Sunday, January 27, 2013

Cairo Nights or, Kosheri for Dinner

The building blocks of the ancient Egyptian vegetarian dish known as kosheri.

Lentils (tiny Beluga variety used here at Cafe Drake) and pasta form the backbone of the mounded final presentation of kosheri. Typically rice is incorporated as well but winter waistlines determined we its omission this time around.

Another Brooklyn transplant, Ruth Kopelman headed over from nearby Woodstock to join us for dinner.

The simplest spinach salad is a welcome, light starter preceding a hearty main like kosheri. Cafe Drake dusted the greens with finely grated domiati, an Egyptian cheese primarily made in Cyprus now it seems.

Meaty, thick-cut and happily chewy roasted eggplant slices roasted and dressed with mint leaves and zabadi. The thick yogurt dressing is great atop all manner of green and vegetable salads and also useful as a dip for toasted pita wedges. Whenever summer arrives toss zabadi with wide egg noodles and a bit of olive oil; serve as side dish with fish or grilled chicken. Less bracing than Greek tzatziki due to a lower garlic content, zabadi also benefits from the refreshing notes of minced mint. Cafe Drake makes ours like this: simply peel, seed and dice 1 cucumber and place in a mixing bowl. Add to the bowl: 2 cloves minced garlic, about 3-4 T. minced mint leaves, a couple of healthy pinches of salt, a bit of ground cumin to taste and a generous grinding of black pepper. Stir together with 2 cups yogurt and a couple of T. of water. Ideally the yogurt should be thick, so if you're avoiding the whole milk variety substitute low-fat Greek yogurt. Whisk until all the ingredients are incorporated and set aside for 30 minutes to allow flavors to develop. Taste for salt, adjust if needed and serve cool.

The completed main course arrives at the table. Kosheri ultimately consists of pasta tossed with lentils and then layered with spicy tomato sauce, caramelized onions and a tomato and chile relish. The weeknight North African repast was complimented throughout with a soundtrack of classic Egyptian tunes from intoxicating songstress Shadia.

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