Sunday, November 18, 2007

Good, Simple, Filling

Cookbooks are filled with gussied up classics – cheesecakes transformed by lite makeovers, chocolate chip cookies enriched by whole grains, grill-side marinades renewed with pomegranate molasses, macaroni and cheese gourmet-ed with gruyere, and mashed potatoes, anointed by truffle oil, baptized into 2007. When I first made kushary, a sturdy Egyptian dish built around lentils, rice and pasta, I, too, was tempted to play. What if I added some a cinnamon stick to the stewing lentils, or mixed in some roasted garlic? There, in that pan of simmering tomato sauce, couldn’t I toss in a dried chili and some fresh herbs? And wouldn’t using spinach pasta just brighten up the whole dish?

Why, yes, it probably would. But sometimes cheesecake is supposed to be fattening; mashed potatoes need to be, well, just mashed potatoes; and kushary should be left as the simple, stick-to-your-ribs, working-class meal that it is.

Even on the night just before you go grocery shopping, you will be able to make kushary. Pasta, rice, lentils, tomato paste, onions – is this not a concise list of staples? I’ll admit, the current
food shortages in Zimbabwe and recent multi-day power outages at my house have created some challenges for a food blogger. (Did I mention I haven’t had a dial tone at my house for a month and, yes, I use a modem?) All the more reason to keep it simple, be happy that your refrigerator is reasonably full (although where oh where can I find real butter?), and remember that food is for sustenance. When it tastes good, even better.

Kushary tastes good. Not phenomenal or awe-inspiring. It is not the type of food you eat slowly because you are pausing every half-second to gush with praise. But it is good. The recipe I use comes from Clifford Wright, who has an excellent site you should explore when you have the time. The whole compilation – pasta on the bottom, rice and lentils in the middle, sauce poured on top, garnished with browned onions – improves the next day.

Rather than rewrite the recipes, here are the links:

Here for the

And here for dim’a musabika, the thin tomato sauce it must be made with.

I left my onions caramelized instead of crispy, mostly because I find the line between crispy and burnt very hard to master. And, yes, I did use ghee – I found an old container crammed into a dark recess of my fridge. The serving numbers are accurate – it fed my husband and me exactly three meals. Three good, simple, filling meals.