This Iconic Egyptian Dish Is My Ultimate Comfort Food

With heaps of fluffy vermicelli, rice, tender black lentils, and soft pasta elbows, koshari is an iconic Egyptian meal that’s worth seeking out and making at home.

Overhead view of koshari in bowl
Serious Eats / Kevin White

When I lived in Cairo, I often found myself navigating the bustling streets and heavy traffic after work. I had one destination in mind: Koshari Al Tahrir, an eatery near Tahrir Square specializing in koshari, an iconic Egyptian street food of fluffy vermicelli, rice, tender black lentils, and soft pasta elbows. It’s my favorite comfort food, and in Cairo, there is no place that does it better than Koshari Al Tahrir.

Overhead view of Koshari and toppings
Serious Eats / Kevin White

There, middle-aged men with friendly smiles would greet you as they assembled koshari layer by layer. I’d watch as they quickly filled shiny aluminum bowls with a base of rice and lentils, followed by generous spoonfuls of macaroni and a ladle of tender chickpeas. With a flourish, they’d stream a bright tomato sauce on top of it all before adding the final touches: a heap of crispy fried onions and drizzles of a da’ah (a garlicky vinegar sauce) and shatta (a chile sauce). This is a scene deeply etched into my memory, and though it’s been 15 years since I moved to the United States, I still think of it every time I make koshari.

The Origins of Koshari

Though no one knows for sure where koshari came from, most people in Egypt believe that kitchari—an Indian dish of lentils and basmati rice—may have inspired the beloved Egyptian meal. It’s possible that Indian soldiers, who arrived with Britain’s occupation of Egypt in the late 1800s, brought kitchari with them. Some say the dish has Italian influences, too, as Egyptian koshari has two distinctly Italian staples: pasta and tomato sauce. To make the dish their own, Egyptians drizzled da’ah, a tangy garlic and vinegar sauce, and shatta, a spicy chile and garlic sauce, onto it. Today, variations of koshari, including mujaddara or mejadra—a similar meal of basmati rice, black lentils, and caramelized onions—are eaten throughout the Arab world.

Koshari is eaten year-round in Egypt, but is a particular favorite during Lent, when Copts (Egyptian Christians)—including my family—observe a strictly vegan diet. Despite using relatively basic pantry staples like rice and lentils, koshari is a meal bursting with tart, savory, flavors, with a wide range of textures that includes crisp onions, tender rice, and an assortment of sauces.

Side view of layers of koshari
Serious Eats / Kevin White


Local Egyptian home cooks rarely make koshari as it’s so ubiquitous and easy to purchase from street vendors, who offer the dish at fairly reasonable prices. For those very reasons, I only became motivated to make my own koshari when I moved to the US—where it isn’t as readily available—in 2008. A meal so ubiquitous in Egypt, and one I took for granted, had become a nostalgic treat. I made it my mission to recreate koshari in my own kitchen. 

The first few times I made it, I found it difficult to prepare all the ingredients—the lentils, the rice, the macaroni, sauces, and fried onions—at the same time while ensuring they were each the correct texture and flavor. Through plenty of trial and error, I figured out how to make the best possible version at home. Since perfecting my koshari, my Egyptian friends and family have clamored for the dish and frequently request that I make it. Even my non-Egyptian friends, who didn’t grow up eating it, have come to love it.

How to Make Koshari at Home

Don’t be daunted by the long list of ingredients required for koshari—it’s a fairly simple dish to make. The key to making it well is preparing and laying out all the components before you begin cooking—what the French call mise en place—which helps streamline the cooking process.  I recommend soaking the basmati rice in cold water for 30 minutes and the black lentils in hot water for one hour, which will speed up the cooking time and result in tender grains.

Frying the Shallots

An epic koshari would be incomplete without its signature garnish of crispy fried shallots. In a pinch, you could use store-bought fried shallots, but I highly recommend making your own so you can use the fragrant oil leftover from cooking the shallots to make the rest of the dish and the sauces. For thin, evenly sliced shallots, use a mandolin or sharp knife. Be sure to fry in batches to prevent overcrowding in the pan, as that will result in soggy shallots. To keep the alliums as crisp as possible, I recommend straining them with a slotted spoon once they’ve finished cooking, then transferring the shallots to a paper-towel-lined plate or baking sheet.

Overhead view of fried shallots
Serious Eats / Kevin White

If you plan on preparing the shallots the day before and want to re-crisp them before you assemble the koshari, you can place them on a baking sheet and refresh them in an oven preheated to 360ºF (182ºC). Bake for five to seven minutes until they’re crisp again.

Don’t Skip the Sauces

Though koshari is delicious on its own, the three sauces—salsa, a mild tomato sauce; da’ah, a tangy garlic-vinegar sauce; and shatta, a chile-garlic sauce—are what make it truly superb. As I mentioned above, the key to success is to set out all your ingredients beforehand so you can quickly make each of these sauces without chaos or confusion. If you have time to spare, I highly recommend making these sauces ahead of time, as they seem to become more flavorful as they sit.

Overhead view of sauces
Serious Eats / Kevin White
  • Salsa: I like to purée fresh tomatoes for this by blitzing two to three ripe tomatoes in a food processor. But for ease, I’ve recommended canned or bottled tomato passata here. I add a teaspoon of granulated sugar to amplify the sweetness of the tomatoes, and for extra depth of flavor, I sauté garlic in some of the shallot oil before whisking in the vinegar, tomatoes, cumin, and coriander.
  • Da’ah: Like the salsa, this is a simple sauce to prepare and utilizes shallot-infused oil for depth. Vinegar and lime juice add an acidic kick, which helps to offset the heaviness of the rice and lentils.
  • Shatta: Scented with cumin and spiced with red pepper flakes, this garlicky chile sauce brings heat to koshari. I like to make my own, but you can substitute with store-bought hot sauce like sriracha or chile-garlic sauce.

Tips for Cooking Koshari

Overhead view of adding elbow pasta to pot
Serious Eats / Kevin White

Koshari is an easy one-pot meal, but with a little effort, you can make a phenomenal one that tastes just like what you’d find on the streets of Egypt. Here are some tips and tricks to keep in mind.

  • Coat the rice, pasta, and lentils in hot oil. This prevents them from sticking to one another during the cooking process and results in a fluffier koshari.
  • The order you add the ingredients is important. You may be tempted to toss the rice, pasta, and lentils in at the same time, but because they each have different cooking times, it’s crucial to consider the order they go in. Start by frying the vermicelli in oil, then add the rice, followed by the pasta, taking a minute or two between each to evenly coat the ingredients in oil. Finally, add the lentils.
  • Fluff with a fork. To preserve the delicate texture of the basmati rice, uncover it once it’s cooked and fluff with a fork. 

How to Serve Koshari

Because koshari is such a filling dish, most people enjoy it on its own with just the sauces and fried shallots. Some like to round out the meal with salata baladi, a rustic Egyptian salad of cucumber, tomatoes, green pepper, parsley, and red onions dressed in a simple vinaigrette of lemon juice, olive oil, vinegar, and dried mint. 

Side view of topping with fried shallots
Serious Eats / Kevin White

Regardless of how you choose to serve it, I recommend making a big batch and sharing it with your loved ones. It’s the most pleasurable way to have koshari, and if you do it often enough, your friends and family may even start to ask for it regularly the way mine do. 

For the Fried Shallots and Shallot-Infused Oil: In a 10-inch skillet, combine oil and shallots over medium heat, and cook, stirring often, until shallots are golden brown and crisp, 20 to 30 minutes.

Overhead view of frying shallots
Serious Eats / Kevin White

Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a heatproof bowl. Transfer shallots to a paper-towel lined plate to drain and season with salt. Set shallot-infused oil aside to cool. Store the fried shallots in an airtight container until you are ready to use. Store the shallot-infused oil in a clean jar once cooled.

Overhead view of fried shallots
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For the Salsa: In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of shallot-infused oil over medium-low heat until shimmering. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until garlic is fragrant and golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in vinegar, tomato passata, sugar, cumin, and coriander. Adjust heat to low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. (The sauce should have the consistency of a marinara; if it becomes too thick, loosen the sauce with additional water as needed.) Remove from heat and set aside uncovered; remove 1/4 cup salsa and set aside for shatta.

Four image collage of adding shallot oil, garlic, cumin and tomato paste
Serious Eats / Kevin White

For the Da’ah: In a small saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons shallot-infused oil over medium-low heat until shimmering. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Whisk in vinegar, water, lime juice, and cumin. Season with salt to taste. (If sauce is too acidic, add one or two tablespoons of water.) Remove from heat and set aside. Wipe saucepan clean to prepare the shatta.

Two image collage of frying garlic and adding spices
Serious Eats / Kevin White

For the Shatta: In the now-clean small saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon shallot-infused oil over medium-low heat until shimmering. Add red pepper flakes, stirring constantly until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add garlic, and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in tomato paste until well combined, followed by 1/4 cup salsa (prepared in step 3) and ground cumin. Simmer on low heat until slightly thickened, 2 minutes. Remove from heat and season with salt to taste. Set aside. (See notes.)

Four image collage of adding red pepper flakes, stirring in tomato paste and sauce thickening
Serious Eats / Kevin White

For the Koshari: In a small saucepan or kettle, bring 2 cups (240ml) of water to a boil, set aside. In a 6-quart heavy-bottom pot, heat 1/4 cup shallot oil over medium-low heat until shimmering. Add vermicelli, stirring to coat in oil until they are a deep amber color, about 4 minutes. Add rice and elbow pasta to vermicelli and stir until evenly coated in the oil, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the black lentils. Pour in the 2 cups of freshly boiled water; there should be just enough to cover the ingredients. Add cumin, coriander, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil over high heat, cooking until all the water has been absorbed, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, cover with lid, and cook until rice and lentils are tender, about 3 minutes. Let rest off heat for 1 minute, then uncover the pot and, using a fork, fluff rice and season with salt to taste.

Four image collage of stiring rice, adding lentils, adding water, fluffing rice
Serious Eats / Kevin White

To Assemble: Transfer koshari to a large serving dish. Drizzle koshari with da’ah and remaining salsa, top with chickpeas, and garnish with the prepared fried shallots. Serve warm with remaining sauce and shatta on the side.

Four image collage of
Serious Eats / Kevin White

Special Equipment

10-inch nonstick or cast iron skillet, fine-mesh strainer, medium saucepan, small saucepan, large heavy-bottom pot

Notes

This recipe can be halved or doubled.

The shatta should have a similar texture slightly thicker than hot sauce, like that of sriracha. Sriracha or store-bought chile garlic sauce can be substituted for homemade shatta.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The sauces can be refrigerated in airtight containers for up to 3 days. The fried onions can be made 1 day in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

The koshari can be stored in an airtight container or zip-top bag and frozen for up to 1 month.

To reheat koshari in the oven: Preheat the oven to 350ºF (175ºC). Place koshari in a baking dish, cover tightly with aluminum foil, heat until warmed through, about 15 minutes.

To reheat in the microwave, place koshari in a microwave-safe container and heat until warm, about 90 seconds.

This Easy, Comforting Green Soup Is an Egyptian Classic

Cooked in a rich chicken broth and flavored with a fragrant garlic-coriander paste, molokhia soup—jute mallow soup—is an iconic Egyptian dish.

Molokhia soup in a bowl with pickled red onions.
Serious Eats / Kevin White

As an Egyptian immigrant in the United States, nothing matches the joy of making molokhia soup in my kitchen and sharing its story with my kids. Molokhia is an iconic Egyptian soup made of jute mallow leaves from which the dish gets its name. Those leaves are cooked in a rich chicken broth and flavored with tasha, a fragrant garlic-coriander paste fried in ghee, until velvety. It's a recipe that’s particularly nostalgic to me. Every year, towards the end of the last spring frost, I rush to order jute mallow seeds online. When they arrive, I plant them in the raised beds in my sunny backyard in Virginia and eagerly anticipate harvesting them to make molokhia soup, a comforting dish that takes me back to afternoons in my grandma’s kitchen.


I was born in buzzing Cairo and grew up in Alexandria, a serene Egyptian city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea where no weekend meal or feast was complete without molokhia soup. I have many warm memories of long, leisurely meals and large gatherings where my family and I enjoyed molokhia soup together.


Today, most people prepare the soup with frozen molokhia that comes cleaned and chopped, but my grandmother Aida always used fresh, as I do today. I remember her working for hours as she patiently snipped fresh leaves, discarding the muddy stalks and rinsing off any clinging dirt under running water. Then, she’d spread the wet leaves out in one layer to air dry under the warmth of the sun.


I vividly recall my grandma facing her kitchen counter, hunched over as if preparing for battle. Her palms firmly gripping the two wooden handles of the mezzaluna, she’d tirelessly rock the blade back and forth, reducing a mountain of molokhia leaves to a neat pile of finely shredded greens.

 

Without missing a beat, she would then proceed to use one hand to add the minced leaves to the simmering broth while her other hand focused on frying the tasha. Then it was time for the funniest part of the whole tradition: My grandma would dramatically gasp while adding the tasha to the simmering soup, a ritual called shahka in Arabic.  


Legend has it that a successful molokhia soup is only possible if the cook gasps at the top of their lungs when they add the tasha. It’s an Egyptian tradition that has been passed on from one generation to the next, and one I will happily pass down to my kids.

Bowls of molokhia soup with bread.
Serious Eats / Kevin White

The Origins of Molokhia

For years, the most widespread narrative has been that molokhia soup means royal in hieroglyphics (ancient Egyptian language), as molokhia soup was served only to pharaohs because it was so nutritious. That narrative was challenged by the prominent Egyptian food historian Mennat-Allah El Dorry, who confirmed that this dominant story lacks historical evidence. 


“The earliest certain record of it is from the eleventh century CE, when the Shiite Fatimid Caliph al-Ḥakim bi-Amrillah banned Egyptians from eating it likely because it was the favorite of Sunni Caliph Muawiya (7th century CE),” Dr. El Dorry told me in an interview. “Since then, it has appeared in a variety of sources. However, a possible mention in a sixth-century CE Alexandrian text also exists: the Vegetable Zodiac, which features crops that are harvested during each month and specifies a certain crop called malachai, for the November/December slot.”

How to Make Molokhia

Nowadays, anyone from any cultural background can make molokhia soup without breaking a sweat like grandma Aida did, thanks to the fact that frozen and pre-minced molokhia is available in Middle Eastern stores across the globe. Even if you do decide to make molokhia with fresh leaves, the blender does a neater, faster job than the traditional mezzaluna, and reduces the active cooking time to less than an hour. 

Molokhia leaves in a plastic bag on a cutting board.
Serious Eats / Kevin White


To make molokhia soup, you’ll cook the minced leaves in chicken broth and leave it to gently simmer until it bubbles on the edges and becomes fragrant. While the soup cooks, you’ll make the tasha by pounding together the minced garlic, toasted coriander seeds, and a pinch of salt, then frying it in ghee. It’s essential to make sure the paste is ready to incorporate into the soup at the right time—when the paste becomes fragrant, crisp, and orange-hued, you’ll add it to the soup to give it additional depth of flavor. And that’s all there is to it! 


To gild the lily, I garnish my molokhia soup with pickled red onions. About an hour before I serve the molokhia, I combine thinly sliced red onions, lime juice, and distilled white vinegar in a jar. The pickled red onions add a vivid pop of color to the soup, and lend satisfying acidity.

Whisking molokhia into chicken broth in a Dutch oven.
Serious Eats / Kevin White

Tips for Success

The ideal molokhia soup should be a vivid green, with a significant body that is neither too thick nor too watery. Molokhia should be unapologetically slimy—yes, “slimy” is a good thing with molokhia—with an unmistakable garlicky scent and flavor laced with toasted coriander’s floral notes. The worst case scenario is sakta, which means failed in Arabic, or when the soup splits.  

This happens when the minced leaves sink to the bottom of the pan while the broth remains floating on top. The following tips will prevent that from happening: 

  • Toast the coriander seeds in a dry skillet on the stove top to draw out the spice’s flavorful oils.
  • Use the right ratio of broth—2 1/2 cups of broth to 400 grams of frozen molokhia. Any more broth, and the leaves will sink to the bottom of the broth rather than being incorporated into it.  
  • Don’t cover the molokhia pot at any point as the color will lose its vibrancy. 
  • Don’t overcook the garlic in the ghee. Remove it from the heat once the garlic-coriander paste becomes fragrant—otherwise the soup will taste like burnt garlic.
  • Temper the molokhia soup. A large difference in temperature can cause the soup to split; adding the frozen molokhia to a broth that’s warm but not too hot reduces the risk of the soup separating.
  • Simmer—but don’t boil!—the soup. Boiling can result in a lumpy soup and dull its vivid green color.
  • The slippery texture of the leaves is a signature part of molokhia—but if you’d prefer a soup that’s less slimy, you can add a grated tomato. The acidity in the tomato helps to break up the slimy texture of the greens.

Variations of Molokhia

Molokhia is a dish that is more or less cooked the same way across Egypt. Some Egyptian families of Lebanese origin, however, use a combination of molokhia leaves and fresh minced cilantro in the soup—the cilantro adds freshness and balances the earthiness of the molokhia leaves. The broth they use might differ, too. They may use an austere vegetable broth, while others opt for a hearty beef or duck broth. Another alternative to fresh molokhia soup is shalawlaw, a vegan molokhia soup made with dehydrated jute mallow leaves that is popular in south and upper Egypt.

How to Serve Molokhia

Traditionally, molokhia soup is served hot with traditional Egyptian vermicelli rice or ruz moa’mar (baked rice), and/or bread (either pita or an Egyptian kind of bread that’s similar to pita but thinner and made with whole wheat).  To round out the meal, I like to serve molokhia with kabab halla (Egyptian braised beef with onions).


As an immigrant family, making molokhia has become a fun weekend ritual that brings my family together. Practice makes perfect, and making molokhia on a weekly basis has definitely elevated my molokhia skills. A few years ago, my late father visited me for the first time in Virgina to see my newborn. He tried my molokhia and, with a big smile on his face, he whispered: “Your molokhia is even better than your mom’s.”

Molokhia soup in a bowl with bread on the side.
Serious Eats / Kevin White

For the Pickled Onions: In a medium bowl, pour distilled white vinegar and lemon juice over thinly sliced onions. Set aside for at least an hour.

Pickling red onions in a bowl.
Serious Eats / Kevin White

For the Molokhia: In a 4-quart Dutch oven, heat chicken stock over low heat until just beginning to bubble, about 3 minutes, then reduce heat. Add thawed molokhia to warm broth, whisking until fully incorporated. Add cilantro, if using, and garlic, whisking well to incorporate. Bring molokhia to a gentle simmer, uncovered, over low heat and cook until edges begin to bubble, 5 to 7 minutes.  (Be careful not to let the soup boil.) If soup is too thick for your liking, add 1/2 cup chicken stock. If you prefer your molokhia soup less slimy, add the grated tomato.

Adding molokhia to a pot of soup.
Serious Eats / Kevin White

For the Tasha: While the soup is cooking, in a mortar and pestle, pound garlic, coriander, and salt until smooth. In a small nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons ghee over medium heat until shimmering. Add garlic and coriander paste and cook, stirring constantly to prevent burning, until fragrant and garlic is crispy and golden, about 1 1/2 minutes. Immediately add tasha to hot molokhia. (To catch any remaining bits of garlic and coriander, add a ladle of soup to the skillet, swirl, then add liquid back to the soup pot.) Remove from heat and season to taste.

Preparing a garlic and coriander paste and adding it to molokhia soup.
Serious Eats / Kevin White

Serve molokhia in individual soup bowls and garnish with pickled red onions with hot pita bread, vermicelli rice, roast chicken, and/or kabab halla, if desired.

Molokhia soup in bowls.
Serious Eats / Kevin White

Special Equipment

4-quart Dutch oven, mortar and pestle, whisk, nonstick skillet

Notes

If you are using fresh or frozen whole molokhia leaves, use a blender, immersion blender, or food processor to blend leaves (thawed first, if frozen) with 1 cup (240ml) warm broth until smooth. Add blended molokhia to the rest of the warm broth and proceed with recipe.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The garlic and coriander paste can be frozen in an ice cube tray (top each cube with some olive oil), transferred to an airtight container or freezer bag, and stored in the freezer for up to 3 months. Use a cube or two each time you make molokhia soup.


The pickled onions can be made up to 2 days ahead.

Kabab Halla (Egyptian Braised Beef With Onions)

Kabab halla, a signature Egyptian dish, consists of tender beef braised in a velvety sauce of caramelized onions.

Overhead view of Kabab Halla
Serious Eats / Greg Dupree

The word kabab might make you think of charred, sizzling skewers of minced meat over a raging fire spit, but kabab halla—an iconic Egyptian dish of braised beef and onions—couldn’t be more different. Kabab halla translates simply to “meat in the pot,” and consists mostly of inexpensive stew meat and yellow onions, two widely available and affordable ingredients. Cooked in just enough stock or water to cover, the beef and onions simmer for two hours until the meat is tender and the onions collapse into a velvety sauce. For many Egyptians, kabab halla is considered the ultimate comfort food.

Some variations of the recipe include wedges or cubes of russet potato that are added to the stew for the last 30 minutes cooking, thickening the sauce with their starch while stretching the meat further. Other more modern variations include additional ingredients, which braise alongside the beef and add their own earthy flavor. This recipe keeps things simple and classic, with the beef, onions, and spices the main ingredients. That said, you could easily adapt the recipe to include potatoes, mushrooms, or anything else that appeals, though you may need to adjust the cooking liquid volume and process slightly to accommodate them.

Choosing the Best Beef Cut and Onions for Kabab Halla

While there are several cuts of beef suitable for stewing and braising, Egyptians often use the top round, a subtly-marbled cut of beef, to make kabab halla. For this recipe, however, we're calling for boneless beef chuck, as we find that what beef in the United States, it's a more reliable option for slow-cooked dishes—it's higher in collagen than many other beef cuts, which melts into tender gelatin over long periods of cooking, resulting in stewed beef that is juicy and flavorful and a sauce that has enhanced sulkiness thanks to that supply of gelatin. 

As for the onions, I prefer yellow, which are deeply sweet and aromatic, developing a pleasing sweetness as they cook. While red onions may lend sweetness, they are slightly more pungent than yellow onions and may overpower the flavor of kabab halla. White onions, on the other hand, have a milder flavor, which I don't think works as well here.

How to Make Kabab Halla

The basic process for making his recipe is as follows: First, salt and brown the beef right away. Salt draws moisture out of the meat through osmosis, so if you salt the beef too far in advance, it'll be wet when it goes into the pot, which drives down the cooking temperature and delays browning. You could, of course, salt the beef far in advance—at least 40 minutes—to give it time for the moisture to be drawn out and then be reabsorbed or evaporate, but for speed, salting and searing right away works well.

After that, the onions are browned in the pot with the garlic and spices, which both develops their flavor before the stock is added and softens them more fully. Adding the spices at this stage, instead of to the pot after the stock has gone in, blooms their flavor by toasting them in the fat. Plus, because so much of a spice's flavor and aroma is fat soluble, this cooking step increases their flavor impact on the final stew.

Once the stock goes into the pot, it's time to cook it until the beef is properly tender. I am in the habit of doing it on the stovetop, which is what the recipe instructs, though you could also transfer the stew to a relatively low 325°F (175°C) oven, partially covered, and let it slow cook there until the beef is tender. Either way, the stew is finished on the stovetop to ensure the cooking liquids are cooked down to a silky, saucy glaze.

Pat beef dry with paper towels and season all over with salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper.

In a Dutch oven or a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat ghee over medium-high heat until shimmering. Working in batches to avoid crowding the pan, add beef in a single layer and cook until evenly browned on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a clean plate. Repeat with remaining beef.

Add onions to the Dutch oven and cook, stirring often, until they begin to soften and brown, about 5 minutes; add additional ghee or oil if pot becomes too dry. Add the garlic along with the allspice, cayenne, coriander, paprika, cardamom, cumin, and nutmeg, and continue to cook, stirring, for 1 minute. (You don’t need to caramelize the onions all the way as they will brown further during the slow cooking process.)

Return the beef and any accumulated juices to the pot. Stir in the broth along with the cinnamon stick and bay leaves. Bring to a boil then cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer, covered, until meat is tender, 2 to 2 1/2 hours, checking every 20-30 minutes to make sure that the braise does not become dry and adding more water or broth if necessary (you want the braise to be moist but the meat should not be submerged in excess liquid). Once meat is tender, uncover, increase heat to medium-low, and simmer gently to reduce the sauce until thick and jammy, 20 to 30 minutes; season with salt, if needed. The braise is ready when the meat is fork-tender and the onions have completely melted into a thick sauce.

Transfer to a deep serving dish. Garnish with fresh parsley leaves, if desired, and serve hot with rice and/or pita.

Special Equipment

Dutch oven

Notes

The buttery flavor of ghee is preferable, but a neutral oil like canola oil will work in a pinch (regular butter risks scorching with high-heat searing so is best avoided).

Store-bought beef stock is frequently a poor substitute for the real thing so we recommend homemade if possible; store-bought chicken stock is generally the better substitute to homemade, unless you have a source of high-quality beef stock.

The cooking time of this beef braise depends on the meat cut used. So adjust the cooking time accordingly and add more water or broth if necessary.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Kabab halla can be made 1-3 days in advance and kept refrigerated.

You can make a big batch of kabab halla and freeze it in zipper-lock bags.

Basbousa Bel Ashta (Semolina Cake With Ashta Cream Filling)

This version of basbousa is filled with a rich clotted cream and drenched in a rose-scented syrup.

Overhead view of Basbousa Bel Ashta
Serious Eats / Fred Hardy

Nothing transports me to Egypt like a slice of basbousa bel ashta savored with my morning coffee. Based on the classic Egyptian semolina cake called basbousa, this "bel ashta'' variation adds a rich cream filling and a rose-scented syrup. The confection is drenched in the syrup while it’s still hot and then often sold as bite-sized, diamond-shaped bars in bakeries throughout Egypt. 

Legend has it that this rich cream-filled version was first made at Koueider, one of Egypt’s oldest pastry shops established in the 1930s. To this day, Koueidar's recipe for basbousa bel ashta remains a tightly guarded secret. Eager to share a childhood favorite with my Egyptian diasporan family, I created my own. My memories of the dessert guided me through the process, and after much trial and error, I arrived at this version, which reproduces the original faithfully. 

In Arabic, ashta literally means "clotted cream," the thick sheet of protein that rises to the surface of heated unpasteurized milk. The real challenge in developing this dessert was to find a formula for ashta that would stand the heat of the oven and remain fluffy without disappearing into the dense semolina batter while the cake bakes—something that happened to me repeatedly in my early attempts.

My solution is to mix heavy cream with cream cheese to create a creamy layer with enough structure to hold its own without bleeding into the cake as they bake together. That may not be what the bakers at Koueidar do in Egypt, but it works. To balance the sweetness of the syrup-drenched dessert, I add orange zest to the semolina batter and orange rind to the simple syrup, which cuts through the sugar with a subtle bitterness and acidity while complementing the richness of the filling. I'm also careful not to over-sweeten the ashta; there's enough sweetness coming from the syrup to avoid every element of the cake being similarly saccharine.  

Semolina, the main ingredient, is available online and in Middle eastern stores. It's important to use coarse semolina in this recipe, which provides the proper texture for the cake's crumb; anything too fine and you'll end up with a very different result.

The final cake is an impressive sight, with a shiny, glazed surface and defined layers of soft semolina cake and thick, creamy ashta. With some chopped pistachios on top to add crunch and a complex flavor that's in turns floral, herbal, and citrusy, it's a winner on all fronts.

For the Ashta (Cream Filling): In a medium saucepan, whisk together milk, cream, and cornstarch over low heat until cornstarch is completely dissolved. Whisk in flour until thoroughly incorporated, about 1 minute. Add sugar and whisk until dissolved.

Whisk in crushed mastic and cream cheese until mastic is melted and mixture is smooth. Increase heat to medium and, stirring constantly, bring mixture to a boil. Boil until mixture reaches a thick, custard-like consistency, about 2 minutes. Stir in rose water and remove from the heat.

Adding rose water to custard mixture
Serious Eats / Fred Hardy

Transfer ashta to a bowl, place plastic wrap directly on the surface (this prevents a skin from forming), and set aside to cool completely, about 1 hour.

For the Simple Syrup : In a medium saucepan, combine water and sugar, set over low heat, and cook, stirring often, until sugar is fully dissolved, about 5 minutes.

Stir in orange rind, cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves. Increase heat to medium and bring the syrup to a simmer. Simmer, undisturbed, until it thickens slightly, 3 to 5 minutes. (The syrup should be thicker than water, but not as viscous as honey.)

Stir in orange blossom water and remove from the heat immediately. Cover and set aside to keep warm.

For the Basbousa Bel Ashta: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 350°F (180°C). Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan, tapping out any excess flour.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the semolina, granulated sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the yogurt, eggs, orange zest, vanilla extract, and canola oil, and whisk until batter is completely smooth.

Fill the pan with 2 cups (473ml) batter. Bake until the top is set and dry to the touch, and the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the mold, 10-15 minutes. Remove basbousa from the oven.

Using an offset spatula, carefully spread ashta in an even layer on top of the basbousa, then carefully pour the remaining 1 1/2 cups (355ml) basbousa batter on top. Bake until the cake is golden brown, springy yet dry to the touch, and begins to pull away from the sides of the mold, 30-40 minutes.

Three image collage of adding cream mixture and spreading it with an offset spatula then adding another layer of batter
Serious Eats / Fred Hardy

Remove basbousa from oven and place on a wire rack. Immediately pour the warm simple syrup on top, working slowly to ensure the cake evenly soaks. Allow basbousa to cool completely, about 90 minutes, then cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours but preferably overnight before serving.

Pouring syrup over cake
Serious Eats / Fred Hardy

To serve, unmold the basbousa and transfer it to a serving dish. Brush the surface of the basbousa with a thin layer of simple syrup. Garnish with chopped pistachios and orange zest curls. Serve cold with extra simple syrup on the side.

Special Equipment

Whisk, 9-inch springform mold, offset spatula

Notes

Mastic or mastica is a natural extract of the mastic tree that grows in Greece. You can order it online or buy it from Middle Eastern stores. 

The best way to crush mastic is to crush frozen mastic, mixed with a pinch of sugar, using a mortar and pestle; in this recipe you can also put it in a zipper-lock bag and crush it with a heavy rolling pin or skillet (it will dissolve easily into the hot milk mixture even if not finely crushed). Mastic’s flavor is strong and can make your dish bitter if used in excessive quantities. 

If you make the simple syrup ahead of time, warm it up before you pour it over the hot basbousa. The simple syrup should be just warm to touch.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The ashta can be made 1-2 days in advance and stored in the fridge. 

The simple syrup can be made 2-5 days ahead of time, and kept at room temperature in a clean glass jar.

Stored in an airtight container, the basbousa will keep for 2-4 days in the fridge.

Egyptian Fatta

Egyptian celebrations aren’t complete without this crowd-pleasing dish of toasted pita, fragrant rice, and slow-cooked beef drizzled in a garlic-vinegar sauce.

Overhead view of a half of dish of Egyptian fatta
Serious Eats / Jen Causey

Egyptian fatta is the quintessential festive meal. It’s a crowd-pleasing dish bursting with bold flavors and textures: layers of seasoned, toasted pita and fragrant rice are topped with slow-cooked beef and drizzled with a punchy garlic-vinegar sauce. The dish is associated with all religious celebrations of Egyptian Christians and Muslims, and celebratory feasts aren’t complete without a lavish fatta at the center of the table, surrounded by a myriad of delicacies. 

In Arabic, fatta means “cut in pieces,” which in the context of this recipe refers to sliced, toasted pita, the first layer of the dish. Though they share the same name, Egyptian fatta is unlike its Levantine counterpart: the Egyptian dish doesn’t include a yogurt sauce and uses a different cooking technique. 

Overhead view of two servings of Egyptian Fatta

The long list of ingredients may be daunting, but the recipe itself is easy to break into manageable parts. Much of the recipe can be prepared ahead of time and kept in the fridge, then reheated and assembled right before serving.

Variations of Egyptian Fatta

While bread, meat, and rice are pretty much the main components of any Egyptian fatta, there are still some subtle variations. If Egyptians are making fatta for Eid, for example, they may decide between lamb or beef. Also, the cut of meat used is subjective. Some families prefer rustic and fatty bone-in cuts of meat, while others treasure the leaner flavor of fat-trimmed meat and the ease of boneless pieces.

Typically, Egyptian fatta is made with ruz masri (Egyptian rice), but that kind of rice is hard to find outside of Egypt. A good substitute is basmati or another long-grain rice instead; it works well and, I've found, complements the rest of the dish beautifully.

In researching the many versions of Egyptian fatta, I have learned that Egyptian Muslim families tend to drizzle a tomato-based sauce—in addition to a garlic-vinegar one—on their fatta, while their Christian compatriots use just the garlic-vinegar one to dress it. I’ve included both sauces below so you can try each, then decide if you prefer one over the other or like having both.

For the Meat and Broth: Season beef with salt all over, set aside. In a large heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven, heat ghee over medium heat until shimmering. Add the bay leaves, cardamom, mastic resin (if using), black peppercorns, allspice, and cinnamon, and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Working in batches to avoid crowing the pot, add beef in a single layer (you can leave the whole spices in the pot). Increase heat to medium-high and cook, turning occasionally, until beef is browned all over, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate with the whole spices and repeat with remaining beef.

Add onion and garlic to the pot and cook over medium-high heat until beginning to blister, about 1 minute.

Return beef and whole spices to the pot along with any accumulated juices. Stir in hot water (the water should cover the beef by about 1 inch; if necessary, add additional water) along with parsley stalks, cumin, coriander, paprika, and cayenne. Bring the broth to a boil over medium-high; let boil for 5 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium-low and let the broth simmer gently, uncovered, until the beef is fork-tender and the broth becomes fragrant and laden with flavors, about 2 hours; occasionally skim and discard any fat that rises to the surface. Season with salt and add beef bouillon cube, if desired. Remove from heat and let cool slightly, about 5 minutes.

Strain the broth through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large heatproof bowl. Transfer the cooked beef cubes to a separate plate, discarding onion, garlic, parsley stalks, and whole spices, then cover broth loosely to keep warm. Transfer the broth to a clean medium saucepan, skimming and discarding any fat on the surface; you should have 4 cups of broth (if necessary, add additional water to reach 4 cups). Cover to keep warm.

For the Rice: In a large saucepan, heat ghee over medium heat until shimmering. Add the bay leaves, cardamom, and mastic resin (if using) and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and mastic has melted, about 1 minute.

Add the rinsed and drained rice and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice is very lightly toasted and evenly coated with the ghee, 2 minutes.

Stir in the meat broth (see note), cover, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook until rice is tender and water is absorbed, following timing on rice bag instructions.

Remove from heat, uncover rice, and fluff with a fork, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper; discard cardamom pods and bay leaves. Let stand, uncovered, for 5 minutes (this allows excess steam to escape so the rice remains fluffy). Then cover rice with a clean tea towel to keep it warm until you assemble the fatta.

For the Toasted Bread Chips: Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). On a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle pita squares all over with oil. Sprinkle all over with garlic powder, paprika, cumin, and sumac, along with a large pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss until evenly coated.

Bake seasoned pita, tossing once halfway through, until crispy and golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside and cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm until you assemble the fatta.

For the Garlic-Vinegar Sauce: In a small saucepan, heat ghee over medium heat until shimmering. Add minced garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until garlic becomes fragrant and starts to turn golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Immediately whisk in the vinegar, then whisk in the broth and remove from heat.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, then set aside.

For the Tomato Sauce: In a small saucepan, heat the 1/2 cup of the garlic-vinegar sauce over medium heat until nearly simmering. Whisk in tomato paste until fully dissolved. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

To Assemble: On a large serving platter, arrange the toasted pita chips in an even layer. Spoon the hot rice on top in an even layer. Drizzle 1/2 cup of hot garlic-vinegar sauce over the rice.

In a large skillet, heat ghee over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add cooked beef and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and arrange the cooked beef over the rice.

Drizzle the entire dish with the tomato-garlic sauce. Sprinkle the toasted nuts over the fatta. Serve immediately with the remaining sauces on the side.

Special Equipment

Large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot; fine-mesh strainer

Notes

Ghee is clarified butter and it is the common type of fat used in Egyptian cuisine. If you don't have ghee or clarified butter, you can substitute a neutral oil like canola oil for the searing steps (to avoid scorching of the milk solids in regular butter), though the flavor won't be the same; for steps where searing isn't involved, you can use a 1:1 mix of unsalted butter and neutral oil in place of ghee.

Mastic resin, aka mastica, is a natural extract of the mastic tree, a shrub that grows in Greece. Mastic is used in several savory and sweet Egyptian dishes. Mastic offsets the gamey flavor of poultry and meat in home-cooked dishes and imparts the food with a wonderful and very particular flavor that is difficult to achieve with a substitute. 

The beef bouillon cube can be a nice addition to easily add a little more depth and umami to the meat, but isn't required.

The cooking time of the meat depends on the cut and the quality of the meat itself. The beef stewing cubes I often use in this recipe cook in about 2 hours, while other cuts like beef chuck or lamb shank might need a longer cooking time.

The ratio of 3 cups broth to 2 cups rice is generally a good one, but you should defer to the ratio printed on your rice packaging if it differs from this.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Given that fatta has multiple components, I recommend making the broth and beef cubes 1 to 2 days ahead to break up the work. Store them separately in airtight containers in the fridge. In fact, all the fatta’s layers can be cooked ahead and kept in the fridge, and then reheated and assembled right before serving.

Store leftover fatta in airtight containers for up to 3 days in the fridge and up to 3 weeks in the freezer.

Egyptian Bissara (Split Fava Bean Dip)

Blend fresh fava beans with cilantro, parsley, mint, and dill for a creamy, vibrant green dip, then top it with crispy fried shallots.

Egyptian Bissara
Serious Eats / Greg Dupree

Egyptian Bissara is a creamy dip of split fava beans blended with fresh cilantro, parsley, mint, and dill. Topped with heaps of crispy fried shallots and served with toasted pita, bissara is widely prepared in Egypt, where it is also known as bosara or besara depending on the region you’re in. The dip is eaten by Copts—Egypt’s indigenous and Christian ethnic minority who represent 10% of the population—when they observe Lent or their nativity fast. 

Copts fast for over 250 days a year, during which they abstain from dairy and meat. They commit to a plant-based diet and rely on beans and legumes as their primary source of protein. This tradition gave rise to the creation of many hearty legume recipes—there's a whole world of traditional vegan and vegetarian Egyptian recipes that are hardly known outside Egypt

Eager to learn more about the history of bissara, I spoke with Mennat-Allah El Dory, an Egyptologist who specializes in archaeobotany (the study of ancient plants). El Dory suggests that the word bissara likely originated from the Coptic word (peese-owor), which means cooked and mashed beans. However, while the Copts can trace their ancestry back to ancient Egypt, there is no evidence that bissara existed in the ancient Egyptian diet. (Worth noting: A similar dish with the same name and ingredients exists in Morocco, though it is served as a soup.) 

Though Bissara requires some planning—as you have to soak the beans overnight—the dip is as easy as it gets. You simply have to place all the ingredients—the fava beans, onion, garlic, spices, fresh herbs, and vegetable broth—into a large pot and wait for the magic to happen. As the beans simmer and soften, they’ll begin to pick up the deep flavor of the broth.

When the beans are cooked and have had a chance to cool slightly, it's time to transform the contents of the pot into a creamy dip by blitzing everything together in a food processor. Like hummus, bissara should be thick and smooth. To give bissara an extra pop of fresh green color, you can add some fresh cilantro to beans before puréeing in the food processor.

The Perfect Fried Shallots

A big part of bissara’s allure is the tower of crisp, golden shallots piled high on top of the bissara—so it's important to get them right. One key step is to add the shallots to the oil before it's too hot. This helps cook them evenly and prevents the kind of scorching that can happen when thinly sliced vegetables get added to a hot pot of oil. As soon as they're light golden brown, it's time to take them out. They'll continue to darken and crisp up once strained, and won't end up over-fried and bitter, which is the risk of leaving them in the oil too long.

When I make bissara, I like to fry the shallots that are used to garnish the dip before doing anything else, then reserve the shallot-infused oil for cooking the dip. Typically, bissara is prepared with vegetable oil and not one infused with shallots, but this small additional step adds even more flavor.

For the Shallot-Infused Oil and Fried Shallots: In an 8-inch skillet, combine oil and shallots over medium-low heat, and cook, stirring often, until shallots are golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes.

Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a heatproof bowl. Transfer shallots to a paper-towel lined plate to drain and season with salt. Set shallot-infused oil aside to cool.

Store the fried shallots in an airtight container until you are ready to garnish the bissara. Store the shallot-infused oil in a clean jar.

For the Bissara: Add the rinsed split fava beans to a large bowl; cover with cold water by at least 2 inches. Cover and set aside to soak overnight (at least 12 hours or up to 24 hours) at room temperature. The second day, transfer the beans to a colander and rinse well under cold water; drain.

In a 7-quart Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, combine the fava beans, 1 cup cilantro, parsley, quartered onion, dill, whole garlic cloves, green chili pepper, mint, cumin, coriander, dry mint, paprika, pepper, and salt. Stir in broth and shallot-infused oil (the beans will not be fully submerged in liquid; that’s okay). Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and let the beans simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. (Your beans may finish cooking in less than an hour; continue simmering to reduce the liquid until to a thick porridge-like consistency.) The beans should be soft and easy to crush with a fork. Make sure to stir every now and then so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.  Remove from the heat and set aside to cool completely to room temperature, 60 to 90 minutes (mixture will thicken as it cools).

Transfer cooled mixture to a food processor, add the remaining 1 cup fresh cilantro and process until you reach a creamy consistency similar to hummus, about 1 minute, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed. In case the dip is anything less than vibrant green, just add some more fresh parsley or cilantro herbs to punch up the color. Taste the bissara and adjust the seasoning.

Transfer the bissara back to the pot to reheat gently over low heat until just warm or serve at room temperature.

To Serve: Transfer the bissara to a serving bowl and drizzle with shallot-infused oil, garnish with a flutter of paprika, and top with the fried shallots. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with pita chips and/or vegetable sticks.

Special Equipment

8-inch skillet; 7-quart Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot; food processor; colander; strainer or fine-mesh sieve

Notes

The consistency of Bissara should be more or less like hummus, thick enough not to be runny, but still soft and spreadable.

You can halve or double this recipe.

Make-Ahead and Storage

You can fry the shallots a day in advance. Refrigerate the shallot-infused oil, and store the fried shallots at room temperature in an airtight container.

The bissara can be kept in the fridge in an airtight container for 3 to 5 days. To prevent the dip from oxidizing, press plastic wrap against the surface of the dip.