The national dish of Egypt, and sold from street carts throughout the land, koshari – with two types of pasta, rice and lentils – is a carb lover’s dream. Very tasty and filling, this is a really authentic and economical street food dish. Do as the koshari sellers do and have everything lined up in bowls, ready to mix, heat and serve in an instant. I cook my rice with chicken or vegetable stock for the added flavour, but use water if you prefer.
Soak the basmati rice in cold water for an hour. For the tomato sauce, place the cumin seeds and chilli in a large saucepan and set over a medium-high heat. As soon as the spices smell toasty and aromatic – after a minute or so – pour in the oil, garlic and tomatoes, along with 350ml water, the vinegar and the sugar. Season well with salt and pepper, bring to the boil and reduce the heat to a steady simmer. Cook uncovered for about 30 minutes until thick and rich.
Add the lentils to a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer until just tender but not mushy, about 20–25 minutes. Drain and set aside. Add the macaroni to a saucepan, pour over boiling water to cover it generously and boil until just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Set a large frying pan over a medium-low heat. Add the oil and sliced onions and fry gently until a deep golden brown, at least 30–40 minutes. Stir every now and then to ensure even cooking, and more frequently towards the end of the cooking time. Use a slotted spoon to scoop out the onions into a dish, leaving as much oil in the pan as you can. Set the onions aside.
Add the vermicelli to the pan, stir frying until golden, about 3 minutes or so. Then add the cumin and cinnamon along with the drained rice, stirring well to coat it in the oil. Pour in the stock, season with salt and pepper, and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a steady simmer. Cover with a tight-fitting lid or snugly tucked-in piece of foil, and cook for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave undisturbed (no peeking under the lid) for a further 10 minutes. Remove the lid and lightly fork through the cooked lentils and macaroni. Taste to check the seasoning, adding a little more if necessary.
Serve the koshari hot or warm with the warmed tomato sauce on top, scattered with the fried onions and a generous handful of coriander.