“Oh, lentils,” Suzen said. For her “lentils” is shorthand for “I’m making this no matter what you think.”

“It has rice,” she added. She’d seen the look on my face.

Okay, compromise. I find straight lentils a bit tough to swallow. It’s just an overwhelming taste — and pasty feel — in my mouth. But rice? I will eat rice round the clock.

It turns out, many people agree with me. This recipe, from Ottolenghi, is for a rice and lentil dish that is popular across many time zones. Its “home” is Egypt. There are similar dishes in India and Britain. You see the dish when first cooked in the picture above. We were taking this combo to a dinner party and were using it as a main course. We elected not to make the tomato sauce, but instead topped the dish with spicy beef and lamb meatballs [tomorrow’s post!]

In Egypt, this dish is sold by street vendors, but it quite satisfactory on an elegant dinner table. It can be a side dish, or a main. The adornments can be meat balls, as we did, or the traditional tomato sauce, or cucumbers or yogurt. The dish is universal and flexible.

As a leftover? Excellent. Particularly with a splash of hot sauce.

Finally, this dish is a sandbox for you. Add some almond slice or raisins or olives. I can see stirring in marinated artichoke hearts just before serving. Experiment with different kinds of rice. Authenticity should always bow to creativity. And with this robust vehicle, you just cannot fail.


Kosheri with Spicy Tomato Sauce

Yield: serves 4


For the Tomato Sauce:

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 hot red chills, seeded and finely diced
  • 8 ripe tomatoes, chopped (canned are fine)
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 4 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • ⅔ ounce cilantro leaves, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Meat Balls:

  • 1 ½ cups green lentils
  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 ¾ ounces vermicelli noodles, broken into 1 ½ inch pieces
  • 1 ⅔ cups chicken stock or water
  • ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 white onions, halved and thinly sliced


To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a saucepan, add the garlic and chills and fry for 2 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, water, vinegar, salt, and cumin. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, until slightly thickened. Remove the sauce from the heat, stir in the cilantro, and then taste. See if you want to add any salt, pepper, or extra cilantro. Keep hot or leave to cool; both ways will work with the hot kosheri. Just remember to adjust the seasoning again when cold.

Place the lentils in a large sieve and wash them under a cold running tap. Transfer to a large saucepan, cover with plenty of cold water, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 25 minutes. The lentils should be tender but far from mushy. Drain in a colander and set aside.

In a large bowl, cover the rice with cold water, wash, and then drain well. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the raw vermicelli. Stir, and continue frying and stirring until the vermicelli is golden brown. Add the drained rice and mix well until it is well coated in the butter. Now add the stock, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, and then lower the heat to a minimum and simmer for 12 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the lid, cover the pan with a clean kitchen towel, and put the lid back on. Leave like that for about 5 minutes; this helps make the rice light and fluffy.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan, add the onions, and sauté over medium heat for about 20 minutes, until dark brown. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

To serve, lightly break up the rice with a fork and then add the lentils and most of the onions, reserving a few for garnish. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. Pile the rice high on a serving platter and top with the remaining onions. Serve hot, with the hot tomato sauce.

Source: Ottolenghi The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Photo Information: Canon T2i, EFS 60MM Macro Lens, F/2.8, 1/80th second, ISO-3200