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Diabetics – Egypt’s National Dish – Koshari

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For diabetics, even though Egypt is reaching out to enter a new epoch in its long history as a nation, its recent events brings up the issues of navigating the modern world for diabetics. For those with diabetes, worrying about family in Egypt during the recent revolution probably found their diabetic blood sugars upset or even out of control blood sugar levels. Stress does this. Those diabetics caught in the midst of the unrest also potentially found access to medication, food and medical care upset. All this means you always have to have a personal back-up food and medication plan and when you travel, even doubly so.

In solidarity with the hopes of the Egyptian people, in their quest for clean elections and honest self-government, I will share a recipe for Koshari – Egypt’s national food.

Like our hamburgers and fries, this is the food Egyptians love. It is usually vegetarian, filling and inexpensive. With fewer Egyptians eating at home, especially for lunch, the Koshari cooks work from street carts in the marketplace.

Their clanking serving spoons on the bowls holding the diverse grains, legumes, spices, and sauces makes a tapping sound, like music, and that draws the hungry shoppers and workers walking by. For the humblest workers, a breakfast of Koshari may be the only meal until just before bed, late at night.

Usually Koshari is a combination: of lentils, garbanzo beans (chickpeas, ceci), Egyptian basmati rice and a macaroni pasta. It is topped with: spice blends, garlic and  tomato sauce, then garnished with caramelized onions, vinegar and a tangy traditional Shatta salsa.

The preparation is important – all the legumes, macaroni and rice must be kept to small dollop-size portions, and each must be cooked separately, so that each item holds its flavor.

Rinse the cooked beans ( matpe or brown lentils) in boiling water, after cooking to remove any residual starch film – the impact of that technique is to feature each item’s taste, purely, then enhance them with a generally applied sauce that elevates the  dance into a whirlwind of flavor and aroma.

French green lentils (preferably organic) may not be a traditionally-used lentil, but these are much more nutritious.

This is a dish with many sources of vegetarian protein, so in the combination, there’s probably sufficient amino acids BUT as Egypt is not a wealthy country for the general population, the balance of carbohydrates in the dish is very high. This would be better to bring the meal more in a Zone recipe balance by adding 4 – 6 ozs. of a steamed or poached or grilled fish fillet, and a large green salad (including deep greens like kale, romaine, parsley and cilantro) which can stand up to Koshari’s spicy sauce while adding a counter-point.

I first saw Anthony Bourdain enjoying this dish on his series No Reservations and I was intrigued. It was hard to decide which Koshari recipe to use to represent a nation, but you’ll easily find more online if you want. Just remember, as diabetics, carbohydrates are the issue! Carbs must be fewer in quantity and frequency if they are from grains, period.

By adding oil and the fiber from beans and the salad, the blood sugar response timing is slowed down. Then, by only having a small portion of Koshari, bolstering the meal with healthy lean protein from fish and incorporating a salad, you have a better Zone meal, safer for those with diabetes.

There’s approximately 360 calories in the Koshari portion of the meal, along with about 63 grams of carbohydrate and only 14 grams of vegetarian protein — that’s why you need the 4 – 6 0z. portion of fish. My notes are included in parentheses.

Guardian.co.uk Koshari


Serves 4

2 C  pasta (macaroni and broken-up angel hair pasta)
1 C Egyptian basmati rice, washed
1 handful vermicelli, cracked (this is like angel-hair pasta or thinnest spaghetti) (or chicken flavored Rice-A-Roni)

1 C brown lentils, washed (I suggest French green lentils)
2 medium onions
2 tomatoes, juiced (or equivalent of organic canned tomatoes)

1 T sunflower oil (or organic, extra-virgin olive oil is even better)
3/4t sea salt
1t   pepper

chili powder (optional)
chicken stock bouillon cube (optional)

tomato paste concentrate
4 cloves garlic
3 limes (or small lemons)
1 heaping teaspoon cumin

Additional Garnish: Bragg’s organic apple cider vinegar, cilantro, parsley
4 – 6 oz. fish fillet – poached and put on the side
Salad ingredients – as desired, in a separate dish


• Boil the second set of pasta, separately, in salted water till cooked (less than 10 minutes or instructions on box).
• Meanwhile, bring the lentils to the boil in water then simmer (20 minutes), taking care not to over-cook.

• Fry the rice and vermicelli briefly in 1T of oil then add 1C of water. Bring to the boil and season with a little salt. When the water recedes so that it is just a film on the surface, put on the lowest possible heat and cook undisturbed for 20 minutes. (OR you could use a box of chicken flavored Rice-A-Roni, if you want.)

For the Basic Red Sauce

• Put the juiced tomatoes into a saucepan.
• Heat some oil in a frying pan. Dice one onion finely and fry till golden.

• Pour the onion mixture into the juiced tomatoes. (You could now add the chicken stock cube to the mixture if desired.)
• Add 1t of pepper and 3/4t of salt. (If you like your food hot, this is the moment to add chili powder, to taste.)

• When the sauce has reduced nicely, add half a small carton or can of tomato paste concentrate and 1 ½  cups of water. Simmer.

For the tangy sauce – the “takhdi’ah” or “shatta

• Peel and crush 4 cloves of garlic.
• Mix with the juice of the limes (or lemons).

• Season with salt and up to 1 teaspoon of cumin (add in increments).
• Add spoonfuls from the red sauce into the shatta mixture. Start tasting after 12 spoonfuls. When you like the taste, stop. Finally, add a drop of oil to give it a shine.

Poach, steam or grill your fish portion, to balance the meal.

For the garnish

• Slice 1 onion into fine crescents and fry it dry in a frying pan for about five minutes (this is to get rid of the water in the onion).

· Add 3T of oil and fry till dark brown, but not burned. You must watch the pan!

• Drain the onion of any excess oil and spread on some kitchen paper towel.

To serve

• Place on a flat plate or in (rimmed) bowls. Put 1 layer of pasta, followed by 1 layer of rice, followed by 1 layer of lentils. Each layer is slightly smaller than those below. You make a dome.

(OR, add as dollops of the pasta, pasta mix and lentils, with the sauce and garnishes just in the center, so you can mix and combine more individually. This is the way I believe I saw the plate Anthony Bourdain was served.)

Spoon over the tomato sauce, then add some takhdi’ah in the middle. Add the fried onions on top of the  takhdi’ah sauce.

• Serve with the poached fish and a green salad on the side – preferably dark green, like rocket, spinach or watercress and fresh serve a non-acidic juice or water.

Follow with a glass of fresh mint tea. (This is very traditional end to an Egyptian meal.)



Next week, it will be 4 years since I started writing this blog. I hope I will continue to be able to be of service to you, Dear Reader.

Best to all — Em

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(c)2011 Em at http://diabetesdietdialogue.com

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