This post has nothing to do with breakfast and everything to do with the wonderful book that arrived at my door yesterday from Amazon: the recipe book from Ottolenghi. For a while, I’ve been wondering where to find a bit of new culinary stimulation. Most of my recipe books got left in South Africa, and after so many years as a vegetarian, I find myself a bit illiterate in the ways of cooking meat and chicken. Anyway, Nicole has been raving about the Ottolenghi book, so I sent away for that, and for Elizabeth David’s classic Italian Food.
So. The parcel arrived yesterday (“Another day, another parcel for Greenstein,” says Nik), and I discover with much pleasure that Nicole has not been exaggerating. You can just about smell the olive oil and garlic and cumin off the pages. I flicked it open to a random page and found a recipe for koshari. I have only ever eaten koshari in Cairo – at a street restaurant with a crowd of scuba diving mates; in a publisher’s office as a rushed order – in lunch with teachers and education officials, and in the desert midway along a horse ride to see the pyramids at night. Everything about koshari conjures up for me memories of Egypt.
Koshari vendors fill your bowl – first they pile it with a mix of rice, noodles and lentils, then scoop on spoonful of darkened onions – fried to somewhere between soft, crispy and slightly moist with rich olive oil, then top that with a bright red tomato-chilli sauce. Bowlfuls of crunchy tomato-and-cucumber salad and yogurt might get passed around as additions.
I didn’t get a chance to photograph it last night, so here’s a picture of the dive crew sampling it on the streets of Cairo.
for main dish:
300 g green lentils
200 g basmati rice
40 g unsalted butter
50 g vermicelli noodles (I used spaghetti), broken into 4 cm pieces
400 ml chicken or vegetable stock or water
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 tbsp olive oil
2 white onions, halved and thinly sliced
for spicy tomato sauce:
4 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 red chillies, seeded and finely diced
8 ripe tomatoes, chopped (can be fresh or tinned)
370 ml water
4 tbsp cider vinegar
3 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cumin
20 g coriander leaves
1. Start with the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan, add the garlic and chillies and fry for 2 minutes. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients besides the coriander. Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes til slightly thickened. Remove from heat, stir in coriander. Season to taste with salt, pepper, more coriander if you like. Keep it hot or leave it to cool – either will work with the hot kosheri.
(I used fresh tomatoes, and went for the cool option – weather too hot for hot-on-hot food!)
2. To make the kosheri, wash the lentils in a large sieve under a cold running tap. Transfer to a large saucepan, cover with lots of cold water and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat, simmer for 25 minutes. The lentils should be tender but far from mushy. Drain and leave aside.
3. In a large bowl, wash the rice in cold water. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add raw noodles, stir and continue frying and stirring til the noodles turn golden brown. Add the drained rice and mix well until it is coatedin the butter. Now add the stock or water, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, cover and then reduce the heat to a minimum and simmer for 12 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the lid, cover the pan with a clean tea towel; this helps to make the rice light and fluffy.
4. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan, add the onions and saute over medium heat for about 20 minutes til dark brown. Transfer to kitchen paper to drain.
5. To serve, lightly break up the rice with a fork and then add the lentils and most of the onions, reserving a few for garnish. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. Pile the rice high on a serving platter and top with the remaining onions. Serve hot with the tomato sauce.