A simple , yet hearty vegetarian dish that is popular on the streets of Egypt.


Often considered poor man’s food because it is cheap and filling, kushari (koo-shar-ee) showcases the simple flavors of Egypt, making it popular among children and world travelers alike. I always ask for it as soon as my plane lands in Egypt. The red sauce can make or break your kushari experience, yet every Egyptian makes it differently. The sauce is a delicate combination of tomato sauce, cumin, chili, and garlic. Some add vinegar, while others let the fiery chili dominate.  

Pat the onions dry with paper towels. Toss them in the cornstarch and set aside.

In a medium pot, combine the lentils with 1½ cups (350 ml) water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, add 1 teaspoon salt, cover the pot, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer until the lentils are tender, 10 to 15 minutes, adding up to ¼ cup (60 ml) more water if they dry out.

In a separate medium pot, cook the rice: Bring 1½ cups (350 ml) water to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, add the rice, cumin, and 1 teaspoon salt. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes.

Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Once cooked, drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.

In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Fry the onions until they are light brown and crisp, about 10 minutes (you may need to do this in batches to avoid crowding the pan).

In a separate saucepan, make the sauce: Heat the olive oil. Add the garlic, cumin, salt, and cayenne pepper, if using, followed by the vinegar. Once you smell a rich aroma, add the tomato sauce, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a slow simmer and cook until it thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. If you prefer a thinner sauce, you may wish to mix in up to ¼ cup (60 ml) water.

To serve, place the pasta on a dish. Top with the rice, then the lentils, and then the onions. Serve the warm sauce on the side. 

Reprinted with permission from The Immigrant Cookbook, Leyla Moushabeck, ed. 2018, Interlink Books, 978-1-56656-038-2, $35 hb, www.interlinkbooks.com.

Brenda Abdelall is an Egyptian American, born and raised in the culturally diverse city of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her love for Egyptian food grew each summer during her childhood visits to Egypt, which included visits to Alexandrian coastal cities, rural villages, and the growing metropolis of El Mansoura. After watching her grandmother bake fresh bread and her aunts roll grape leaves with perfection, Brenda has found the kitchen to be her creative outlet. She runs an award-winning Middle Eastern food blog, “midEATS,” and she teaches Middle Eastern cooking classes in Northern Virginia.