Our Favorite Winter Dish Is Michael Mina’s Egyptian Koshary

Anna Archibald
·7 min read
Mina Group
Mina Group

Every time Michael Mina visits his parents in Washington State, he knows he’ll be greeted with a heaping plate of koshary.

“It’s like the ultimate comfort food and it’s something I grew up on,” says Mina, the Egyptian-born chef and owner of the Mina Group, which encompasses more than 40 restaurants across the U.S. His latest establishment is Wit & Wisdom that opened in Sonoma in September.

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Koshary, Egypt’s national dish, is a combination of rice, lentils, sautéed onions and tomatoes. And like many comfort foods, you’re likely to find a slightly different version of it from household to household—some include pasta, additional vegetables or meat. The recipe Mina’s mother makes calls for chickpeas.

He started helping her cook koshary when he was about five years old. “My mom would be making it and I would just help cut up the onions,” he remembers.

Mina, who emigrated with his parents to the U.S. from Cairo when he was young, says that koshary “was always around the house.”

“You could smell it all the time,” he says. “It was one of those things that stays on the stove and you find yourself eating it all day long.”

<div class="inline-image__credit">Mina Group</div>
Mina Group

While Mina typically serves koshary as a side dish, “in Egypt it’s a meal,” he says. The chef has included it on the menus of several of his restaurants, including at his eponymous establishments in San Francisco and Las Vegas. He usually pairs it with a hearty entree, like harissa broiled chicken or a grilled rack of lamb.

“I use koshary as a starch and it just goes with everything, from lamb to squab to fish,” he says.

Here is Mina’s annotated recipe for making his simple but elevated version of koshary at home.

THE BASE

The heart of the dish is a mixture of various starches and legumes. Mina’s recipe incorporates the same three elements that his mother has always used in her koshary: white rice, lentils and chickpeas. “Some places in the Middle East will put pasta in it, but my mom never did, so I’m used to eating it without it,” says Mina.

Because the rice and lentils cook separately, and the chickpeas (whether you’re using canned or rehydrated) are added during one of the final steps of assembly, it’s easy to prepare each element of the dish ahead of time.

“I think the magic of it is, when you cook the lentils, the lentils give off a lot of flavors to the rice when you cook them together [at the end],” says Mina. “So where rice is usually kind of a blander flavor, it starts to taste a bit more like the lentils and the chickpeas, and then really extra spicy tomato onions and the olive oil that you drizzle in.”

THE MATBUCHA

While Mina likes to season the rice and lentils as they’re cooking, in his restaurants he also tops it with a flavorful matbucha, a traditional Maghrebi tomato-and-pepper sauce. “We don’t do that at home. My mom does it with just tomato sauce and onions.”

To make the matbucha, Mina first dry roasts a handful of spices, including ground cumin, coriander, black pepper, hot smoked paprika and urfa biber (a richly hued Turkish pepper known for its complexity), to coax out every last bit of aroma and flavor. Then, you add in olive oil and tomato paste. This mixture cooks until the raw flavor of the paste dissipates.

Afterward, the tomatoes, crispy onions and fresh herbs go in, creating a sauce that’s intensely spiced with pops of brightness and acidity.

THE ONIONS

A crucial flavor and textural component to Mina’s koshary recipe are the four thinly sliced onions that are sautéed until they’re soft, “kind of translucent and have a little color on them,” he says. He also adds in sliced garlic and salt and pepper before mixing in the rice and lentils, which will soak up any bits of spices and oil left in the pan.

The koshary “needs to be spicy and you need a decent amount of olive to make it kind of rich and fatty,” says Mina. “Then, the onions are going to help give you sweetness.”

THE ASSEMBLY

The assembly of the dish varies from one family to the next as much as the recipe itself.

Sometimes it’s layered, whether that be loosely or molded to hold its shape, sometimes it’s piled into a dish and fancifully decorated with tomato sauce and fresh herbs, and sometimes it’s a wholly uncomplicated mishmash in a bowl topped with a dollop of sauce.

Mina prepares his spicy koshary the same way his mother did: the onions and starches are fully mixed together and cooked until piping hot. This ensures you’ll get a little bit of everything in each bite. From here, all that’s left to do is spoon a hefty helping of matbucha over the top, garnish it with fresh cilantro and serve it.

“It’s not complicated and it’s just good,” says Mina. “You’re talking about rice, chickpeas, lentils, tomato sauce—you mix all that together and you’ve got a very warm stomach.”

Rice

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 Tbsp Extra-virgin olive oil

  • 2 cups Long grain rice

  • 3 cups Water

  • 1 tsp Sea salt

  • Pinch fresh ground pepper

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.

  2. Add the rice and stir gently until the rice smells fragrant and is coated with oil.

  3. Add 3 cups water and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Then turn off the flame and leave on the stovetop for an additional 15 minutes. The rice will be tender and all the liquid will be absorbed.

Lentils

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup Lentils, rinsed and soaked in water in water for 1 hour

  • 1/2 tsp Sea salt

  • pinch Fresh ground pepper

  • 1 Garlic clove, crushed

  • 1 Bay leaf

  • 1 15 oz can Chickpeas, drained

DIRECTIONS

  1. Rinse and then soak the lentils in warm water for 30 minutes.

  2. Add 2 cups of water to a saucepan.

  3. Add the lentils, sea salt, pepper, garlic clove and bay leaf.

  4. Bring to a simmer. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 10-20 minutes until the lentils are tender.

  5. Mix the chickpeas into the lentils.

Matbucha

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tsp Ground cumin seed

  • 1 tsp Ground coriander seed

  • 1 tsp Ground urfa biber or ancho pepper

  • 1/2 tsp Fresh ground black pepper

  • 1 tsp Pimenton de la vera (smoked paprika), hot

  • 1 Tbsp Extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 500g box Pomi chopped tomatoes

  • 1/2 cup Tomato paste

  • 1 tsp Sea salt

  • 1 Bay leaf

  • 1 sprig Fresh thyme

  • 2 Tbsp Cilantro, chopped

  • 2 Tbsp Crispy fried onions or shallots

DIRECTIONS

  1. Toast the dry spices in a dry saucepan until fragrant and aromatic.

  2. Add the olive oil and let it infuse with the toasted spices.

  3. Add the tomato paste and stir well to incorporate.

  4. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan to cook out the raw flavor of the paste. (Don’t skip this step as it is the foundation of deep flavor.)

  5. Add the chopped tomatoes, thyme, sea salt and bay leaf, and bring to a simmer.

  6. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 20-30 minutes.

Sautéed Onions & Finishing Instructions

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 Tbsp Extra-virgin olive oil

  • 4 Sweet onions, sliced thin

  • 2 Garlic cloves, sliced thin

  • 1/2 tsp Sea salt

  • Pinch Fresh ground pepper

  • Garnish: Cilantro, chopped

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat.

  2. Add the olive oil, then the onions and cook on medium/high heat for about 10 minutes until the onions are browned.

  3. Add the garlic, sea salt and pepper and cook for another minute stirring to ensure even distribution and complete cooking.

  4. Add the cooked lentils and rice and toss well to fully combine. Cook until mixture is piping hot.

  5. Transfer to a serving bowl and spoon matbucha over the top.

  6. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve.

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