As someone who grew up on meat and was brought up believing that a balanced diet consists out of a good variety of vegetables in addition to the staple of rice or any form of pasta with any variety of meat, I could never have imagined that I could go for long periods of time filling up on nothing but vegetarian dishes. Granted, it was perhaps more out of necessity than anything else, seeing that visiting countries such as India and many Middle Eastern / North African ones where beef isn’t as readily available as it is here seems to leave one having to choose more of their dishes from predominantly vegetarian options, but it was indeed quite an eye-opening experience.
I can now safely say that I could cook for a vegetarian guest for about half of the year straight and we’d both enjoy the surprisingly tasty and filling dishes. I’ll discuss one of these dishes for those meat-lovers who like me could never have imagined it was at all possible to fill up on and enjoy vegetarian dishes.
Well you guessed it, this is a dish all the way from Egypt and is in fact one of the country’s national dishes. Some of the locals refer to it as street food, but if you go around in virtually any street in the capital (Cairo), you’ll find a koshary restaurant serving this popular, filling vegetarian dish, offering a few places to sit inside. It’s usually served in metal bowls as well and you get a healthy portion of it so you won’t walk away hungry.
But here’s the thing right, if you happen to be in Cairo then you can get a koshary meal complete with either a Coke or Pepsi (most probably a Pepsi as sometimes Coke seems to be out of stock) for 44 pence!
Anyway, I dwell on this vegetarian dish because it’s one of my favourite vegetarian dishes and it really does the job to fill one up. It also pretty much epitomises what vegetarian dishes are all about, consisting out of different sizes and types of dry pasta, usually with white rice and lentils (brown), chickpeas, tomato sauce (more like a tomato-paste), dakka (a dressing made out of spices, chilli, vinegar and raw minced garlic) and fried onions. The dakka is usually served on the side for you to pour it in yourself however and this is a warning of just how hot it is!
Dakka packs a serious punch and if you’re not a local you’re often warned about its heavy punch.
A medium portion will do and it is quite a heavy meal which is often served as lunch, so if you have a bit too much you might feel sleepy very shortly afterwards.
Some koshary outlets leave out the fried onions, but it is indeed such a popular dish in Cairo that you’ll have your serving almost immediately after sitting down having placed your order.
Apart from the dakka, the ingredients are relatively easy to prepare, so you can get hold of the recipe and cook up a taste of Cairo right in your own kitchen.