Koshari – a Survival and Outdoor Meal par Excellence

I’m not Egyptian. I have never visited Egypt. My first exposure to this dish was watching Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” on Travel Channel. It fascinated me. It could not POSSIBLY be that good. It is. I researched it a bit, made it, and it’s delicious, very easy and very cheap. Easily made from storable food, too.

Kasheri is, apparently, the #1 street-food/utility dish in much of Egypt. It is a very tasty, protein- and carb-rich meal that keeps poor working folks full and going all day, and has for centuries (if not millennia). The gent who was Tony’s guide stated “I would never marry a woman who could not make good kasheri.”

It is not as quick and easy as an MRE or a blue box of mac’n’cheese, by any means, but it is not hard, either, and tastes MUCH better.

How to Make KOSHARI | Egyptian Koshari Street Food Recipe | Koshari Recipe by Varun | Kushari

The ingredient that takes the most work is the topping – caramelized onions. The standard way to make these is to thinly slice onions, and cook over medium-low heat in a little oil, stirring frequently, until they are dark brown,
nearly burned. Pre-SHTF, you can slice them up fine, toss in a crockpot with a little oil and salt, and go to sleep. They will be yummy in the morning.

Post-SHTF/Outdoors, slice the onions, wrap in foil, oil, and bury them in your hot campfire ash for a few hours. They’ll burn a bit, but still taste great. (save the juice at bottom of the foil package – yumm).

I even tried soaking
dehydrated minced onions in water overnight, and browning them in a cast iron pan – not half bad. You can even forget the onion topping, but not nearly as good.

The next ‘topping’ is sauce. If you have canned tomato sauce, etc, this takes about 5 minutes. Sautee onions and garlic (or use powders), add sauce or canned tomatoes of your choice and a big amount of ground cumin (this makes all the difference).

The base of kasheri is basically 2 parts (this can be any measure you have) white rice, 1 part dried lentils, 1/2 part broken-up spaghetti (or other thin pasta – ramen works).

Cook it the way you normally cook rice (I got taught by an 80-year old Chinese woman – “put rice in pot, touch top with index fingertip, add water to first knuckle. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer.”) It works in a rice-steamer, too. Chicken broth works great instead of water.

You will not get fluffy, individual grains. Do not expect this. It’s thick and “gloppy”. The Middle Eastern “3 finger pinch” should get you a mouthful of food.

Fill your bowl with the rice/lentil mix, cover with some of your onions and douse with your tomato/cumin sauce to thin it out. A shot of your favorite hot sauce makes it even better.

(It’s not at all traditional, but mixing in some sautéed Swiss Chard, beet tops or your other favorite greens, makes it even better, IMHO. Chop ’em fine.)

It will keep your crew full, energized and happy. From personal camping experience, when it’s cold and rainy and the road might flood, big cups of coffee and reheated kasheri is, indeed, “The Breakfast of Champions”.

Give it a try. It will cost you about a dollar or so to give 5-6 people a real (and fairly-healthy) taste-treat. (Note to students: That’s cheaper than ramen).

If you, or your family or crew consider yourselves “picky eaters” and don’t have allergy-related problems with these ingredients, try it anyway. It is a lot more gentle introduction to new flavors than stewed roadkill in a tin can

(*Shuddering*, recalling my ex-daughter-in-law who only ate Honey Nut Cheerios, ‘blue box’ mac’n’cheese, instant mashed potatoes and stuff from the “golden arches place”, Coca-Cola and nothing else….)

We’re all in this together. Hang in there.

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8 thoughts on “Koshari – a Survival and Outdoor Meal par Excellence”

  1. This sounds great. Anything with carmelized onions has to be good. Just wondering if I cook the rice, lentils, and pasta together or individually? This would be a good thing to put into a homemade “wonder oven”. Will definitely try it out when camping with my grandkids. That’s my proving grounds for food and equipment. 🙂

  2. Don’t knock stewed roadkill in a can. After 30 days of MCI’s, a little flattened coon stewed over an open fire can be mighty tasty.

    This dish sounds a lot like what we bought from the locals in Turkey back in the ’70’s. I’ll put it on this weekend’s menu and see how it fares.

    In 1977, I spent a little time in Rhodesia. The locals made a lentil and yam dish which I have tried to replicate. It is also fairly easy and calorie dense. It is also inexpensive, though if you use freeze dried (Thrive or Alpine Aire) the price goes up a little. Since it all cooks together, I’ll pre-mix it and take it along in a zip lock to the boonies.

    You will need: 2 onions, 12 cloves of garlic, 2 sweet potatoes (or yams), 1 bell pepper, 1/2 cup lentils, and 1/4 cup of tomato sauce (or tomato powder). All of that can be freeze dried products (saves chopping) and the mix doesn’t require rehydrating before cooking. That will make about four +/-250 calorie servings .

    Put the above in 4 to 6 cups of water (more water will make it go farther, you decide how far to thin it out). Bring to a boil, add spices, and simmer for about 20 minutes. Depending on how much water you put in the end result will be anywhere from a sticky mass to a soup. The spices are my best guess since the folks I learned this from didn’t speak much English and didn’t measure anything: ginger (about 3 teaspoons fresh, maybe 1 teaspoon dried), 3 teaspoons paprika, 2 teasponns coriander, 1 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, salt and pepper as necessary. I have tried it with a variety of spices and the above works best for me. You can also add soy sauce, zatarans, and/or any hot sauce.

    You can add any additional veggies which you have/find (potatoes and carrots add more carbs while squash, beans, peas, spinach, dandelions, etc add more nutrients and roughage). You can add meat (the spices pretty much cover up any gaminess and the long simmer kills any parasites if you are desperate for protein). You can even put honey or molasses over the end product to create a reasonably good dessert (not close to a creme brulee, but not bad either).

    If you buy food in bulk and vacuum seal it into meal sized portions (add a small oxygen absorber and it will last for years) there is almost always a little left in the economy sized box, bag, or package. Put the leftovers in a mason jar. Keep adding to the jar every time you add to your food storage. You might wind up with a mix of beans, lentils, peas, rice, etc. When the jar is full, put it in a crock pot, cover with water, add spices, and cook for a few hours (beans will require the longest cook time). It is a cheap way to put a pot of soup on the table. Wash out the jar and start over again. This will also give you some training in how to mix and season your long term food stores for daily use. Beats the heck out of learning to cook after the zombie cockroaches take over the world.

  3. Wow I’m Egyptian and never thought of Koshary as an survival kind of food

    P.S: it’s pronounced koshary or koshery depending on what part of egypt you live or heard this from but the first vowel is an (O)

  4. I’m going to check this out, sounds good except for the lentil, maybe I can leave those out. I like watching Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” but one must use some caution, he makes everything look like it tastes good. I bet he could convince some to try bacon wrapped cat turds.

  5. Doesn’t sound half bad. I would cook up a half pound of hamburger or bacon (crumbled) to mix with it. If bacon be sure to add the cooked off grease to the mix. My theory is everything is better with bacon and bacon grease is the nector of the gods.

  6. The Egyptian gent on the TV show definitely pronounced it with a long O as “koshary”, but when I tried researching recipes online, everyone seemed to spell it “kasheri”, so I spelled it that way, in case anyone went looking for a more “measured” recipe. I never measure, just use what looks right 🙂

    I usually start the rice and lentils at the same time, then after about 5-10 minutes, toss in the broken up pasta. I forgot to mention, but browning the uncooked pasta in oil a la ‘rice-a-roni’ is pretty good, too 🙂

    The lentils (I usually use Indian orange dal, because they are the cheapest – I get big bags at the pan-Asian supermarket for a couple bucks) pretty much disappear into the mix, and give you pretty complete protein when eaten at the same time as rice. This is why, just about everywhere, poor folks have some version of ‘rice and beans’ as a staple. I like the taste, but, if you don’t, it’s pretty well hidden in the mix. As I always told my kids, “You don’t ever have to eat it again, but try it once. You might like it, and WTH, you’ll eat again in a few hours anyway.” They used to stun wait-staff by ordering calamari, steamed mussels, sushi and some very hot Thai dishes at fairly-young ages. 🙂 Even if you don’t like it, you are only out about a dollar or so in the name of experimentation 🙂

    As an aside, when packing culinary herbs and spices (like the cumin, onion and garlic) for camping, or in a BOB, consider one of those “2-or-3-a day-for-a-week pill packs for us forgetful old folks” , with removable daily sections from the pharmacy aisle. Compact, fairly-waterproof and pretty solid, especially if you use a couple fat rubberbands to make sure it doesn’t open accidentally. Use labels or a marker to be sure you don’t mistake paprika for cayenne 🙂 These work a lot better than anything sold as a camping item, and a lot less bulky.

    Now, off to try making a batch of Harry’s soup……

  7. Just an echo here….In my line of work I run into a lot of egyptians and since I read this article, I have mentioned it to each of them in the last week as I have run into them and their eyes always light up; “Ah, Ko-sherry yes, it is very good!” There were a few that promised to save me some the next time they make it, so I am looking forward to that.


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