Monday, 22 April 2013

koushary, cairo, and cabernet franc...

When the Arab Spring took hold of Egyptian hearts in Tahrir Square last year, one thing kept running through my mind: I wonder if Tahrir Koushary is doing good business, or will it suffer from violent clashes? Set on a side-street about a block from its epynomous square, Tahrir Koushary served up the best of Egypt's starchy, spicy, and not very pricy national dish, koushary. For about $1, a styrofoam tub of layered macaroni, rice, lentils, and spiced tomato sauce (topped with a dollop of fried onions) kept my belly full of necessary nourisment...and free of pharaoh's revenge.

Back home in Canada, koushary became a staple for my student budget...and soon became a signature dish passed on to many friends. In fact, the my first attempt at homemade koushary came on an atypical afternoon in Ottawa. With friends visiting from Toronto, the drinks began to flow early and despite my intoxicated state, I managed to throw together a quick koushary to satisfy our rumbling tummies. Although our inebriated state would have enjoyed just about anything, it was my sober roomate who not only raved about how delicious it is, but who also ate more than us!

Although it requires many pots and pans to make, the simplicity of koushary comes in the ease of access to ingredients; only the tomato sauce requires some work at balancing flavours. The key to this sauce is what I consider the holy herbascious trinity of Egyptian dishes: cilantro, dill, and parsely. Furthermore, koushary is a completely vegetarian dish that can be adjusted to meet the dietary needs of vegans (use an egg-free pasta) or omnivores (I often add grilled lamb sausage).

Setting these additions and substitutions aside, here is all you need for a homemade koushary:

2 cups cooked macaroni2 cups cooked rice
2 tbsp. olive oil4 cloves garlic, crushed
½ cup chopped tomatoes1 tsp. each cumin
½ tsp. cayenne peppersalt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp. red wine1 lemon, juiced
¼ cup each chopped cilantro, parsely, dill
3 tbsp. flour½ cup lentils
1 cup chick peas1 medium onion, sliced
cooking oil

Cooking Method
1) If macaroni and rice are not already cooked, then prepare as you normally would. NB: lentils and chickpeas should also be pre-soaked if starting with dry ingredients.
2) In small saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and fry 1 -2 minutes until golden.
3) Add tomatoes, spices, and red wine. Bring to a boil and add lemon juice and herbs. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.
4) Add 1tbsp. flour to each lentils, chickpeas, and onions. Toss until well-coated with flour.
5) In heavy sauce pan, heat cooking oil over medium-high heat. Add lentils and fry until crispy (2 - 3 minutes). Remove and set aside. Repeat same for chickpeas and onions, frying each separately until crispy.
6) In individual serving bowls or large serving dish (e.g. casserole dish), layer the ingredients in the following order: macaroni, rice, tomato sauce, lentils/chickpeas/onions.

Serve with lemon wedge and tobasco for individual flavour adjusting just as you would at Tahrir Koushary (bi-shatta, min fadlak - spicy please!).

I may be wrong in recalling that wine was not served at Tahrir Koushary (and even if it were, I'd likely have stayed far away from it), I sampled 4 different wines with this dinner. In the end, a Chinon (by Bernard Baudry) worked best. Made from Cabernet Franc in the Loire Valley, a Chinon has strong perfume that stands up to the spices of the koushary, and the inherent green bell pepper notes match perfectly with the herbaceous holy trinity in of the tomato sauce.

If Qatar does not happen, maybe I'll become Cairo's leading sommelier.

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