My first encounter with Egyptian street food was in the most unlikely of places: the Minnesota State Fair. Strange as it may sound, among the corndogs and cheese curds, there is a popular Middle Eastern food stand at the fair serving things like falafel, gyro meat, dolmas, and my favorite, koshari. As it happens, koshari (also spelled kushari, koshary, or kosheri) is the national dish of Egypt and a popular street food item. The dish consists of rice, lentils, macaroni, chickpeas, fried onions, and a delicious spicy red sauce. Standing around hundreds of people at the state fair, I tasted my first bite of koshari and I was in love! The lentils, rice, and macaroni so hearty, the red sauce so spicy, and the fried onions so sweet; it’s no wonder the dish is so beloved!
A few weeks later, I decided to recreate my koshari experience at home. I did my research, bought my ingredients, and headed into the kitchen. My creation was a success, but the time needed to cook all of the components was hard to carve out, and the mountain of pots and pans that were leftover made my heart drop. And so I set out to create a different sort of dish, one that is inspired by my memories of koshari, easy on time and clean-up, and healthy to boot.
For my Egyptian street food inspired dish, I decided to use quinoa both for its health properties and quick cooking time. I also omitted the macaroni entirely and replaced it with fresh, leafy greens. Cooking the lentils in a spicy tomato sauce mimics the sweet and spicy red sauce of koshari without adding the preparation needed for a sauce. Of course, the real secret to this dish is prepping all of your ingredients in advance; having everything ready to go will make the bowl come together in a flash!
Total time: 40 minutes Serves 4
1 cup lentils, rinsed
3 ½ cups water, divided
1 cup tomato sauce
Salt to taste
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 25oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cloves garlic, divided and minced
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
4 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 bunch lacinato kale, ribs removed and chopped
Pita bread (optional)
In a medium pot or rice cooker, combine lentils, 2 ¼ cups of water, tomato sauce, crushed red pepper, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Stir occasionally, and add extra water as needed. Lentils are done when they are tender but still firm. Cook about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a separate pot, combine 1 ¼ cups water, quinoa, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook 15-20 minutes.
While lentils and quinoa cook, heat a large pan on medium heat and add 2 tbsp olive oil and 1 clove of garlic. Cook until garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes, then add chickpeas, cayenne pepper, and smoked paprika. Stir to coat chickpeas and cook 5-8 minutes until browned.
Remove chickpeas from pan and set aside.
In the same pan, add 1 tbsp olive oil and sliced onion over low heat. Cook 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Onions are done when they are brown and caramelized. Once cooked, remove onions from pan and set aside.
Again in the same pan, add 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Scrape any remnants of garlic or spices and stir into the olive oil. Add remaining clove of garlic, kale, and salt to taste. Stir to coat leaves and cook, about 5 minutes, until leaves are bright green and tender.
To assemble the bowls: Spoon one scoop each of quinoa and lentils into the bottom of a wide, shallow bowl. Add a healthy serving of chickpeas and greens, then top with caramelized onions. Serve with pita bread and enjoy!