(photo: Clifford A. Wright)



Difficulty: Medium Difficulty

Yield: Makes 6 servings
Preparation Time: 2:30 hours in all


Remember that kushary (In Food History, see “kushary” under topic “Egypt”) is a very simple working-class meal; there is nothing elegant to it, and you may wish to make and eat it for the same reason an Egyptian would--it’s satisfying, filling, and healthy.

You will be able to do steps 1, 2 and 3 at the same time if you are well organized. An easy way to serve kushary to a group of people is to leave the pasta in its colander from draining and rest it over a simmering pot of water. Place the mixing bowl of rice and lentils over another simmering pot of water to keep warm. Leave the tomato sauce in the saucepan you cooked it in and leave the onions in the skillet. Serve by spooning the cooked macaroni in a bowl and then spoon the rice and lentils on top. Spoon a quarter of the tomato sauce on top of the rice and then some onions. Serve the remaining sauce on the side. Eat with a spoon.

4 large onions


½ cup brown lentils (should yield 1 cup cooked lentils), picked over

3 cups water

7 tablespoons samna (clarified butter) or 2 tablespoons samna and 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cups long-grain rice, well rinsed or soaked in water to cover for 30 minutes

2 teaspoons salt

2 cups mixed dry pasta (see Note below)

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 cups hot Egyptian-style tomato sauce (dimca musabīka ; see Note 2)

  1. Slice the onions from the stem end into very thin slices, less than 1/16th inch. Arrange the onion slices on some paper towels, sprinkle generously with salt, and leave for 30 minutes covered with paper towels to absorb moisture.
  2. Wash the lentils under running water. Put them in a medium-size heavy saucepan, add 1 cup water and 1 teaspoon salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until the lentils are al dente, anywhere from 20 minutes to 1 hour. Check the lentils after 15 minutes so they are not overcooked, since lentil cooking times differ; they should be ever so slightly hard, not completely soft. Add some water to the pot if it is drying out and the lentils are not yet cooked. Drain and reserve the lentils.
  3. In another large heavy saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, heat 2 tablespoons of the samna (clarified butter) over medium-high heat, then cook the rice for 2 minutes, stirring continuously to coat all the grains, then add the remaining 2 cups water and 2 teaspoons salt. Stir and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover while the rice cooks until the water is absorbed, 12 to 15 minutes. Do not lift the lid or stir while the rice cooks.
  4. While the lentils and rice are cooking, prepare the onions. In a large skillet, melt the remaining 5 tablespoons samna or heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion slices and coat with the samna or oil. Continue turning the onions as they turn from white to yellow to brown. Once they turn brown, 10 to 20 minutes, continue to cook until some turn dark brown, another 2 minutes. Remove the skillet from the burner and quickly transfer the onions to a paper towel-lined platter to cool and drain. Once they are cool, they will become crispy. These crispy onions can also be purchased prepared.
  5. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of abundantly salted water to a vigorous boil and add the pasta. Cook until soft (not al dente) and drain well. Mix the rice and lentils in a large metal (preferably) bowl with a pinch of black pepper, tossing gently with a fork. Serve according to the instructions above.

Note 1: Half the dry pasta should be short macaroni such as ditalini, tubetti, or small elbow and the other half should be spaghetti broken into 2-inch lengths. The 2 cups dry pasta should yield 4 cups cooked pasta.

Note 2: To make Egyptian stewed tomato sauce, in a large skillet, heat ¼ cup olive oil over medium heat, then cook 1 finely chopped medium onion until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add 6 finely chopped garlic cloves and cook another 2 minutes, stirring constantly so the garlic doesn't burn. Mix one 6-ounce can tomato paste with 4 cups water and add to the onion. Reduce the heat to low while you simmer the tomato sauce for 20 minutes. Stir in 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and ½ teaspoon cayenne and cook until denser, about another 5 minutes. Makes 4 cups sauce.

Makes 6 servings