That’s what I would’ve written on a tshirt if I ever had the chance to visit Abou Tarek in Cairo. Just stick me in a taxi with a speedy egyptian driver so I can make like Tony Bourdain and sample one of Egypt’s favorite fast foods: kushari.
Pyramid souvenirs? Toy camels? Nefertiti figurines? No thanks, but I’ll take a bowl of kushari instead (also spelled koshari or koshary) – a carb-loaded, gut-busting concoction of rice, pasta, lentils and chickpeas, all of it seasoned with tomato sauce and garlicky vinegar. Its huge appeal among all social levels in Egypt deems it a national comfort food, but the overall appearance – not anything that would persuade me to order it off a menu – gave the impression of a pasta salad on steroids. The NR episode of Bourdain’s trek to the popular eatery was so intriguing that I had to try recreating it at home. What a meal! It’s unlikely that we’ll ever travel to the land of pharaohs, so a taste of this dish is the closest that I’ll ever get to King Tut.
The ingredients are very straightforward but I was still inclined to put a magnifying glass to any relevant photos on Flickr. In a couple of images the pasta looked like a mix of spaghetti and ditalini (short tube pasta), but most recipes will call for macaroni. All of the components, from what I could tell, are served at room temperature. The key parts to kushari are the caramelized onion garnish and the sauces. One was described as a savory tomato sauce (Bourdain thought it tasted of cumin) while the other is vinegar with garlic. I used plain tomato sauce and made my own flavored vinegar with a couple of smashed garlic cloves left to sit overnight in white wine vinegar. Potent smells coming from that bottle!
The special spice touch
Wanting a sensational experience for the tastebuds, I mixed a flavorful spice mix called baharat. This middle eastern seasoning is a beautiful and fragrant blend, and a recipe from Jaime Oliver mentioned it as a good condiment on rice. Paprika, black pepper, cardamom, cumin, cloves, coriander, nutmeg, ginger – go easy and try sprinkling a small amount at first. The layering of kushari – rice, pasta, lentils, chickpeas, onions – is all that needs to be done before serving. Add the desired amount of tomato sauce, garlicky vinegar and baharat, mix & eat.
Baharat recipe: jamieoliver.com/foodwise/article-view.php?id=1512
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