Kushari: What’s In Your Pantry?
Once upon a time, before the modern luxuries of Whole Foods and Mickey D’s, people were forced to make-do for long periods with the simple items found in their pantries. Yes, they somehow survived without a daily dose of avocado toast (mind-blowing, we know). A trip through U.S. farms and urban markets today reveals a wonderland of vegetables, herbs, and other foods, which years ago were available in much smaller quantities during their limited seasons of growth, unless of course grown in one’s own backyard. With the arrival of 24-hour stores and online food delivery services, we’re now able to cook flavorful combinations with some of the most exotic ingredients imaginable. As illustrated in the myriad of internet and television ads touting the merits of one diet or another, there is a general awareness that proper eating and long life are linked. But what if a budget does not allow for those $6 per quart everbearing strawberries? Whether a result of small budgets, limited accessibility, busy schedules, or some other hindering factor, many people remain constrained to meals made of the simple ingredients available in their pantries. Lucky for you, that doesn’t mean you can’t eat well.
Rice and beans in combination are a world food staple, and there’s a pretty good reason for that: these ingredients are cheap, filling, and nutritious. Combining the two provides the amino acids that are necessary to complete protein requirements for a body, particularly when used in the correct ratio — leaning heavier on beans. Beans are little plant packages that pack a big punch of fiber, potassium, folate, iron, manganese and magnesium. Dried beans are known to store for a very long time, and while extra time is needed to soften them before cooking, the per serving cost is actually quite minimal. Rice can also be purchased cheaply, and while a bit more expensive, brown rice is preferable for nutrition (excuse our shameless plug, but The Taza Stop recently added brown rice to our build your own menu!). And then there’s macaroni… well, it’s just delicious. Be patient, we’re working on a nutritional point here.
Comfort foods are born of necessity and routine, so here’s where all of that talk of rice, beans and pasta forms in one delicious, Egyptian-inspired way. Kushari is considered the national dish of Egypt and can be found in all kinds of eateries, from the most upscale restaurants down to an ordinary pushcart on the streets. While the exact origins of this popular dish are disputed, we’ll follow in suit by declaring it the result of ancient Egyptian masterminds. A combination of lentils, rice, chickpeas, macaroni, spicy tomato sauce and fried onions, you can understand why it sounds as though a cook just grabbed a few ingredients and threw them together. In fact, that’s precisely how this Mediterranean staple is rumored to have started. As with many cuisines, Kushari is the result of a fusion of cultures traveling back and forth over time, land and history. Rice from China traveled to India, where it was paired with lentils that then made their way through Italy to pick up pasta, eventually landing in the Middle East for a good dollop of onions, garlic, chickpeas and spices. In completing the nutritional cycle, tomatoes and onions added a healthy dose of vitamin C. And there you have, one of our favorite dishes.
While Kushari uses the basic ingredients of rice, beans, and pasta, it relies most on the magic that makes it Egyptian: a flavorful blend of herbs and spices. The spice combination is often Baharat, which adds the depth of flavor and includes peppercorns, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, coriander, cloves, nutmeg and paprika. The beauty of Kushari is that it effortlessly contains everything a body needs in one bowl, and is a healthy choice for vegetarians and vegans alike. It’s even become a popular choice for the Egyptian Coptic Christian community during their observance of Lent.
Many families and cultures have their own variation of dishes made of leftover ingredients, or as we like to call them, the “go to the pantry and see what you can come up with” meals. Leave it to the Egyptians to build something out of those items that rises to the place of a beloved national dish. Regardless of its exact derivation, with Kushari on the menu we’re quite certain you’ll be eating like an Egyptian in no time! Until then, try a version of Kushari in the comfort of your own home with this recipe provided by The Mediterranean Dish.