Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Another tale of traveling food...

I've been reading tons of Indian cookbooks, several of which have recipes for khichdi (or kitcheree or kitchree), a simple one-pot meal of lentils (or mung beans) and rice with the cultural role in parts of India and Pakistan of chicken noodle soup in many American households (rainy day comfort food).

One of these cookbooks also mentioned that there's an Anglo-Indian dish called kedgeree that, while quite different (according to wikipedia, it contains "cooked, flaked fish . . . boiled rice, parsley, hard-boiled eggs, curry powder, butter or cream and occasionally sultanas"!), is clearly a descendant of khichdi.

So it wasn't only because my brother Colin is moving to Egypt next week (!) that a short article in The Atlantic about an Egyptian street food called kushari (or koshari, koshary, kushary, etc.) caught my eye.  The article suggests that the British brought the dish from India in the early twentieth century.  While this makes sense given Egypt's central location and role in trade with the British Empire, this Egyptian dish is itself quite different both from khichdi and from kedgeree: it's rice, lentils, pasta, and chickpeas, topped with tomato sauce and crispy fried onions.

Since Colin was here visiting before leaving the country, he and I decided to make our own.  Oddly, the fact that it's so basic makes it feel somehow more inauthentic (no complicated spice blends? no hard-to-find ingredients?), but it seems that we definitely approximated the dish at the very least.

This dish is naturally vegan (places with Orthodox Christians who fast are good for this!), nutritionally balanced, cheap, stick-to-your-ribs filling, and tasty.  No wonder it's popular, if not the most exciting dish ever.

To save stove space and energy, we cooked the rice and lentils in one pot, and the pasta and (dried soaked) chickpeas in another, adding the rice and pasta at a later stage due to their shorter cooking times.  For the pasta, we used a little bit of whole wheat rotelle, some whole wheat fettucini, some trofie, and some spaghetti--a fun mixture of shapes and textures.

The biggest revelation in cooking this dish was that we used both fresh and canned tomatoes--THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS!  Using only fresh tomatoes is more expensive and requires a lot more cooking time to get rid of enough water, but when you use canned tomatoes you lose out on taste and texture.  This tomato sauce, which used about half of each, was one of the best tomato sauces I've made.  Why haven't I heard about this technique before?

1/2-1 c lentils
1/2-1 c chickpeas, canned and drained, or soaked
1/2-1 c rice (we used short grain white)
2 servings pasta (assorted)
(for the tomato sauce)
olive oil
1/2 onion
1-2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon 
1-2 tsp cayenne
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can high-quality diced tomatoes
2 handfuls fresh grape/cherry tomatoes, sliced
1 c vegetable stock
salt (if needed)
1 TB sugar, to taste
(for the onions)
canola oil
1/2 onion, thinly sliced (not minced)
parsley, chopped, for garnish

1. Cook lentils, pasta, and rice according to instructions.
2. In a medium saucepan or saucier, heat olive oil over medium high heat.  Saute onion, cumin, cinnamon, and cayenne for several minutes, then add garlic and continue cooking for a few minutes.  Add canned and fresh tomatoes, reduce heat, continue cooking.  Add stock and sugar and simmer 20+ minutes.  Adjust seasonings to taste.
3. For onions, heat oil (not olive oil) over high heat, then add onions and fry until they are very very crispy (about 10 minutes).
4. Combine!  Garnish with parsley.  Serves at least 4.