Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Koshary or كشرى

A traditional Egyptian dish, koshary is served not only for special occasions but for weekday dinners as well. With lentils, macaroni and spicy tomato sauce, seasoned with fried onions and garlic, koshary is a delicious vegetarian dish that can feed a crowd.

I was going to introduce this Egyptian favorite recipe by telling you about my first impressions of Cairo but I realized that I can’t really start with my arrival there last week. I can’t even start with the first time I tasted koshary, made by my dear friend Tahany. I have to start with Tahany herself because I must admit that this gentle, generous, giving friend colored my view of Cairo before I even knew we were moving there.

She is quiet and unassuming with a willingness to help anyone and everyone. Her genuine smile also shines in her eyes and her little giggle reveals a wicked (in the best way!) sense of humor. After being friends with Tahany for several years, I fully expected to like the people of Cairo and, fortunately, my expectations were met, nay, exceeded.

Everyone I've encountered, from the guys in the corner grocery store who gave me the gift of a banana when they heard I was newly arrived to the helpful and generous hotel staff to the kind landlady and her husband who insisted we must come sailing with them some day and chose us to live in their house to the gentle lady we hired to clean that house to the wonderful driver (and my new friend) who ferries me around and knows everything there is to know about Cairo – each one has been friendly and kind and welcoming.

So, first impressions of Cairo: full of great people; a city under construction – I have never been anywhere with so many new houses and buildings going up, literally one after the other, side by side; lots of sand and desert, yet plenty of green in certain areas with trees and lawns and shrubbery; malls to rival the best almost anywhere; crazy drivers and traffic that make me feel right at home; cool and dry winter days; fresh fruit and vegetables that would win prizes at the state fair - the broccoli heads are bigger than mine and you can barely get your arms around the cabbages; and that is just for starters. I am looking forward to exploring more!

And, finally, to Tahany’s recipe for koshary, with the addition of a little extra oil on my part and some supplementary instructions.

1 cup uncooked white rice, rinsed
3 cups or 710ml water
1 (16 ounce or 500g) package uncooked elbow macaroni
2 cup or 350g lentils, soaked in water (for 10 minutes)
4 tablespoons or 60ml vegetable oil, altogether
6 onions
2 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
4 ripe tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup or 118ml tomato paste (about 2/3 of the little 6 oz can)
3 teaspoons or 17g salt, altogether (and a little more for the macaroni pot)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, altogether
5 teaspoons ground cumin, altogether
1/4 teaspoon red pepper or cayenne

Soak lentils for 20 minutes. Drain and rinse; drain again.

Mince one onion. Thinly slice your remaining five onions.

Heat one tablespoon vegetable oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in minced onion; continue stirring until onion becomes gold. Add three cups water.

Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin. Bring to a boil. Add lentils, and reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until the lentils are half cooked.

Pour the half-cooked lentils into the rice cooker. Add one cup washed rice and add enough water to cook. I usually figure that you need about 1/2 an inch or one centimeter of water more than the rice level. Leave to cook in the rice-cooker.

Fill a large pot with lightly salted water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Stir in the macaroni, and return to a boil. Cook the macaroni uncovered, stirring occasionally, until it has cooked through, but is still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes. Drain well in a colander. Return macaroni to cooking pot, cover and keep warm. (I also drizzled it with a little olive oil to keep it from sticking together but this is optional.)

Heat three tablespoons vegetable oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook the sliced onions in the oil, stirring often, until they begin to brown.

Meanwhile, mince your two garlic cloves and chop your tomatoes.

The frying onions should be a nice caramelized brown color and crispy by now. Tip your pan to one side and push the onions up the slope. Allow to drain and then remove the onions from the pan and drain them further on a paper towel-lined plate or bowl.

Heat this leftover oil, deliciously flavored with the fried onion, and add the minced garlic. Cook the garlic in the oil until it becomes gold and then add three tablespoons vinegar. Do not let the garlic burn!

Add the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, 2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin, and 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer about 12-15 minutes, or until the ripe tomato pieces get mushy. I think I had my heat too high for simmer because I had to add some water to keep the sauce from drying out. Use your judgment here.

Serve by placing a spoonful of rice with lentils, and then macaroni, on serving plates. Sprinkle with some of the browned onions, then top with tomato sauce.

When Tahany brought the koshary to my going-away lunch, she had made it into a casserole. Much easier for bringing to share. Everyone loved it and many went back for second helpings. Including me. I made this for my daughters yesterday and they loved it too!

First lentils with rice.
Then macaroni and onions.
Finally the sauce.

If you are serving it as a casserole, make sure everyone dips down when serving to get a bit of each layer. You don't want to miss any part of this wonderful dish.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Green Beans with Baby New Potatoes

Like all great savory recipes, this one starts off with bacon and garlic.  How can it go wrong?  This dish was always, and always will be, a must at family Thanksgiving or Christmas meals.  My grandmothers made it with little red baby new potatoes and so would I, if I could have found them in Kuala Lumpur.

I actually made and photographed this dish just before Thanksgiving but never got around to sharing it.  As Christmas approaches it gets more vital!  This was the second dish I made (See the other one here.) and brought to the Christmas party in Cairo last Friday so you can see how essential to the holidays I believe it is.  

Today, I am off to scout the so-called expat area of Cairo, called Maadi.  You can be sure I will be on the lookout for baby new red potatoes.   

600g fine or regular green beans
400g baby new potatoes
4 cloves garlic
3-4 slices of streaky bacon
Olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper
Cayenne pepper

If you have genuine new potatoes, just wash them to get rid of any dirt and then scrub the peelings.  If you have to use little ones or large potatoes with thick skins, peel them first and cut to an appropriately small size.

Cut your garlic into thin slices and your bacon into tiny strips.

Top and tail your green beans, then rinse them.  If you are using the regular size, you might want to cut them into small pieces as well.  (Cut them diagonally because it’s more fun and prettier than a straight cut.)

Fry the bacon until crispy and then add the garlic.  Fry for a few more minutes, stirring frequently.  You do not want the garlic to brown because it gets bitter.

Add in potatoes and cook, covered,  for a few minutes.   If it looks too dry, add a small sploosh of olive oil.   Add in the green beans and stir to coat with the bacon grease and olive oil.  Sprinkle in a little salt and the two peppers.

Cook, covered, until the potatoes are done and then till the green beans are as soft as you like them.   If you want your green beans really crunchy, delay adding them until the potatoes are almost cooked.

Check the salt and pepper, adding more if necessary.  Enjoy!

After note:  I had a lovely time with a new friend touring the shops of Maadi, finishing with lunch at a restaurant called Fusion overlooking the River Nile.  Sadly, I did not find any baby red new potatoes.  Yet. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Maque Choux – Spicy Cajun Corn

 In the hotel suite in Cairo, I have a two-burner stove.  With confidence, I went out and bought two cooking vessels:  a frying pan and a small pot.  What you can’t cook in those two, really doesn’t need cooking, right?  Funny thing is, they can’t sit on the stove together.   Yeah, I know I have a strange sense of humor but when I got back from Carrefour and realized that I had overestimated my space allotment, it made me laugh.  Oh, well, it gets more and more like camping.  And I enjoy a challenge. 

Dinner was simple, spaghetti Bolognaise, so I am not going to bore you with that recipe.  Instead, here are instructions for another Louisiana specialty that Thanksgiving or Christmas at our house would not be Thanksgiving or Christmas without.  While the ham was baking the other day, this was one of the two other dishes I made to bring along to the Christmas party.

My grandmothers made maque choux from fresh sweet corn on the cob, first cutting the niblets off and then scraping the cob to get the “milk” out.  Many places I have lived over the years didn’t have sweet corn, just what we would call cows’ corn – hard and indigestible for humans, used only as feed for cattle – so I learned that frozen corn is an excellent substitute.  And when your fresh cobs are not so juicy, the frozen is actually closer what my grandmothers would have used.

About 3 lbs or 1.350kg frozen sweet corn 
1 medium or two small green bell peppers or capsicums
2 medium onions
3 medium red ripe tomatoes
7 oz or 200g butter
Olive oil
1/2 cup or 120ml whole milk
Sea salt

Halve the tomatoes and discard the seeds.  Chop the tomatoes, onions and bell peppers.

Sautee the vegetables in the butter with just a glug of olive oil added.   

When the onions are translucent, add in the corn.  

Add the milk and then the sea salt and cayenne to taste.  

Cook over a slow fire until the corn is soft and the other vegetables are almost a memory.  My mom likes the corn still crunchy so, if you agree with her, about 10-15 minutes will probably do.  I cooked this about 30-45 minutes because I wanted it soft and I wanted it to dry out just a bit.  

 This is meant to be a spicy dish so don't be shy with the cayenne!