Carbs on carbs on carbs rooted in ancient history



After asking people around the world for a dish they wish everyone knew about, I received a submission from Mayar in Alexandria, Egypt, discussing the national dish, Koshari. Koshari is essentially a dish of carbs, on carbs, on carbs! It is made with rice, vermicelli, lentils, chickpeas, two kinds of pasta, and two sauces. One is a tomato sauce, and the other is a cumin and garlic sauce. Mayar describes it as a party of flavor in your mouth!  

Although the ingredients are fairly simple, the sauces really make the dish pop! One sauce is a spicy tomato sauce, and the other is a tangy garlic sauce with lots of cumin. Both sauces also have vinegar which gives the carbs some brightness. This makes the dish taste lighter than you would think in a dish full of carbs. With the perfect contrast of the soft and fluffy texture from the rice, lentils, and pasta and the crispy aromatic crispy, fried sweet onions, this dish gives you everything you can ever want in a dish.  

The origin story of koshari is largely unknown. However, we know that this dish has been eaten for over 100 years, and it was first created sometime in the 1840s. This ancient Egyptian dish has been a significant part of Egyptian culture. Everyone in Egypt enjoys Koshari, but they also have different variations with a slightly different sauce recipe. When I visited my sister, who lived in Cairo, Egypt, I had another type of Koshari with a few different ingredients than the Alexandria version of koshari that Mayar eats. One difference is the Alexandrians tend to eat koshari with yellow lentils instead of brown.  

Mayar’s reasoning for wanting to share koshari is that she loves that their national dish unites the country. She says even though people from different parts of Egypt all have different customs, traditions, and lifestyles, koshari is a popular street food eaten by everyone. It doesn’t matter if you are poor, rich, young, or old; koshari is a traditional meal that everyone enjoys.  

When I recreated Mayar’s koshari recipe at home, it was a ton of work. I did all of the cooking on one burner, which definitely slowed the process down since there are so many pieces to koshari. I ended up using premade lentils and chickpeas to make the process faster, but it still tasted amazing since the main ingredients for this dish are the two sauces.  

Overall, I am so glad I learned more about koshari and the universality of this dish. I love how it brings people together from across the country and allows them to celebrate their national heritage. If you have never had Egyptian food, try koshari and feel the unity from the shared joy of eating this dish.  

Watch the Video


  • 2 ½ cups short grain rice
  • 16 oz dry pasta preferably ditalini or elbow
  • 2 Tbsp oil
  • salt & pepper to taste

For lentils

  • 2 cups dry brown lentils
  • water to cover lentils
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 16 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • salt & pepper to taste

For vermicelli

  • ½ packet vermicelli
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup water
  • salt to taste

For chickpeas

  • 1 cup dry chickpeas or canned
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • water

For tomato sauce

  • 1 ½ tsp garlic crushed
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • ¼ cup white vinegar
  • 2, 16 oz cans tomato sauce
  • salt to taste

For cumin sauce

  • 1 tsp garlic crushed
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ cup vinegar
  • salt to taste

For fried onion

  • 3 large onions sliced
  • oil for frying


  • If you are using dry chickpeas, soak them in cold water overnight with ¼ teaspoons baking soda.
  • Cook Pasta in enough salty water according to package directions, drain then add 2 Tablespoon of oil and adjust seasoning. Mix everything together and set aside.
  • Prepare rice as indicated on your package and set aside.

Prepare lentils

  • Put lentils in a colander and wash thoroughly under running cold water.
  • Place lentils in a pot covered with cold water and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat and cook for 25-30 minutes until just al dente making sure to check on water level and add water whenever necessary.
  • Drain but do not rinse and in the same pot saute onion in oil until fragrant.
  • Add lentils back to the pot with tomato sauce and season.
  • Continue cooking until done and set aside.

Cook vermicelli

  • In a medium pot over medium-high heat, add oil and vermicelli cook until vermicelli turns golden brown.
  • Add water little by little and stir until you get the desired tenderness.
  • Season with salt.

Cook chickpeas (if using canned, skip this step)

  • Drain soaked chickpeas and wash well with running water.
  • Place chickpeas in a pot, cover with cold water and add a pinch of salt.
  • Bring to a boil then reduce heat and continue cooking 60-90 minutes until the desired tenderness reached.
  • Make sure to check on water level and add water whenever necessary.

Make tomato sauce

  • In a medium sauce pan, sauté garlic in oil until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  • Add vinegar, tomato sauce, water and salt then mix well.

Make cumin sauce

  • In a small sauce pan, sauté garlic and cumin together until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  • Add vinegar, water then taste to adjust salt.

Fry onions

  • In a deep pot, add oil to cover the bottom by 1 inch.
  • Add onion slices and cook on medium-high stirring every now and then making sure not to burn the onions.
  • Take onions out on a plate lined with kitchen paper towel.
  • Set aside, it will harden and get crispier.
  • Take 2 Tablespoons of the cooking oil and stir them in the cooked rice. This step is optional but highly recommended as it gives the rice shine and taste.

To assemble

  • You can let everyone take of each of the ingredients as they like or make what is called tarabeesh (domes) by packing ingredients tightly in a bowl then invert it on plates. Top with onion and sauces.
Course: Dinner, Lunch
Region: Africa
Diet: Vegan, Vegetarian
Keyword: Comfort food


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