Lentils are cooked with spices in many ways in the Middle East; with koushari, two important staples come together in this traditional dish, served hot or cold, offering a satisfying, vegetarian option that can stand alone or accompany a succulent, spiced meat dish.
Most simply, koushari consists of brown lentils and long grain rice, generously topped with fried onions. Macaroni/pasta, chickpeas and a spiced tomato sauce layered on the rice with lentils provide interesting variations.
Because the lentils offer a substantial protein source, this dish supplies a balanced nutritional component that makes it a worthy vegetarian meal. The cinnamon and cumin infuse savory, aromatic flavor accommodating to the palette, but also serve as rich sources of iron and digestive enzymes. In essence, Egyptian koushari is a complete package providing carbohydrates, protein and vital nutrients.
1 ½ cups brown lentils (soaked overnight in water or two hours minimum)
2 large onions
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ cups long-grain rice (basmati or jasmine)
salt and ground black pepper
flat-leaf parsley and chives, to garnish
1. Drain the soaked lentils, now softened, and place in a large pan. Add enough water to cover the lentils by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, covering the pan and allowing to simmer for 40 minutes to 1 ½ hours, depending on the lentils’ softness, or until tender. Drain thoroughly.
2. Finely chop one onion, slice the other onion. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a pan, then add the chopped onion and sauté until soft and browned. Add the lentils, salt, pepper, cumin and cinnamon. Stir to thoroughly mix.
3. Measure out the rice and add it to an equal amount of water to the lentil mixture. Bring to a slight boil, cover and simmer for approximately 20 minutes, until both the rice grains and lentils are tender. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan and cook the sliced onion until very dark brown. Pour the rice mixture into a serving bowl, generously top with the fried onion and serve hot or cold, garnished with fresh flat-leaf parsley and chives to be eaten fresh with the rice and lentil dish.
Optional additions to this rice dish include pasta noodles, chickpeas cooked to a softened texture, usually requiring more simmering time than the lentils, or pre-cooked canned chickpeas. A spicy tomato sauce compares to traditional pasta sauce, and can be added to the fried onions before serving or separately.
Clearly, the versatility and flavor of this dish has served the Egyptian people well, making it one of the most time-honored ancient Egyptian dishes, but one which can be easily crafted in any kitchen.
Additional Information: Rice Cookers can be obtained from RiceCookerWorld.