Do you remember how, at school, you were always taught to read the instructions before starting an exam? You know the sort of thing: ‘You may lose marks, and even fail, if you don’t bother to find out what you are expected to do before doing something completely different.’ I felt a bit like that today when I was making this. For some reason I registered that it was very cupboard-friendly and light on the shopping (well, light if you have some spices) but, since I hadn’t read the f…ing recipe (RTFR is my new motto) I didn’t notice that it uses four, yes four, different pans! I also didn’t register, until it was too late, that the lentils, onions and sauce can all cook at, and for, the same time which makes it much quicker.
Perhaps my laziness was a blessing though; if I’d bothered to read it I might not have made it since I am averse to any recipe that uses more than two pans. And that would have been a shame because this is the sort of food I often eat out but can never replicate. Until now.
Kosheri is Egyptian street food so, like a lot of street food it’s spicy and cheap to make but, unlike a lot of street food it’s healthy too. It’s also rib-stickingly filling since it contains two starches and a starchy protein. I almost omitted the vermicelli since I can’t eat pasta but it seemed integral so I kept it in; so far it’s not made me sick… (my fingers are crossed as I type this).
Watch out for the quantities; I cut the original recipe down by half to make it serve two and I would say it still makes enough for three, or even four thinifers (oh and don’t you love the internet sometimes?; I read Fattypuff and Thinifers when I was a child and had lost sight of it completely until I looked it up just now). It might seem a faff to make four different things and combine them but if you make it in the order I suggest it should only take about 45 minutes. And this way round, you won’t get to step four, as I did, and wish you’d done it differently…
Kosheri (adapted from Ottolenghi The Cookbook)
For two-three you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
olive oil, 4 tablespoons (60ml)
garlic clove, 1
tinned tomatoes, 400g (you need four tomatoes)
unsalted butter, 25g
chicken stock (or water), 200ml plus a little extra
sea salt and black pepper
small red chilli
cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons (30ml)
ground cumin, 1 teaspoon
fresh coriander leaves, about a tablespoon
green lentils (the normal ones, not the Puy ones), 150g
basmati rice, 100g
vermicelli noodles, 25g (if not already in small pieces then break them up)
fresh grated nutmeg, a pinch (about a couple of goes on the grater)
ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon
1. Prep: peel and finely chop/crush the garlic. Destalk (and deseed if you like) the red chilli and finely chop it then peel and slice the onion. Drain the tomatoes and chop them. Wash the lentils in a sieve under cold running water and drain; do the same with the rice.
2. Make the sauce: in a medium saucepan heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the garlic and chilli and fry until soft/just starting to go brown (depending on the size of the bits this will take about two minutes). Add the tomatoes, 185ml of cold water, 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar, a teaspoon of sea salt and a teaspoon of ground cumin. Bring the mixture to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer until thickened (about 20-25 minutes). I’d move the pan to a ring at the back of the hob now. If it’s ready before everything else (it probably will be a little) then cover it and keep warm or leave it to cool (it’s apparently good cold as well as hot).
3. Put the lentils in another pan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for about 20-25 minutes until they are soft but not mushy. Again, put this pan on a back ring to cook whilst you do the rest. Once done, drain and, if ready in advance return it to the same pan and cover to keep warm.
4. In a frying pan, heat some more olive oil (a couple of tablespoons or so) and add the onion slices. Fry them gently for about 20-25 minutes until lovely and brown.
5. Melt the butter in another saucepan, one with a lid, and add the vermicelli. Stir to cover it completely with butter and then cook/fry it until golden brown. This will take about five minutes. Add the rice, mix it in well with the vermicelli and butter until it is coated in butter too then pour in the stock/water, add the grated nutmeg, cinnamon, salt and pepper then bring to the boil. As soon as it boils, put the lid on, turn the heat right down and leave to simmer for about 12 minutes (but keep an eye on it to check that it doesn’t boil dry; I found I needed to add a little more water after the first five minutes). When the rice is done, take it off the heat, remove the lid of the pan, put a clean tea towel over the pan and replace the lid (I think this absorbs a lot of the steam and makes the rice fluffier). Leave it tea-towel covered for about five minutes.
6. Finally, fluff up the rice then mix in the lentils and most of the onions (keep a few bits back for a garnish). Season to taste, sprinkle on the last onions and serve with the sauce.