But hoping for some middle ground, I decided to see whether I could craft a weeknight-friendly version of this classic vegetarian Egyptian street food.
But first, some basics of what you're in for. Admittedly, koshary seems like a confused dish — a little Middle Eastern, a little Italian, perhaps a nod to Asian. But once you take a bite, you realize that amalgamation of unlikely influences is what makes it so wonderful.
Of course, there are countless recipes and variants of koshary around Egypt. I've tried to stay true to the basic ingredients and flavours, while speeding up the process.
Most koshary starts with a base of rice. Layered over that are seasoned chickpeas and lentils, followed by fried onions, followed by a boldly vinegary and spicy tomato sauce.
I saved a bit of time — as well as a few pots and pans — by cooking the onions, chickpeas and lentils together. No flavour is lost, and everything gets mushed together when served anyway. I also opted for canned chickpeas and lentils, rather than cooking dried. Few weeknight cooks can afford the time or patience to cook dried beans.
The tomato sauce was the easy part. Saute a little garlic in olive oil and seasonings, then dump in canned crushed tomatoes and let it simmer while you prepare the rest of the dish.
Note that I didn't include an amount for the vinegar used to season the tomato sauce. Traditional recipes of this volume call for 1/4 cup or more of vinegar. That might be a bit much for many people, so I decided it was best for people to add that item as it suits their taste.
Also, while elbow and ditalini pasta are the traditional choices, any variety of small pasta is fine. You also could use leftover cooked pasta. Just skip the browning step and add at the same time as the chickpeas and lentils.
Start to finish: 40 minutes
1 1/2 cups basmati rice
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground dry ginger
28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
12 ounces elbow or ditalini pasta
15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
Half of a 15-ounce can brown lentils, drained
4 cups water
Salt and ground black pepper
In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add the rice, cover the pan, then reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 20 minutes. When the rice is done, fluff with a fork, then cover and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the garlic, cumin, cayenne and ginger, then heat for 30 seconds. Add the diced tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer.
While the tomatoes simmer, in a large saute pan over medium-high, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the onion and saute until starting to brown, about 6 minutes. Add the pasta and continue to saute until the pasta begins to brown, about another 5 to 6 minutes.
Stir the chickpeas, lentils and 4 cups of water into the pasta mixture. Bring to a simmer. Cook until the water is absorbed and the pasta is tender. If needed, add additional water 1/4 cup at a time until the pasta is cooked. Season the pasta mixture with salt and pepper. Season the tomato mixture with a splash or two of vinegar and a bit of salt.
To serve, make a pile of rice on each serving plate. Spoon some of the pasta mixture over the rice, then ladle the tomato sauce over that.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 440 calories; 40 calories from fat (9 per cent of total calories); 5 g fat (0.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 87 g carbohydrate; 13 g protein; 8 g fiber; 490 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Food Editor J.M. Hirsch is author of the cookbook "High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." Follow him to great eats on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch or email him at jhirsch(at)ap.org.