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A new Egypt and traditional kosheri

February 20, 2011


I usually keep a travel journal when I go to a new country but when I visited friends in Cairo, the total sensory overload meant that I barely had the energy to pick up a pen at the end of each day and anyway there was no way I could remember all of the extraordinary things that we saw and did.  However, it was all so vivid that some things are indelibly burnt on my brain.

Live is hectic and hard in this city but there is a frenetic human endeavour to squeeze something out of every patch of land, every space, every activity.  Homes are built on top of family crypts in graveyards, the smallest piece of land is cultivated – often with a cow grazing, tiny flats are painted in vibrant colours.

Lady at the door of her house

In the back of the guidebook I took with me I’d scribbled some notes:

  • Illegal brick works along the banks of the Nile
  • Colour amongst squalor
  • Brick-built dwellings that looked as though they teetered on the edge of collapse
  • Families washing pots and clothes in a tributary of the Nile. A naked young man dripping by the roadside.
  • Trucks in front of us overflowing with garlic – the scent permeating our car
  • A camel with a palm tree on his back, bent under the weight
  • A man strolling with a taxidermied fox tucked under each arm
  • A police escort to an outlying pyramid, then onto lunch where they waited for us.
  • Lush greenness giving way abruptly to harsh desert
  • Waving towering palms
  • Most cars have sagging or zero wing mirrors (due to the impossible driving)
  • Donkey carts vying with Mercedes
  • A dead horse in the canal
  • Duck sellers swinging the ducks round on strings to attract the attention of buyers
  • A balcony with a stuffed goat – its hooves up on the ledge with a stuffed kid peeking through the railings.

Houses in Egypt

The scale of antiquities is hard to comprehend.  I expected a few mummies in the museum but there were hundreds and this is probably the tip of the iceberg of what is in store.  It’s alarming to hear about the recent raids and I hope that the precious artefacts are preserved.  My first thoughts are with the Egyptian people and they deserve to have hope, stability and decent human rights.

Fruit and vegetable stalls

The recent events and ‘visiting’ Egypt through Foodalogue’s virtual trip around the world made me think back to our experience in Cairo in 2006 (before I had a digital camera!).  Amid this polluted city – where your lungs gasp at the amount of dust, traffic fumes and cigarette smoke – the fruit, vegetable and produce stalls glowed and gleamed with freshness.  Food is celebrated with the same gusto that Egyptians have for life.

Bread baking and fish stall

Baking bread in a clay oven and the fresh fish stall in Maadi

This week, I cooked one of Egypt’s most popular dishes to celebrate a better future for this amazing country.   Kosheri (or kusheri) uses very humble and inexpensive ingredients which are transformed into a feast.  It’s easy to make although there are a few stages involved – don’t stint on the fried onions.  You might also be interested in another traditional recipe ful mudammas which Joumana from Taste of Beirut made recently.


Kosheri (adapted from Ottolenghi – the cookbook) Printable version

Serves 4 very generously


300g green lentils
200g basmati rice
40g unsalted butter
50g vermicelli noodles, broken into 4cm pieces
400ml chicken stock or water*
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons salt (less if using a stock cube)
½ teaspoon black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 white onions, halved and thinly sliced

* I used a Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon stock cube to make the dish vegetarian (available in Dubai from Organic Foods and Cafe).

For the sauce
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 hot red chilies, seeded and finely diced
8 ripe tomatoes, chopped (I use tinned unless you can get really ripe ones)
370ml water (refill the tin of tomatoes)
4 tablespoons cider vinegar**
3 scant teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
20g coriander leaves, chopped

** Note for Dubai-ans: As cider vinegar is not in the shops, I use apple vinegar that I get from Organic Foods and Cafe.


1. First cook the lentils.  Place the lentils in a large sieve and wash them under a cold running tap. Transfer to a large saucepan, cover with plenty of cold water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 – 25 minutes (test at 15 minutes). The lentils should be tender, but far from mushy. Drain in a colander and leave to one side.

2. While the lentils are cooking, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan, add the onions and sauté over a medium heat for about 20 min, until dark brown. Transfer to kitchen paper to drain.

3. To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a pan (the one you fried the onions in), add the garlic and chillies and fry for 2 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, water, vinegar, salt and cumin. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, until slightly thickened. Remove the sauce from the heat, stir in the coriander and then taste. See if you want to add any salt, pepper or extra coriander. Keep hot, or leave to cool; both ways will work with the hot kosheri. Just remember to adjust the seasoning again when cold.

3. In a large bowl, cover the rice with cold water, wash and then drain well. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the raw vermicelli, stir and continue frying and stirring until the vermicelli turns golden brown. Add the drained rice and mix well until it is coated in the butter. Now add the stock or water, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, cover and then reduce the heat to a minimum and simmer for 12 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the lid, cover the pan with a clean tea towel and put the lid back on. Leave like that for about 5 minutes; this helps to make the rice light and fluffy.

4. To serve, lightly break up the rice with a fork, and then add the lentils, and most of the onions, reserving a few for garnish. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. Pile the rice high on a serving platter and top with the remaining onions. Serve hot, with the tomato sauce.  This also goes well with a cucumber, tomato and yoghurt salad.

I ‘visited’ Egypt as part of Foodalogues’ Culinary Tour around the world.  Joan has taken us to Panama, Alaska, Turkey, Japan, Thailand and next we are off to Nigeria. Foodalogue has a delicious round-up of other recipes inspired by this virtual trip.

Tickets and books from Egypt

  1. February 20, 2011 7:03 pm

    Your koshari is the most stylish one I have seen to date! Thanks to you I will have a great recipe to cook from. I am excited for Egypt but know the road to democracy will be a long one.

    • February 20, 2011 7:14 pm

      Thanks Joumana – yes it’s been so long without it. Just realised I meant to mention The Yacoubian building in the post.

  2. February 20, 2011 7:08 pm

    What a powerful and insightful post! Thank you so much for bringing this to us.

    Your kosheri dish is beautifully presented.

  3. February 20, 2011 7:19 pm

    Looks like a very interesting and flavorful recipe – I love chilis in rice recipes. Your pictures are also amazing. Thanks for the post!

  4. February 20, 2011 11:04 pm

    Sally: What a great recipe and the presentation. It just looks like you can grab a fork and dig right in. At least you were there…I only dream…

    See you in Nigeria!

  5. February 20, 2011 11:54 pm

    I like your idea of a travel journal. Your photos of Egypt are great and reminds me of my travels there- I too was shocked and apprehensive about no wing mirrors!

  6. February 21, 2011 12:58 am

    Definitely need to get myself to Egypt. Great photos and fascinating way to peek into your travel journal. A classic, wonderful, healthy dish!

    • February 21, 2011 6:59 am

      I didn’t include any pictures of the incredible artifacts, monuments, pyramids, citadel etc. as they are well documented. They are amazing and I would recommend a visit to Egypt any day.

  7. February 21, 2011 1:38 am

    I loved this recipe, although I was lazy and made it without the red sauce. The mix of spices in it was divine. Thanks for the fascinating photos, Sally – as you say, I hope the country recovers soon from its recent turmoil…

    • February 21, 2011 6:57 am

      The tomato sauce was very easy and we’re spice addicts.

  8. February 21, 2011 7:33 am

    looks yum… thanks for that lovely tour.

  9. February 21, 2011 9:09 am

    Lovely post Sally, took me right back to Egypt. The people were delightful, and deserve peace and prosperity………and your Kosheri looks fab!

  10. February 21, 2011 9:24 am

    YUMMMM! I want want want!! Please send some over… 😉

  11. February 21, 2011 10:11 am

    wow – you saw a much more beautiful Cairo than I did. Where are all those shots from? And thanks for the Kosheri – I’ve been meaning to make some for ages!

  12. February 21, 2011 11:59 am

    I visited Egypt when I was young but can’t recollect much so we had all plans to set off to Egypt this Feb, but you know what happened and we had to cancel plans. 🙂 I love Kosheri and yours looks great!

  13. February 21, 2011 12:06 pm

    I love all the pictures of Egypt that you have shared in your post.I went to Egypt 4 years back and tasted Kosheri first there.I love the mix of macaroni and rice together a lot in this dish.Looks great.

  14. February 21, 2011 1:53 pm

    What a splendid dish! Very flavorful.

    Thanks for sharing those wonderful pictures of Egypt with us.



  15. February 21, 2011 5:02 pm

    Sally! What lovely memories you bring back with these pictures. I lived in Cairo for a few years (a long time ago) and so am watching as things unveil in the country with great interest. Loving your Kosheri too – Ottolenghi does make a fantastic version!

  16. February 22, 2011 12:38 am

    Although Cairo is a polluted city with its scenes of poor/homeless people on the streets, there’s something about the city that I loved so much when I went there. I think it’s because it’s a depiction of what life is? The city itself shows you so many walks of life all in one cramped city. It’s beautiful in its own unique way.

    I love kushari and can eat it one a week, every week! Your photos are lovely and as usual, a great write up. Loved reading about Cairo through your words.

  17. February 22, 2011 1:29 am

    Beautiful photos and a delicious dish!

  18. TareX permalink
    February 22, 2011 6:12 pm

    18 years in Egypt and I haven’t seen such a gorgeous looking Koshari dish; you have some serious photographing skills 🙂 Haven’t had a decent dish of Koshari ever since I left… (except for one homemade one)

    • February 22, 2011 6:21 pm

      What a lovely comment Tarex – thank you.

  19. February 22, 2011 11:07 pm

    this looks so lovely and very comforting:) thanks for sharing this.

  20. February 23, 2011 9:32 am

    We almost got there last year. We will get there and my heart was there with yours. I hadn’t visited the museums, but I know what is there and I hope the people protect it. There is a long road ahead. For sure. You have painted such a poignant picture of the country through your time there. I love this chef and though I have no frame of reference for this mix of exotic flavours all in one dish, I am absolutely eager to try it. I was thrilled to see you in Joan’s round up!

  21. February 23, 2011 10:22 pm

    What a delightful dish and story. Lovely photos and post! Thank you for sharing your recipe.

  22. Anna permalink
    February 24, 2011 12:01 am

    So, just to be clear…you fry the raw vermicelli, then boil it with the rice?…

    • February 24, 2011 9:50 am

      Yes – exactly. Anna you would love this recipe. Don’t stint on the onions – pile on the tomato sauce.

  23. February 24, 2011 12:15 am

    I just put a kushari post recently as well! Thanks so much for this post…I’m Egyptian and I truly appreciate it 🙂

  24. February 24, 2011 1:04 am

    What a lovely post and beautiful dish. Your photos make me want to visit there someday! I especially enjoyed the notes you had jotted down, such sites indeed- a man with a stuffed fox, colors, lush green to desert- I can picture it all!

  25. February 24, 2011 9:17 pm

    Ciao Sally! I love your pics, especially the one with the madam and the graffiti all around the door. Your recipe is fantastic, what I like most are rice & vermicelli together, I see feeling between them 😉 Hope we’ll not loose each other at the end of the tour! bye

  26. February 25, 2011 5:26 am

    Awsome photos you must have had one hell of an analogue camera 🙂
    And yes, kosheri is a really delightful dish. Did you eat it while in Egypt? Unfortunately I never came across it, I had to wait for our coulinary tour to explore this lovely vegetarian dish 🙂

  27. February 25, 2011 7:29 am

    A strong post indeed.

    The Kosheri looks and sound marvelous. I love Ottolenghi, all the recipes are so full of flavors.

  28. February 25, 2011 2:12 pm

    Che meraviglia qui! Un abbraccio e complimenti!

  29. February 25, 2011 8:08 pm

    That’s a beautiful dish. I just made a jar of vegetable stock concentrate this morning…yay! Glad you visited Egypt when you did. The turn of events in the region are quite unnerving.

  30. February 26, 2011 2:09 pm

    What a great recipe – I love the photos and the connections and the way the onions transform………to deliciousness. Great job Sally

  31. February 26, 2011 2:50 pm

    What a beautiful site! Lovely fotos
    Ι’ am glad i found you 🙂

  32. February 27, 2011 12:19 am

    Lovely post which brought back many memories of my time in Egypt – your notes were especially great. So wished I’d kept a journal while I was there. I was living in Alexandria and only went to Cairo for a week, but we were so impressed with the kosheri we ate it nearly every night. Note to self – make kosheri soon!

    • February 27, 2011 12:24 pm

      Hi Choclette, Note to self: must visit Alexandria! I wish I’d kept a journal when I lived in Saudi Arabia.

  33. February 27, 2011 12:35 pm

    Wow Sally, your list of notes produces an amazingly vivid image of your journey.


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