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Friday, February 6, 2009

Koshary for Dinner

Last night we visited friends for dinner. The meal served was Koshary, my absolute favorite Egyptian dish. You might see the English language spelling with a few variations but the pronunciation leads me choose k-o-s-h-a-r-y.

Koshary is a uniquely Egyptian dish served from carts in the street, at specialty restaurants and in almost every Egyptian home. It is a bit like chili in the United States. Everyone recognizes it. No two recipes are quite the same. And, the best version is the one we serve at our house.

Koshary is a vegetarian dish with a base of rice, lentils, pasta and chick peas. This combination is sometimes layered, sometimes mixed. It might be garnished with carrots or other vegetables. It always contains "some garlic" and "some onions." Crispy fried onions on top are a must. It is then served with a delicious tomato sauce. Here are a couple of other variations we have had in recent years:

This became a dish I wanted to be able to prepare myself. So in November, I picked up this cookbook in downtown Cairo at Lehnert & Landrock.

I gave it a try about a week ago. I had to wait until we had a few more cooking pots. The result was "OK" but not anywhere near great. I was pretty sure that the problem was in that "Basic tomato sauce" at the bottom of the left-hand page.

Something told me I'd find part of the answer here:

I needed more information -and I didn't think that the Internet was the place to look.

Linda happened to go next door to visit our neighbor early this week. As it turned out, the neighbor was preparing Koshary that evening. Linda confirmed that not only were red chili peppers essential, but I was also missing that critical ingredient in middle-eastern cooking, cumin. Later that afternoon, the neighbor's daughter showed up at our door with this bowl:

Notice the two containers of sauce. The one in the center is merely delicious. The one on the right is hot and delicious!

Last night we had that invitation back to Nasr City for Koshary with Mona and her son Moody. Moody's brother and sister joined us. Mona served up a large plate of Koshary for each of each of us. Two sauces. Linda took notes in the kitchen as Mona prepared a second batch of the hot sauce for us to bring home with the leftovers. Now we have our own secret family recipe.

Oh, and those leftovers that we brought back to the apartment. - Moody recalled the first time he had heard that word in Minnesota. I had told him we were having leftovers for dinner. He understood the words. - But what did it mean? How would it be different from "right overs" or even a "left under?" We all had a good laugh.

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