The other national dish of Egypt is molokhia, which takes its name from the tall leafy vegetable from which it is made. Molokhia has been cultivated along the banks of the Nile for centuries, and is said to have the highest amount of protein and folic acid of any green leaf vegetable. It is also rich in beta-carotene, iron, calcium, and vitamin C. Egyptians believe it has aphrodisiac powers as well as great taste.
Bread is central to many Middle Eastern cuisines, being both the accompaniment to and the means of eating most regional dishes, but Egyptians have elevated its importance even higher by referring to bread as eish, meaning ‘life’ or ‘survival’. Eish, along with fava beans, has been the staple of the national diet for thousands of years.
In the bustling streets of Cairo, where the pavement is a marketplace and everything is for sale, food vendors serve up their delights to hungry customers. In days gone by people would bring their own container, pots or plates to fill up with a steaming serve of ful medames, or line up behind the kushari cart for a delicious mix of rice, lentils and noodles served with fragrant tomato sauce and fried onions. Other favourites are Egypt’s fava bean falafels, called tameya, often dished up with salad and bread, or a juicy skewer of marinated meat that has been cooking over hot charcoal.
Fresh fruit is a healthy and light conclusion to most meals, with strong coffee, black tea or the delicious refreshing red tea called karkade made with dried hibiscus flowers.
The tradition of the coffee houses in Egypt, where customers, almost always all male, escape the world and enjoy coffee and a nargile pipe, goes back centuries. Some popular Egyptian sweets are the coconut based semolina cake basbousa, and the creamy baked custard, dish called om Ali.
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This Egyptian recipe for sweet semolina cake is incredibly easy to make. It's topped with a delicious rosewater and lemon syrup.
Dukkah is an Egyptian dry mix of roasted nuts, seeds and spices finely blended together. Traditionally dukkah is eaten by dipping fresh Egyptian bread first into olive oil and then into the nut mixture, but it also serves as a versatile seasoning in Egyptian cooking.
This recipe for braised fava beans with lentils is Egypt's national dish, and is traditionally cooked overnight in a copper pot so it's ready for a hearty breakfast. It is typically eaten with Egyptian bread as a tasty and filling start to the day, particularly during Ramadan when Muslims fast during daylight hours. It pairs beautifully with many spicy, crunchy treats such as the bright-pink pickled turnips (coloured with beetroot) and crunchy pickled cucumbers that are sold in Middle Eastern food stores. For a sandwich-style snack, serve the ful in a pocket of flatbread with fresh salad, tahini, pickles and banana chillies.
Kushari is a delicious Egyptian vegetarian recipe consisting of green lentils, macaroni and rice mixed together with caramelised onions. It is served with a tomato-based sauce, finished with a crispy onion garnish and is best accompanied by a garden salad.
This is a traditional Egyptian recipe, especially when served with plain rice. Molokhia has a slippery consistency much like okra, and the taste varies according to the method of cooking and the stock that is used. It can be made from fresh, frozen, dried or preserved leaves. When made with rabbit, it is said to be the meal of the Pharaohs, as only the wealthy would indulge in it. It can also be cooked with chicken, duck or beef.
The Egyptian tagine is much like the better-known Moroccan tajine, the conical-topped clay cooking pot that cooks spicy stews to perfection. This seafood recipe uses barramundi instead of the traditional Nile perch, but the squid and prawns are authentic, being fruits of Egypt’s Mediterranean coastline and its famous river.
This thick stew of tender lamb and baby okra is a common dish in Egypt. Okra is the edible fruit pod of a plant related to the hibiscus and is used in many dishes for its thickening properties. Lamb backstrap or fillet is lean and quick and easy to use, although other cuts of lamb would work, the meat from the leg or shoulder is lovely too. The secret to this recipe is the long, slow simmering that brings the flavours gently together.