Kushary (or kushari, koshary or koshari) is one of my favourite meals ever. In fact, I think if I had to live off only one thing for the rest of my life – an unlikely scenario, I admit – this might well be an almost perfect solution. What it is, if it’s not crossed your path in life, is an Egyptian pilaf, a mix of lentils, long-grain rice and small pasta like macaroni. It’s served with a spicy tomato sauce, and, usually, a garnish of fried onions. It’s closely related to another Egyptian pilaf called megadarra or mujaddara which is usually just rice and lentils with the onions but no tomato sauce. I prefer it with pasta, of course (see also: potato and rosemary pizza, spaghetti and breadcrumbs), although the simpler variation is nice if you’re having it as a side or with a selection of smaller dishes. I usually eat kushary as a main course and, for me, it’s the ultimate comfort food: starchy and homogenous enough to be eaten soothingly out of a big bowl, tasty enough that you want to carry on eating it until you burst.
I had some oddly summery vegetables left over from my veg box (is it me, or shouldn’t I be getting bumpy root like things by now, not sweetcorn and peppers and courgettes?) so I decided to roast them up as a side dish, although it is altogether possible that the main reason I made this particular recipe was that I love the word ‘zhug’. Maybe I should have called this blog Aioli to Zhug.
Anyway. Zhug is a fiery hot sauce from Israel with (a lot of) chilli, cardamom and caraway. Sounds odd? I think I’m still getting my head round it, and I’ve already tried it. According to the recipe, it makes a good marinade for chicken or lamb, but I think I’d prefer it where it’s not too late to control the amount of it. If you have any labneh left over from yesterday’s pilaf, that’s recommended with the vegetables and some warm bread.
Kushary Serves 4-6 (I’d say 6 would be pushing it, but I do like it a lot)
I’ve reordered the recipe slightly in a way that made a bit more sense to me and left out a couple of steps which seemed like unecessary work and/or washing up.
110g long-grain rice (I used brown basmati)
140g brown or green lentils
8tbsp olive oil (I think I used a lot less)
1 onion, roughly chopped
75g macaroni or other small pasta shapes. Or, snap some spaghetti/vermicelli into short lengths.
1 tsp ground cumin
400ml chicken or vegetable stock or water
2 onions, sliced
For the sauce:
1 x 400g tin of tomatoes
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stick, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil (I left this out)
1 tsp harissa
2 tsp soft brown sugar
To make the sauce, just put all the ingredients in a saucepan, stir, and bring to the boil. Then turn the heat down and simmer for about 25 mins, stirring occasionally, and you’re done. You can puree it with a hand blender or in a food processor to get a smoother texture, which I would recommend although it seems a little fussy, because otherwise the bits of celery are a bit stringy and unpleasant.
You’re supposed to rinse and soak your rice for 2 hours and your lentils for half an hour, but I always forget and nothing is ruined, so I can only conclude that it’s not essential. Either way, cook your lentils for 15 minutes in boiling water.
Cook the pasta separately in boiling water until al dente, then drain and saute in 1 tbsp of the oil until starting to colour. Set aside.
Add a little more of the oil to the pan if necessary and saute the chopped onion until starting to brown. Stir in the cumin, lentils and rice and cook for about a minute. Add the stock/water and some seasoning. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer and let cook, uncovered, for about 20 minutes. Mine took more like 30 and some more stock, but that’s because I used brown rice. If your stock runs out before the rice is cooked, just keep adding more water and reducing it down until the rice absorbs it and is soft to the bite. Then stir in the pasta, cover, and leave on a low heat for 5 minutes to brown the bottom.
Heat the rest of the oil until very hot and brown the sliced onions in the same pan as the rice mixture, breaking up the crispy bits from the bottom (I used my trusty balsamic onions from last week so omitted this step). Check the seasoning and serve with the sauce.
Zhug Recipe halved to serve 2 or more
I’m assuming I don’t need to tell you how to roast vegetables – just chop a selection of vegetables of your choice into large pieces, drizzle over olive oil, season, and they should take about 40 mins in a 190c oven.
3 medium green chillies, halved and deseeded (I used one green, one red)
2 red bird’s eye chillies (I only had dried bird’s eyes so chucked in one of those)
seeds from 4 cardamom pods
3/4 tsp caraway seeds
1-2 garlic cloves
handful of coriander
50ml olive oil
squeeze of lime juice
The instructions say to put everything in the food processor except for the oil and lime juice, but I found the spice seeds were a bit small to get ground that way, so you may want to pre-grind them with a pestle and mortar. Once everything’s in the food processor, add the olive oil as you blend, until you have a sauce of a thick but pourable consistency. Add lime and salt to taste.
Adapted from Diana Henry’s ‘Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons’.