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Food for Thought:

Koshari: Egyptian Street Food is Vegetarian's Delight

By Megan Secatore, guide to Middle Eastern cuisine

Kosheri is certainly one of the most popular dishes in the Middle East.

At its most basic, kosheri (sometimes spelled koshari, kosheree or kushari) is lentils and rice topped with fried onion. Most kosheri recipes also include a layer of elbow macaroni and spicy tomato sauce.

This combination of grains, beans and rice is part of long line of vegetarian protein dishes that stretches across all the ancient cuisines. Kosheri is certainly related to Lebanese mujaddara (lentils and rice without the pasta), Indian kitchree and even Scottish kedgeree (kitchree with hard boiled eggs and smoked fish). Distant cousins might include Hoppin' John, a black-eyed peas and rice dish with African-American roots, and Hispanic bean and rice combinations.

Still, no Egyptian diner would think of kosheri as health food. For sale nearly everywhere from tiny koshari restaurants to street carts, the dish is meant to be fast, flavorful and filling. As the Cairo Times puts it, good kosheri is "hot, spicy, oily and delicious."

There are many ways to eat and prepare koshari. Arguments can and will be made for cooking the lentils, rice and pasta together--or separately. Onions may be cooked until crispy and dark brown--or soft and golden.Hot sauces, pickled vegetable garnishes and cool salad toppings are considered acceptable accompaniments.

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