Each separate element gets spooned into an individual bowl in its own layer. To eat koshary, you dig your utensil through the strata, emerging with a bit of everything.
None of these elements shines on their own. The pasta, rice, and lentils are bland. The onions are a bit burnt. The sauce is overly vinegary. BUT - and this is a big "but" - they work together beautifully. The sum of the whole is truly greater than its parts. Having tasted each of those un-exciting pieces individually, I was absolutely stunned at how fantastically they came together.
A few recipe notes: in an effort to save some time, I cooked the lentils along with the tomato sauce. I also skipped frying the onions and opted for quick-caramelized burnt onions instead. This proved to be an excellent choice as the slightly smoky flavor of the onions and the depth of their caramelization worked beautifully with the other flavors in the dish.
If I ever make it to Egypt, I will most certainly try the koshary at every street vendor I find. Until then, I will count myself happy with this homemade version!
(Image: Emma Christensen)