Koshari is a classic Egyptian dish, a rice and lentil pilaf with macaroni, tomato sauce, and caramelized onions. My recipe will give you a step by step guide to perfecting this showstopper of a dish, with the simplest process you could follow! I have the perfect hack for the tomato sauce, using canned tomato sauce and an easy method that still gives you that deep flavor.
What is the history of Egyptian koshari (or koshary)?
Koshari (also spelled Kushari or Koshary) is a popular Egyptian dish that originated in the 19th century. At the time it was commonly consumed by laborers since it is a nutritious meal that doesn’t cost a lot to make and is rich in vegetarian protein.
Koshary is a vegetarian (and vegan) dish that’s filling and hearty because of all the different components.
It’s made with a mixture of rice, lentils, chickpeas, macaroni, and fried onions, all topped with a richly flavored tomato sauce and served with a tangy cumin dressing.
Koshary is often served with a side of garlic and chili sauce, and it is a staple food in Egypt, commonly found at street food stalls and in local restaurants.
It’s made its way around the Middle East and is hugely popular in almost any Arabic household!
What’s so good about koshari ?
- The combination of flavors: Koshary is a flavorful dish that combines a variety of ingredients like rice, lentils, chickpeas, macaroni, and fried onions. Each component brings a different texture and taste to the dish.
- It’s a vegetarian/vegan dish: this dish is hearty and filling, making it a great option for those who are looking for meatless meal options.
- Even though it’s vegetarian, the lentils and chickpeas provide protein and fiber. The rice and macaroni offer carbohydrates that will keep you feeling full.
- It’s affordable: This is an inexpensive dish that is widely available in Egypt and other parts of the world. It’s a great option for people who are budgeting but still want to enjoy a delicious meal.
- Using my recipe, It’s easy to make. Although several steps are involved, they are each simple and can easily be prepared at home using basic ingredients.
Vegetable Oil: It’s best to use vegetable oil not olive oil while frying the onions. You’ll go up to a high heat in order to achieve that caramelized brown color.
Onions: I’d recommend white or yellow onions (not red onions). I find these caramelize the best.
Flour: A sprinkle of flour coats the onions and adds some crispiness.
Tomato Paste and Tomato Sauce: The easiest way to make the classic accompanying tomato sauce without using fresh tomatoes. A lot of recipes will blanch and peel tomatoes, then boil them to make the sauce. Using canned tomato sauce and tomato paste is SO much easier, and still gives you that flavor.
Spices: For the tomato sauce as well as the rest of the dish
White Vinegar: This adds a hint of tanginess to the tomato sauce.
Vermicelli: You’ll cook this with the rice
Egyptian rice: calrose or short grain rice (some consider it medium grain). You can also use basmati rice, and adjust the water accordingly. However, the classic way to make this Egyptian dish is with Egyptian rice!
Brown or Green lentils: Don’t use the orange (red/yellow) lentils for this!
Elbow pasta: Or any small tubular pasta, pasta is a classic topping for the koshari.
Chickpeas: Drained canned chickpeas are another staple topping. You can leave them out, but they are delicious in this!
You’ll also need lemon juice and red chili flakes to make the accompanying cumin sauce.
How to make an easy koshari:
- Prep the recipe by soaking the lentils in water for at least an hour, and preparing the pasta according to package directions.
- Toss the onion slices with flour. Heat the oil in a deep skillet over medium high heat. Once very hot, add the onions, and caramelize, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown. This could take a while, 15-20 minutes. Scoop out the caramelized onions but KEEP THE ONION OIL! This is what we’ll use in the rest of the recipe.
- Make the tomato sauce by heating some onion oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and spices, and saute for a minute until fragrant. Add the tomato paste and tomato sauce, stir then simmer for 5 minutes.
- Rinse the rice, then heat some onion oil. Toast vermicelli over medium heat until golden brown, then add the rinsed rice, drained lentils, and the spices and toast for a minute or so.
- Add hot water until rice and lentils are just submerged by a couple centimeters (1/2 inch). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes or until all the water is absorbed.
- Assemble by layering a generous sized serving platter with the rice and lentil mix. Top with the cooked pasta, 1/2 the tomato sauce, the chickpeas, and the crispy onions.
- Serve with extra tomato sauce, and stir together all the ingredients for the cumin sauce and serve with that as well.
To caramelize the onions:
To make the lentils and rice:
Assembling the koshari:
Storing leftover koshari:
I like this dish immediately after cooking, but if you have leftovers, they’ll last 4-5 days in the refrigerator tightly covered.
What to serve koshari with:
Serve the koshari with extra tomato sauce, extra caramelized onions, and the cumin sauce you make. This is great with a simple side salad, or a scoop of plain yogurt.
- You can make the tomato sauce spicier by adding red pepper flakes or diced green chili peppers.
- You can top with different types of pasta, like spaghetti.
- You can add animal protein if you like, like shredded chicken, ground beef or shredded beef.
- Soak the lentils when you first start the recipe, so that they cook at the same time as the rice in the pilaf.
- Fry the onions until they are really golden brown and crispy-tossing them in flour also helps make them crispy.
- Season the tomato sauce well, and taste and adjust seasoning after it simmers. A flavorful tomato sauce is an essential part of koshary.
Koshari is both vegan and vegetarian, as the recipe naturally doesn’t contain any animal products.
Yes, but it’s best to store the tomato sauce separately, and the caramelized onions separately to maintain their crispiness. Assemble before serving.
It’s considered a healthy dish high in fiber and proteins, but it is also high in carbohydrates so may not be for those on a low carb diet.
Not at all! I just really like the tanginess it adds, but it’s completely optional.
For more vegetarian Middle Eastern classics:
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For the fried onions:
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 3 white or yellow onions, thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoon flour
For the tomato sauce:
- 2 tablespoon oil from frying onions
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 can tomato sauce 14.5 oz, 400g
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- pinch black pepper
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
For the rice and lentils:
- 3 tablespoon oil from frying onions
- 1 cup vermicelli 150g
- 2 cups Egyptian rice (Calrose or medium grain) 500g
- 1 cup brown or green lentils 200g
- 2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 3-4 cups hot water
For the cumin sauce:
- 1 cup hot water
- 2 crushed garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1 teaspoon coriander powder
- 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- juice of one lemon
- 2 cups uncooked elbow pasta or any small pasta
- 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed 14.5oz, 400g
- Soak lentils in hot water, for at least an hour while preparing the rest of the recipe.
- Boil pasta in salted water according to package directions. Drain, and drizzle with a little oil so they don't stick. Set aside.
For the onions:
- Toss the onion slices with flour. Heat the oil in a deep skillet over medium high heat. Once very hot, add the onions, and caramelize, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown. This could take a while, 15-20 minutes.
- Scoop onto a paper towel lined plate, and transfer the onion oil into a heat proof container, you'll use it in other steps!
For the tomato sauce:
- Heat the onion oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and spices, and saute for a minute until fragrant.
- Add the tomato paste, and stir. Add all the remaining tomato sauce ingredients, stir, and simmer for about 5 minutes on low until fragrant. Set aside.
For the rice and lentils:
- Rinse the rice over a colander until water runs clear.
- In a large saucepan, heat the onion oil on medium high heat. Add the vermicelli and toast until golden brown and fragrant, then add the rinsed rice, drained lentils, and the spices and toast for a minute or so.
- Add hot water until rice and lentils are just submerged by a couple centimeters (1/2 inch). Stir, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. If 10 minutes in the mixture seems to be drying out rapidly, add some more water (maximum 4 cups total)
- Remove from heat and let sit covered for 10 minutes with the lid on, then gently fluff the rice.
Make the cumin sauce:
- Mix together all the ingredients and place in serving container.
- Layer a generous sized serving platter with the rice and lentil mix. Top with the cooked pasta, 1/2 the tomato sauce, the chickpeas, and the crispy onions.
- Serve with the extra tomato sauce and the cumin sauce and enjoy!