Recipe of the Week: Koshari, the Egyptian Lasagna!

Waleed Alzuhair/Flickr Creative Commons
Not my koshari--someone else's

There's that old saying about doing as the Romans do when in Rome. But when you're in Cairo, don't mimic the Egyptians like you would the Romans--at least when it comes to eating street food. The number of food carts in the country's capital is as many as the warnings you'll receive from fellow Egyptians to dish your heart out elsewhere. The last time I visited Egypt, no matter how many words of vigilant caution I received from my aunts, uncles, cousins and cousins' wives, there was a type of street food my taste buds couldn't resist--koshari. Koshari is to Egyptians what mac 'n' cheese is to Americans, a household staple, minus the cheese, plus a whole bunch of other carbs.

It's an Egyptian lasagna, vegetarian style. A layer of elbow macaroni covers a bed of a soft lentil-and-rice mixture imbued with the salty-sweet flavor of fried onions. A cumin-and-garlic spiced tomato sauce drenches the two-tiered layer of carby goodness; the onions garnish the mound. Finally, chili-spiked vinegar seeps through the onions, across the sauce and down to the bottom, where it spices the last lentil and/or grain of rice. The vinegar's shocking tang elevates the mess of flavored layers underneath, with a red-hot zest that fires up the spiciest of peppers.

The next time you find yourself in the land of all things ancient and dusty, eat koshari wherever you may find it, even from a dingy street cart. It's harmless, I promise! But if you don't plan on traveling there, you can make koshari on your own per the recipe below, which is not as complicated as it seems. You won't find this recipe anywhere else; it's from the ultimate source of knowledge on authentic Egyptian cooking: an Egyptian mama ("mother" in Arabic--see? We're not that different from everyone else!) You can count on her to make Egyptian cuisine the hearty, delicious, and usually carb-ridden delight that it always is. Don't have one? Koshari will do in a pinch.

The recipe is sectioned off according to layers. It comes together at the end.


Two large, chopped onions
3-4 cups of water
1 cup small lentils
1 cup rice
1cup elbow macaroni
1 can tomato sauce
6 or 7 cloves of garlic
1.5 tsp cumin
1 tsp crushed red chili pepper (can increase to 1.5 depending on the level of spiciness you can handle).
1 cup vinegar


1. Fry the onions until browned. Take 1/2 of it out and set aside. Leave the other half in the pot. 
2. Pour 2 cups water over the potted onion, bring to boil until water turns brown. 
3. Rinse 1 cup lentils, pour it in the browned water and bring to boil for 5 minutes and simmer until lentils become semi-soft (about 20 minutes). 
4. Add new water to the lentils, then add rice to the lentil mixture.  Bring to boil for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Make sure there is 2 inches of water above mixture. Add salt to taste. Simmer until rice is cooked (about 20 minutes). 


1. Boil elbow macaroni in water. Drain when done. Set aside. 


1. Smash and fry 4 cloves of garlic in oil. When color turns gold, pour 1 large can of tomato sauce. Add 1.5 tsp cumin and salt to taste.


1. Smash 2-3 cloves of garlic. Add 1 cup of vinegar and 1 tsp crushed red chili pepper


1. Pour the rice/lentil mixture in a pan.
2. Cover with macaroni.
3. Add the tomato sauce
4. Garnish with the remaining fried onion.
5. And finally, pour the garlic-vinegar sauce on top.


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Carrion Fairy
Carrion Fairy

What is wrong with the street food in Egypt?

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

Some people are horrified by the idea of street food. When I went back to my hotel in Hong Kong munching on a charcoal-roasted yam I bought in some dark alley of Wanchai, the staff was absolutely horrified and warned me to only go to sit-down restaurants.

My rule for street food anywhere is to join a line. Popular street food stalls don't get popular by poisoning their customers.

D Cruz
D Cruz

Nothing at all. It's the most delish stuff ever.

Carrion Fairy
Carrion Fairy

Agreed, I have no bone with street food and its some of the best eats I've ever have while traveling in other countries but its perplexing to me that some locals are scared of it when a huge majority of them eat it... but I guess that's just like here with ignorant people calling the loncheras "roach coaches" and acting like dining in a hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint will give them HIV. Christ, that's annoying. I don't know why I thought it'd be any different anywhere else in the world.

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