw macaroni pasta and stir to coat. Add 4 cups water and bring to a low boil. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes until tender. Turn off heat and cover to keep warm.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium high heat, combine 4 cups water, lentils, and turmeric and boil until tender, about 40-45 minutes minutes. Drain and stir in 1 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon oil. Set aside.
In a small saucepan over medium high meat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, garlic, cumin, and cayenne. Fry for 2 seconds before adding the tomatoes, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ cup water. Do not scorch spices. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon pepper vinegar and stir. Turn off the heat and set aside.
To serve, pour the seasoned lentils over the rice and pasta mixture in the skillet. Create a well with a spoon or your clean hand, and pour the hot tomato sauce into the center of the well.
Sprinkle the crisp-brown onion and shallot over the top, followed by chopped parsley. Cut up wedges of lemon and serve on the side. A squirt of lemon brightens up the flavors.