Hello, I am trying to be an Egyptian revolutionary from abroad. I am aggravated at the fear of changing Egyptian dishes from their agreed upon state. We’re all watching as our food culture dies a slow death and we’re doing nothing about it. So I ask you, as an Egyptian, if I change something Egyptians are used to, would that make me a traitor?
I’ve contemplated tampering with many an Egyptian recipe but something always held me back. A booming masculine voice in my head asserts, “This, too, shall remain untouched!” But then, something magical happened. I found my people breaking their fear live on television, and here I was, only fighting to break it in the kitchen.
A surge of energy rippled through my body as I walked closer and closer to the moving pictures hoping dearly that they would transport me to the streets of Cairo. Maybe if I touched the screen, it would bring me that much closer to the Arab world.
Despite being in Asia, Asia became a distant thought.
Two weeks later, armed with a towering stack of newspapers and news magazines, I left a lonely kitchen behind and flew off to Lebanon from Malaysia where I was faced with the dilemma of sticking to the television or binging on Lebanese food. Instead, I decided to go out, bring Lebanese food back to my hotel room, and gorge myself in front of the news.
Around the corner from our hotel, there was a restaurant that was in essence a bakery. There I was greeted by old Lebanese men singing patriotic Egyptian songs — albeit with the wrong lyrics — while chefs and waiters pumped passion and pride into their world renowned cuisine. Lebanon, too, had been plagued for years with a lust for Western food and only recently had it started to take back its deep Mediterranean flavors and authenticity.
This time, we stayed in Sin El Fil, a quiet area, away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Beirut. It is there that I saw, for the first time with clear eyes, the Lebanese people: a people struggling to uphold their long standing traditions; a people no stranger to protests and civil war, finally seeing the Arab world fighting to stand in unity on its own strong feet. The more I looked around, the more I realized that this was a country that created some of its finest culinary creations during its various recessions. So why can’t we?
I’ve been researching the history of koshari and I can’t seem to get to the bottom of it but by scanning the ingredients, I can only imagine that it too was invented during hard times. Difficult days lay ahead for Egypt and it’s about time we start revolutionizing our food. It’s the right time to start moving forward in our own kitchens, buy local products and learn to cook and eat seasonally. Our farmers need as much help as they can get and many of us need to educate ourselves on what our country has to offer. This is the right time.
Thinking back, the night of Omar Suleiman’s final speech, I saw the skyline of Beirut erupt with fireworks to celebrate Egypt’s victory. All night, I sat with a silly smile that I couldn’t wipe off my face, beaming through mouthfuls of fatayer and fried kibbeh, alternately. My anxiety was finally giving way to excitement, hope, appetite and ideas and I thought: this one idea here, I have to share.
By eliminating the rice in koshary, you ultimately end up with an interesting pasta dish
500 gm of spaghetti, cooked al dente
2 small onions, chopped
2 tablespoons of ghee
400 grams of chickpeas, cooked
150 grams of brown lentils, cooked
For the sauce:
1/3 cup of olive oil
5 heaped tablespoons of tomato paste
2 leveled tablespoons of all-purpose flour
5-7 cloves of garlic, sliced, depending on the strength
1.5 teaspoons of chili powder
3 tablespoons of vinegar
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
5-6 cups of water, depending on your preferred sauce thickness
Salt and pepper, to taste
Begin with the sauce. Heat your oil in a pot on medium heat. Add the flour and tomato paste. Constantly whisk until all is combined into a smooth paste. Cook on low heat for a minute until it begins to sweat. Add the sliced garlic, chili and vinegar and incorporate into the roux. Add the water, stir then boil once and reduce heat to a low simmer. Simmer until it has thickened and the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Mix the cooked pasta with the chickpeas and lentils and set aside. Fry the chopped onions in the ghee until they reach a deep brown color. Serve the sauce over the pasta and garnish with fried onions.