The national dish of Egypt, Koshari is one of many dishes enjoyed during the holy month of Ramadan.
Since I intend to visit the Middle East one day – specifically, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Turkey, Oman and the United Arab Emirates – it’s essential for me to learn about the culture and customs of the people before I travel to this part of the world. One of the most celebrated holidays in the Middle East and around the globe is Ramadan – the holy month of prayer, fasting, and of course, feasting on authentic Middle Eastern food to break the fast each evening.
Since I know little about Ramadan, I turned to my friend and colleague, Mahmoud Gebril of Osiris Tours. Mahmoud is Egyptian and moved to America in 2010. He lives in the Baltimore area but operates a tour company, organizing luxury trips to Egypt, Jordan and other countries in the Middle East. You can catch some of my writings on the Osiris blog.
For Mahmoud, Ramadan is all about worship, family, and of course, like holidays in any culture – FOOD. He makes more trips to the mosque during the holy month; sees his wife’s family in Philadelphia often since his family still lives in Egypt, and each night, breaks the fast with a large meal since the Muslim faith requires fasting from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan. Before dawn is “suhoor.” He prefers to eat light for this morning meal, so dates, yogurt, cheese and milk are what he likes before the sun rises. Then the fast begins.
I can’t imagine fasting every day for 29 or 30 days. When I asked Mahmoud about abstaining from food for more than 12 hours each day, he told me, “It is a bit hard, but I really enjoy it as it teaches you how to be patient, and the whole process supports self-control.” It does take an incredible amount of self-control to fast from sunrise to sundown for a month. But, each evening during Ramadan, Muslims partake in a satisfying meal with family and friends, and that gives them something to look forward to post-fast.
Every night after sunset prayers or the “maghrib,” the “ifta” or evening feast begins. Since liquids aren’t permitted during the fast either, starting with water to quench thirst before eating is common. Mahmoud and his family break the fast with traditional dishes like kabab, kofta, liver with spices, and Middle Eastern salad, as well as the popular street food and national dish of Egypt, known as Koshari (also Kushari and Koshary). This high-carb, high-protein dish can be found in eateries and kitchens all over Egypt and other parts of the world, such as in London. Koshari is even featured in restaurants in the United States, like this one in New York City.
May 15 or 16 marks the beginning of Ramadan in 2018. The holiday will end the evening of June 14 with a celebration of food and family or EID al-Fitr, which lasts through June 15.
We don’t have to be Muslim to partake in all the delicious foods served at Ramadan. Hummus is one of the most popular dishes from this area of the world, as are falafel, tabbouleh and baba ghanoush. I’ve tasted all these dishes, and I’m very curious about Koshari. Mahmoud was kind enough to share his wife’s recipe, which I’m passing along to you. Many thanks to Mona for the Koshari recipe. Ramadan Kareem!
2 tbs olive oil
2 cups vegetable stock
1 garlic clove, quartered
1 tsp cumin
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon salt
Salt to taste
For the Sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced finely
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 (15 oz) can unseasoned tomato sauce (cooked/pureed tomatoes)
2 tsp baharat spice blend (recipe here)
¼ teaspoon red chile flakes (omit if you dislike spicy hot)
1 tbs red wine vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste
Crispy Onion Garnish:
2 large onions, finely sliced
Oil for deep-frying
1 (15 oz) can garbanzo beans
Heat 2 tablespoons 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.
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, baharat, salt and pepper to taste, chile flakes (if using) and red wine vinegar. Bring it to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
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 (or simply scoop out desired amounts of each onto the plates). Sprinkle a little baharat over each portion and serve topped with some of the spicy tomato sauce. Top with garbanzo beans, the crispy onions and another sprinkle of baharat. Serve warm.