Sahar Elsemary moved to Australia in 1997 and started her own catering business in Sydney, making Middle Eastern including Egyptian recipes out of her home kitchen. The busy mother of four tells SBS Food's Michelle Tchea that one of her favourite recipes is koshari.
Elsemary says koshari is more than just an easy dinner to feed many hungry mouths. It's a recipe strongly associated with her happy memories of cooking with her mother back in Egypt.
In between cooking for her family and making dishes from her native home country for friends, Sahar is also a member of a non-profit organisation, Taste Tours, a social enterprise that supports the training and employment programs of new refugees and migrants through food. This is Sahar's koshari story.
Sahar Elsemary: My name is Sahar Elsemary and I moved from Egypt in 1997.
I started my catering business, Sasa's Corner, in 2013 and I cook from home, making authentic Egyptian dishes. Some of these dishes are well known like koshari, Egyptian Moussaka (please don't say it is a Greek dish, our recipe came first!) mahshi (stuffed cabbage, eggplant, zucchini), seafood dishes, but some of them aren't so well known outside of Egypt. Regardless, koshari is the dish I would like to share with SBS Food. So, let's talk about koshari.
It's a vegan dish and found on the streets of Egypt. The story goes back to British colonialism in 1882 where there were Indians and also Italians based in Egypt, and so the dish has ingredients of lentils and rice from the Indians, as well as small-shaped pasta like macaroni, which is an Italian influence. Egyptians added fried onions and the special tomato sauce to make it truly an Egyptian dish and it's something many Egyptians eat regularly.
The main ingredients are green lentils, medium-grain rice, small pasta, fried onions and tomato sauce (which has lots of chillies but optional). It's easy to find all the ingredients in Sydney. Most weekends I make this dish for my kids, especially for my daughter Engie and son Noor. It's their favourite dish while my other two daughters prefer other Egyptian dishes (but they'll eat it if they're hungry).
The most delicious tip for a great koshari is to fry the sliced onions first so you create a flavoured oil to make the rest of the koshari.
Usually, koshari is cooked during family gatherings as it's a dish made with love. As far as I remember, my mum's koshari has so many good memories associated with it. As I am number seven in the family (we are three girls and six boys), my mum made koshari because it's cheap to feed a large family and so yummy to eat too. When making koshari, I always associate it with beautiful memories of my family back in Egypt where my mum prepared each ingredient, but nowadays, as time is short, we try to simplify it.
"Koshari is cooked during family gatherings as it's a dish made with love."
I remember the smells of fried onions, the aroma coming from the special tomato sauce, as well as the sounds (noises!) from all of us kids impatiently waiting to eat koshari.
When I cook it now for my family, I think of those happy, amazing memories. My mum and only my older brother Mohammed knew how to make it when I was younger, but now I do too. The good cooks in the family were my mum, my older sister and Mohammed. The rest of my siblings, including myself, were just great eaters.
- 1 cup green or red lentils
- 2 cups medium-grain rice, washed
- 2 cups small pasta
- 2 tsp baharat (middle Eastern 7-spice mix)
- Oil to fry the onions
- Put the lentils and three cups of water into a medium-sized pot. Boil until tender.
- Add the rice, spices and salt.
- Stir and mix the ingredients and add enough water to cover rice and lentils
- When it boils, turn the heat to low and cook until tender.
- In another pot, fill with boiling water.
- Cook the pasta until tender.
- Drain and set aside.
- In a frypan, add the oil and sliced onions in, fry until golden.
- Drain on a paper towel to drain excess oil.
- 1 x 400 g diced can of tomatoes
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 green chilli
- 1 tbsp white vinegar
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 cup water
- 1 tsp cumin and salt to season
- In a medium-size cooking pot, add the oil with the garlic and chilli.
- When it is golden, add the vinegar and the tomato.
- Stir and add in the water, cumin and season with salt.
- Simmer for 15 minutes.
- Divide rice and lentils, as well as the pasta, for four people. Garnish with fried onions and top your dish with Elsemary's sauce.