Growing up Egyptian in Italy exposed me to two very different cuisines very early on. On a typical day, I would have eggs or bread and cheese for breakfast served before a hot cup of black milk tea as I would eat in Egypt. I ate a school lunch divided into three courses with a primo of pasta or risotto, followed by meat or chicken with some vegetables, then a fruit or pudding. Then, I would come back home from school to the distinct smell of spices I have come to associate with my mom’s Egyptian cooking. I am proud to say that I could almost always guess what we would have for dinner even before removing my shoes and entering the house. After living in Italy for a couple of years, my mom, whom I’m convinced would place first on “MasterChef,” started to fuse her traditional Egyptian dishes with the local Italian cuisines in her own recipes. Since moving to the United States, it is these fusion dishes by my mother that remind me of my two homes. One of my favorites is a fusion of the Egyptian dish koshari asfar (yellow koshari — rice with lentils) and Italian risotto. The recipe is intended to feed two or three people and can be enjoyed with a side of cooked vegetables or meat.
It’s funny — we never really made this dish back in Italy, but now that we haven’t returned in over 8 years, I crave it at least once a week. Before I moved to Ann Arbor this past summer, I made sure to pack a big bag of red lentils. This was partly because I trusted this was the one dish I would be able to make on my own and partly because it is so unique to my family. Every time I make it I am reminded of my mom and her efforts to ensure my sister and I would not forget our home country of Egypt or our childhood in Italy. This is the first meal we had when we first moved to America and the first dish I made when I moved to Ann Arbor. It’s a dish that marks the start of many new chapters of my life so I want to share it now to conclude my first full year as a MiC columnist, as a thank you for letting me share my voice, my identity and my interests without judgments, and for giving me unconditional support, always.
- One cup of white rice
- One cup of red lentils
- One big onion
- Two to three teaspoons olive oil
- One teaspoon salt
- Two tablespoons red salsa or hot sauce, sometimes I use gochujang (optional)
- One and a half cups of shredded cheese (optional)
- Wash rice and lentils thoroughly, either separately or together, with warm water until water is mostly clear (five to seven times).
- Slice one big onion into (not too thin) strips.
- In a medium-size pan, sprinkle enough olive oil to thinly cover the bottom of your pan.
- Add sliced onion to the pan once heated. (Sometimes I add mushrooms with the onions, and you can also add your choice of meat.)
- On medium heat, stir the onions until lightly browned.
- Add rice and lentils to the pan, stir
- Add water until the rice is fully covered. I usually add one and a half cups of water per cup of rice and one cup of water per cup of lentils. So for this recipe, I use two and a half cups of water in total.
- Stir in two tablespoons of salsa, hot sauce or gochujang (optional) and some salt. Cover the pan with a lid.
- When all the water is absorbed, turn to low heat until the rice is fully cooked. This takes about 15-20 minutes or until the rice is no longer translucent. If you’re still not sure, just taste it!
- Plate and top with the cheese of your choice. I usually use Parmigiano, but really anything works here.
MiC Columnist Mariam Alshourbagy can be reached at email@example.com.