Koshari – Tom Sarafian – Dani Valent

Koshari – Tom Sarafian

The first time I made koshari, I loved it so much I wanted to marry it

Photo credit: Kristoffer Paulsen

I’m so happy to share another recipe by Tom Sarafian from Bar Saracen in Melbourne. Tom’s previous recipe was a very deluxe Hummus with Prawn and Crab. This time, he’s sharing a humble but heroic Egyptian classic that includes just about every carb known to man.

Koshari is Egypt’s national dish, popular as a street food and sold on every corner of downtown Cairo. It draws on influences from India and Italy but has evolved into its own unique blend of flavours to become an Egyptian favourite.

It’s a perfect, cheap, simple dish to cook at home using basic, accessible ingredients. Even though the components are humble, the combination is magical, as well as being amazingly filling.

Essay by an Anonymous Koshari Scholar

Koshari is as much a story as a meal…

We could tell you that its name is inspired by khichiri, an Indian stew of rice, lentils and onions served with hard-boiled egg. Or that its origins lie in the mid-19th century British colonial occupation of Egypt, whose soldiers lifted it from the bazaars of India. 

What about the inclusion of pasta? We could point to Egypt’s prominent Italian community, whose storied origins date back to Roman times – you may remember a certain Antony and Cleopatra, or to the traders and merchants of the Middle Ages or perhaps the Venetian presence in Egypt during the Renaissance, the Napoleonic era, and Mussolini’s invasion during World War Two. 

And today – we could tell you that koshari’s wild popularity among labourers and workers pushes roadside vendors to compete for the mantle of best koshari stand. Koshari isn’t just for the street: it’s a candidate for Egypt’s national dish (watch out ful medames), ensuring its ubiquitous appearance in home-cooking as well as in restaurants, both koshari specialists and on broader menus.

Do stories make food more delicious? Dedicated fans would tell you koshari is a dish for eating not intellectualising. It is soulful and emotional but that’s in the mouth as well as the narrative. But surely we’re allowed to theorise on food being its most interesting when it’s a reflection of our identity, and we’re allowed to ponder – and celebrate – the transformative effects of intersecting ethnicities and cultural crossroads that can make us feel at home anywhere … even with the merest whiff of a fragrance, the slightest hint of a particular spice or seasoning, the suggestion of familiarity lurking in the clamour of myriad clangs and the quietude of gentle hisses.

But why don’t we just tell you this. That for chef Tom Sarafian, whose Egyptian roots course through four generations of cooking, whose great-grandfather would cook this dish in his restaurant in Cairo, koshari is a quintessential go-to for its warming embrace in the cold, for the homeliness of its familiarity in isolation, for its comfort in summoning reminiscences, and for its beguiling capacity to conjure universal memories of faraway meals through a simple mix of staple ingredients.

Serves: 8
Time: 1 hour 30 minutes, plus overnight soaking

Ingredients

The lovely carbs

  • 100 grams (3.5 oz) dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
  • 200 grams (7 oz) brown lentils, soaked overnight
  • 200 grams (7 oz) short-grain rice, washed and drained
  • 200 grams (7 oz) vermicelli noodles
  • 100 grams (3.5 oz) macaroni

Tomato sauce

  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 60 ml / grams (2 oz) olive oil
  • 400 grams (14 oz)  tin chopped tomatoes
  • 50 grams (1.7 oz) tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds

Chilli sauce

  • 6 long red chillies
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 100 ml / grams (3.5 oz) olive oil
  • 200 ml / grams (7 oz) water

Crisp onion

  • 1 brown onion, finely sliced
  • 200 ml / grams (7 oz) vegetable oil

To serve

  • 4 eggs
  • 100 grams (3.5 oz) butter

Method

*This recipe is suitable for traditional and Thermomix cooks. Please note Thermomix alternative methods at steps 2 & 3.*

1. Drain soaked chickpeas, place in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil then turn down to a simmer and cook until soft all the way through. This will take at least an hour.

2. To make the tomato sauce, finely chop the garlic and fry in olive oil for 3 minutes or until just starting to turn golden. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, cumin and salt. Cook for 30 minutes on a low heat until rich and glossy. Set aside.

(To make the tomato sauce in a Thermomix, add garlic to mixing bowl and chop 2 sec/speed 8. Add oil and cook 3 min/100°C (212°F)/speed 1. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, cumin and salt. Cook 30 min/100°C (212°F)/speed 1. Set aside.)

3. For the chilli sauce, split chillies lengthwise, remove seeds and roughly chop. Finely chop garlic. Heat oil in a small saucepan. Add chillies, garlic and salt and fry for 5 minutes or until starting to brown. Add ground coriander and water. Cook for 10 minutes on medium heat until chillies are soft. Blitz until smooth and set aside.

(To make chilli sauce in a Thermomix, deseed chillies and place in mixing bowl with garlic. Chop 5 sec/speed 5. Scrape down. Add oil and salt and cook 5 min/100°C (212°F)/speed 1. Add coriander and water. Cook 10 min/100°C (212°F)/speed 1 then blitz 30 sec/speed 9. Set aside.)

4. In a large saucepan that will hold all ingredients, heat the vegetable oil until smoking and fry the onion slices until golden brown. Remove onion, drain on a paper towel and season with salt.

5. Using the same oil in the same pot, turn heat to low heat and fry vermicelli noodles until golden brown. Tip off about half the excess oil and discard. Drain the lentils and add them to the noodles, along with the rice and enough water to generously cover. Bring to boil and turn down to simmer for 30 minutes, checking occasionally to ensure it’s not sticking. Add extra water if mixture is drying out.

6. Cook the macaroni separately, in salted water, according to packet instructions. Drain and set aside.

7. For the eggs, bring 1 litre water to boil, gently place eggs in and cook for 7 minutes. Drain and place in iced water for 3 minutes to stop cooking. Peel and set aside.

8. Melt butter in a small pot, microwave or Thermomix, and pour into a large mixing bowl. Add the chickpeas, cooked macaroni and lentil mixture and stir to combine everything.

9. Place in serving bowls and top with tomato sauce, egg and fried onions. Serve with chilli sauce on the side.

Tips

  • If you forget to soak your chickpeas, you can simply simmer them for longer, or use a tin of chickpeas.
  • If you forget to soak your lentils, you can precook them for 15 minutes, or until almost cooked. You can also add tinned lentils along with the macaroni.
  • If you don’t have vermicelli, replace with broken spaghetti.
  • Use passata instead of tinned tomatoes if preferred.

Variations

  • Eggs aren’t traditional in all versions of koshari – Tom’s Armenian Egyptian tradition includes them.
  • If you don’t have vermicelli, replace with broken spaghetti.
  • Use passata instead of tinned tomatoes if preferred.
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