Kushari: Egypt’s National Dish


Greetings fellow travelers!  I have returned from an extended break and am hungrier than ever.  So at long last we again sail the seven seas in search of the iconic dishes of the planet.

It seems fitting that the return of this global adventure comes on the heels of the finale of the World Cup in South Africa.  This one sporting event more than all others signals the unification of mankind in a common endeavor with relatively peaceful methodology.  I have learned to love the grace and the underlying message of the World Cup.  If only every NFL or baseball match began with a pledge and commitment to end racism in its ugliness.  It did not come without a physical toll however.  Some of you soccer fans may be slightly tone deaf like myself, from the incessant buzzing of the now famed Vuvuzela, a constant at South African football matches.  Painful indeed, yet oddly hypnotic at the same time.

Hearty congratulations are in order to Spain for their fast paced and exciting victory versus the Netherlands.  Both teams fought hard and long to bring home the cup for what would be the first time in either of their nations history.  New records were set in penalties with a veritable hail storm of yellow and red cards for both teams.  Yet no fists were thrown and no one wound up badly injured.   In all it was an enjoyable and entertaining match and a wonderful World Cup.  Thank you to South Africa for being a gracious and fantastic host country!

As I originally stated in the thesis for this blog, “the universal language” food is the true universal language. Unlike sport, everyone must eat.  Therefore a common bond exists throughout mankind through the food we consume and the culinary tradition we pass on to our children or share with our guests.  The dishes that sing to our souls become part of the legacy of our culture, community or even nation.  Exploring those traditions is the goal of this blog and it is time to pick up where we left off several months ago.  I am grateful to my readers for being supportive and understanding during my absence and I hope I bring you the same level of enjoyment as before from here on out.

Our next nation happens to be another African nation although it is located all the way to the north of the continent from South Africa.  To get there from Ecuador (our last stop) we sail north through the Panama Canal and across the Atlantic Ocean.  We then sail into the Mediterranean Sea all the way to the mouth of the Suez Canal where we land at Alexandria, one of Egypt’s most famous cities and just north of the capital of Cairo.

One of the oldest nations on the planet with written records extending back thousands of years, Egypt is home to a rich history and fantastic food.  Bridging the gap between the Middle East and Africa, Egypt is home of the famous Suez Canal through which we have navigated countless times thereby saving a grueling journey around the Cape of Good Hope.  Bordered to the east by Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan and to the west by Libya as well as Sudan to the South, Egypt is of critical strategic importance in global affairs and is a regional mediator in various conflicts that affect the region.

Egypt has a population of 77 million people. While the area surrounding the Nile River contains the population centers of the country, the majority of the landscape is dominated by the Sahara and Libyan Deserts.  Egypt is popular with tourists for its scenic landscape and architectural feats such as the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx.

In recent times, although much criticism has been leveled at the government for their often “tough” crackdowns on dissidents both real and perceived, Egypt has also helped model the concept of democracy in the region.  The overall stability of the country has been an attractant to foreign investment and has encouraged economic growth.  Egypt’s economy is one of the most diverse and influential in the Middle East although many of its people still live in poverty.

The influences of both the Arab world and Africa can be found in the culture and cuisine of Egypt.  Home to many famous and delicious dishes, the food of Egypt is nothing not flavorful.  Dishes have evolved over millennia and each favorite dish can be made or interpreted in many ways.

The national dish that we will prepare is Kushari, a rice and pasta dish made with a spicy tomato sauce and lentils as well as chickpeas.  In this case, we will prepare a vegetarian/vegan version which can be altered by adding meats, etc.  It is likely that this dish originated with the vegetarian Coptic Christians who number between 15 and 18 million people in Egypt.  Also the lack of meat may reflect the high cost of meat for the lower classes.  This is truly a dish for the masses.  However despite its humble origins Kushari has become a national dish in the spirit of so many other dishes we have explored.  It is quite simply a delicious meal that is accessible to many and loved by most.

Variations on the vegetarian recipe are found below the recipe.

Note: I have added some Baharat to my recipe.  I wanted to capture the essence of the region which is in my opinion one of the most haunting of the asian spice blends.  There are many takes on Baharat as there are with most spice blends, but the simple baharat recipe is what I used.  Start with a few pinches and increase to taste. It also helps to lightly toast the spices in the hot oil during the first part of the sauce making phase in order to pull all of the aroma from the various spices included in Baharat.  Simply add it to the hot oil after the onions have cooked for 4-5 minutes then continue with the remaining steps.  The aromas will be incredible.

Also, due to the nature of this dish, preparation will involve 5-6 pans and burners.  Since most home kitchens have 4 burners on the stove, build the dish in stages by cooking the starches and lentils first, then setting them aside in a covered bowl until you have prepared the fried crispy onions and the sauce.


Appearance:  3 out of 5

Aroma:  4 out of 5

Flavor: 4 out of 5

Total: 11 out of 15



Makes 4 servings

Rice — 1 cup

Macaroni pasta — 1 cup

Lentils — 1 cup

Oil — 2 tablespoons

Onion, chopped finely — 1

Garlic, minced — 2 to 3 cloves

Tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes — 2 cups

Pepper flakes — 1/2 to 1 teaspoon

Baharat – 2-3 pinches or to taste (I used quite a bit more)

1 can Chick peas or 1-2 cup cooked according to directions on package

Salt and pepper — to taste

Oil for frying

Onion, sliced thinly — 1

Salt and pepper — to taste


Cook the rice and 2 cups of water in a covered pot until done, about 20 minutes. Cook the macaroni according to package directions, or until al dente. Simmer the lentils and 2 cups of water in a covered pot until tender, 30-45 minutes.

While the rice, pasta and lentils are cooking, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are translucent and wilted, 4-5 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce, chick peas and pepper flakes as well as the Baharat spices (if you choose to add this spice blend), reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10-15 minutes, add a little water if necessary. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Heat about 1/2-inch of oil in a heavy skillet.  Add the sliced onions and fry until they turn brown and crispy.  Drain on paper towels.

Place the rice, macaroni and lentils in a large bowl, season with salt and pepper and stir together gently with a fork. Portion the mixture into individual bowls and spoon some tomato sauce over each portion. Top with crispy fried onions and serve hot or at room temperature.


Try other types of pasta: penne, bucatini, ditalini.

Kushari is often served with a spoonful of cooked chickpeas on top. ( I chose to add these into the sauce)

Stir in some meat like cooked chunks of schawarma, chicken or lamb.

Serve with slices of lemon for individual diners to squeeze over their portions as they like.

Add a little ground cumin, cinnamon or baharat spice mix to the simmering tomato sauce if you like.

Recipe adapted from:  http://www.whats4eats.com/pastas/kushari-recipe

Eric Ackerson
Eric Ackerson is a food writer, blogger and seafood marketing professional. His work takes him to many ports of call around the world. Currently Eric is cooking the national dish of every country on Earth at his blog My Hungry Tum. Eric enjoys travel and says his favorite food cities are Singapore and Vancouver. He lives in Charlotte NC with his wife and two daughters who he says are quickly becoming “foodies” themselves…
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