Anissa Helou, the Middle Eastern cookery writer, invited me a few weeks back to taste her Egyptian dish of koshari. I knew nothing about this delicious dish but I was happy to try it as I am endlessly curious about adding new Middle Eastern recipes to my repertoire. Anissa is opening a takeaway called Koshari Street (kosharistreet.com) serving only this rice dish in London's St Martin's Lane in early April – and if the koshari is as good as the one she made for me, it's going to be a big hit.
I loved the combination of the dried pasta, pulses and rice all topped with a zingy tomato and chilli sauce. Anissa also uses her own secret spiced nut recipe scattered f over the koshari, but I've been sworn to secrecy on the recipe; if you want to taste it you will have to visit Anissa's shop.
For the tomato sauce
3tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, peeled, halved and very finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
250g good-quality chopped canned tomatoes with their juice
2tsp verjuice or vinegar
¼tsp finely-ground black pepper
¼tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
For the koshari
8tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 medium white onions, peeled, thinly sliced
60-70g vermicelli, broken into pieces
100g brown or puy lentils, soaked for an hour in cold water
150g basmati rice, rinsed
120g cooked weight of chickpeas (dried or canned)
60g mini macaroni or similar, cooked
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
First, make the tomato sauce. Put the oil and chopped onion in a saucepan and gently f cook over a medium heat until golden. Stir in the garlic and cook for a couple more minutes, then add the tomatoes, vinegar and spices. Simmer for 10-20 minutes or until thickened. Blend the sauce in a liquidiser until smooth and keep warm.
While the tomato sauce is cooking, start preparing the koshari.
Put the olive oil in a frying pan and place over a medium heat.
Add the onions and fry, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and spread on to paper towels to drain off the excess oil.
Add the vermicelli to the oil and sauté until lightly browned, then put to one side.
Put the lentils in a saucepan with about five cups of water.
Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 15-30 minutes, depending on the type of lentils you are using. They should be quite tender by the time you add the rice.
Add the rice to the lentils. Simmer for another 10 minutes and stir in the vermicelli and the remaining oil; add salt to taste.
Wrap the lid of the pan with a clean kitchen towel, add the macaroni and chickpeas, place the lid back over the pan and remove from the heat.
Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes or until the vermicelli is tender and the liquid has been fully absorbed.
Stir in half the fried onion and reserve the other half for garnish. Use a fork to stir the rice so that you fluff it up at the same time.
Transfer the koshari to a serving dish, then ladle the sauce all over and scatter the remaining caramelised onion over the sauce. Serve hot.
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