An Egyptian Oasis on Elm Street
Koshary, located at 200 S. Elm St. in Greensboro, brings the flavor of Cairo in both the food and the atmosphere.
The misconceptions that can separate cultures melt away during the act of sharing a fresh, authentic and comforting meal with the owners of Koshary in downtown Greensboro.
The brightly colored restaurant is decorated to look like an apartment community in Cairo during a celebration. The high ceilings are draped with rich, red fabric streamers, and intricately carved chairs, metallic lanterns, and a clothesline with a rainbow of tunics add to the playful atmosphere.
“I tried to bring little Egypt here,” said chef and co-owner Samah Helmi. “This is how the actual houses look from the outside.”
Samah has an irresistible smile and cooks food for customers as though she is cooking for her family. She was born in Cairo, Egypt but moved to Kuwait as a small child. After earning a bachelor’s degree in business and accounting, getting married, and moving to the United States, Samah is happy to be sharing the food that she has loved to cook since she was 10 years old.
“Not many people know what Egyptian food looks like,” said Samah. “This is one of the reasons that we wanted to start the restaurant. It is a dream come true.”
Koshary is named after a beloved meal in Egypt consisting of rice, lentils, chickpeas, noodles, tomato sauce and crispy onions.
“I love that dish,” said Samah. “It’s a very healthy dish. It’s full of vitamins and minerals and at the same time it’s a complete meal” Even though koshary is made with Whole Foods-approved ingredients it tastes like a hearty comfort dish. The savory garlic and onion flavors combine with the bright tomato sauce to create an addictive tanginess while the dense lentils and chickpeas make the dish satisfying. Koshary is as filling as a plate of lasagna without the sensation of overindulgence. The freshness can be tasted in each component. The texture of the noodles and sauces on top blend with the rice and lentils at the bottom of the bowl to create a different experience with each bite.
This is the kind of dish that someone could eat every day, and people do.
“It’s very popular and famous in Egypt,” said Samah. “We actually have restaurants just to serve koshary.”
Samah is able to capture the flavors of her homeland by only using certain ingredients that often need to be brought in from oversees.
“Everything here is based on fresh produce and fresh herbs,” said Samah. “We use a lot of imported stuff from Egypt because I prefer it and I can’t find it here.”
Co-owner Sam Helmi estimates that the restaurant uses between seven and 10 vendors a week. This selective approach may be time consuming and costly, but it is what makes eating at Koshary a unique experience.
Even the homemade hibiscus tea is exciting. The tea is a tempting ruby color and the bold and floral taste is rounded out by the natural sweetness of fresh pomegranate. Samah makes her own simple syrup in house, but the tea is restrained from being too sweet so that each sip is a complex delight.
Samah uses Lebanese extra virgin olive oil for the hummus, which is served with halal pita bread. The hummus is the perfect consistency with smoothness that is thick without being too creamy.
One of the most distinctly Egyptian dishes at Koshary is the molokheya soup. Samah’s kids, like many children in Egypt, can’t go a day without it. The leafy green vegetable looks like spinach but tastes like a cross between okra and mint. Like almost all Egyptian food, fresh tomatoes are an essential part of this soup that is usually eaten over rice with meat.
During Ramadan it is traditional for Muslims to break their fast by eating dates before the evening meal known as Iftar. Koshary serves a chilled version of dates that have been soaking in a small amount of water with almond slivers, cashews, and figs. The juices and oils of the fruits and nuts naturally seep into the water to create a mild and refreshing aperitif.
All of the desserts are made from scratch each day by Samah.
She takes special pride in her baklava, which has always been her favorite dessert. The pastry at Koshary is flaky and nutty without the saccharine stickiness that can overwhelm some versions of the dessert. It is best enjoyed with a shot of traditionally brewed Turkish coffee and the faint sounds of popular Egpytian songs playing in the background at this Arabian oasis on Elm Street. !
Koshary Restaurant is open 10am to 9pm Mon-Thurs and 10am to 10pm Friday and Saturday. They are located at 200 S. Elm St. in downtown Greensboro. For more information call 336-763-0944.