Last night, I made a traditional Egyptian dish called Kosheri from a recipe found in the Ottolenghi cookbook. Kosheri is similar to another popular Middle Eastern dish made with rice, lentils, and caramelized onions called Megadarra (also called Mujadra). Megadarra is typically served with a yogurt, tomato, and cucumber salad; we eat it often in the Summer. Kosheri, however, features a tomato sauce on the side, which makes it great for the cooler months, when tomatoes and cucumbers are not at their best.
Perfect…this dish is perfect. However, the method described in the book is not perfect — at least not for the average home cook — but I think I’ve simplified it a bit.
The meal is completely satisfying. It’s fun to cook, too, provided that you leave yourself a bit of time to complete all the steps.
This is my favorite sort of food: simple but interesting, filling but not heavy (although there is quite a bit of fat in this dish). The spicing here is just right; the cinnamon and nutmeg combination in the Kosheri is well-matched to the spicy, tangy tomato sauce. The dish seems at once healthy and indulgent.
I mostly stuck to ingredients listed in the recipe, but I altered the order of the steps in the process quite a bit. It’s worth noting that this dish has four components: onions, rice/vermicelli, lentils, and tomato sauce. Plan accordingly. As written in the book, the recipe requires the use of four pots/pans, as well as a serving dish– hardly fair to the resident dishwasher. Although my resident dishwasher refuses to believe it, I do consider that sort of thing before I start cooking. With him in mind, I reordered the steps of this recipe and managed to cut down the number of pots/pans used to two.
First, the ingredients: I didn’t have green lentils (and wasn’t likely to find them around here), so I used Puy lentils instead since they retain their shape when cooked. It seemed to me that the ratio of lentils to rice was a little out of balance. I used only about 2/3 of the prepared lentils (I’ve adjusted the amount of lentils in the adapation of the recipe included in this post). I discovered that the red peppers in my fridge were a bit old, so I substituted a combination of dried Aleppo and dried Marash peppers in the tomato sauce (I’m cooking for a 3 year old, so I probably low-balled the pepper to suit her palate). Finally, I used a can of diced tomatoes instead of the fresh ones specified.
It’s a terrific recipe–comfort-food of the highest order.
The more I use this cookbook, the more I like it, although I do find that some of the recommended methods are a bit fussy for everyday use. However, I’m always struck by how so many of the recipes are clever in ways that become apparent only after I make them. Few cookbooks actually help readers become better cooks. I feel like Ottolenghi is one that does.
Kosheri ( adapted from Ottolenghi: the Cookbook)
3/4 cup Puy lentils
1 cup basmati rice
2 tbs. butter
2/3 cup vermicelli noodles, broken into small pieces
2 cups water
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
4 tbs. olive oil
2-3 white onions, thinly sliced (the caramelized onions make the dish; whatever you do, don’t skimp on them)
Spicy tomato sauce
4 tbs. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 hot red chilies, seeded & finely diced (or about 1/2 tsp. Marash or Aleppo pepper–or a combination of both–more if you like)
1 28 oz. can of organic, diced tomatoes
4 tbs. cider vinegar
3 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground cumim
1 tbp. tomato paste
Handful of cilantro leaves, chopped
Caramelize the onions first. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and sauté the onions over medium heat for 20 minutes, until they are well-caramelized. Drain on paper towels. Clean the pan and use it to make the tomato sauce.
For the tomato sauce: In the same heavy frying pan, sauté garlic and chilies in the olive oil for two minutes. Add chopped tomatoes, vinegar, salt and cumin. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, until slightly thickened. Stir in the tomato paste and adjust the seasonings. Refrigerate or leave to cool to room temperature.
While the sauce simmers, prepare the lentils. Rinse them well, then transfer them to a large saucepan with a lid. Cover completely with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes. The lentils should be tender, but intact. Drain them in a colander and set aside. Clean pan and use it to make the rice & vermicelli.
Then make the rice. Rinse rice well. In the sauce pan that you used to cook the lentils, melt butter in over medium heat. Add the raw vermicelli, stir and continue frying and stirring until vermicelli turns golden brown. Add the drained rice and stir until the entire mixture is well-c0ated by the melted butter. Add the water and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 12 minutes. Turn off heat, remove the pot lid, cover the pan with a clean dish towel and replace the lid. Leave alone for five minutes to allow the towel to absorb extra moisture from the rice (don’t be tempted to skip this step; it’s easy enough to do and is worth the small amount of effort).
To serve, empty the lentils, rice/vermicelli and most of the onions onto a large serving platter. Adjust the seasonings and gently toss everything together. Garnish with the remaining onions and serve with warmed tomato sauce. Kosheri is especially good along with warm pita or flat bread. A bit of Greek yogurt on the side would not be an unwelcome addition. This dish reheats well in the microwave.