On Egyptian flavors, and Caramelised Onions

<Originally Published in G-Mag>

Everyone is aware of the four basic taste families – Sweet, Salty, Sour and Bitter. There also happens to be a fifth, called “Umami”. This is a Japanese term which describes the “meatiness” that you taste when eating a steak or grilled mushrooms. A great tasting dish typically has at least 3 of these different taste profiles.

Egyptian food hasn’t got the most glamorous reputation, but the flavor profiles can be astounding; let’s take a look at two of them:


Also known as Jew’s Mallow; this dish transforms the raw bitterness of the Molokheyya leaves into a sumptuous and complex broth, which is naturally thickened by the compounds in the leaves itself. The addition of cilantro and garlic gives a further depth of flavor, and adds saltiness which serves to whet the appetite. Common additions to Molokheyya include dem3a; which is a particularly salty tomato sauce to further enhance the broth. Molokheyya is typically served with some sort of protein: duck breast, roast chicken or braised beef. The end result is a wonderfully satisfying dish that only your mother has perfected.


The staple of many an all-nighter for students on a budget; this dish brings together a lot of seemingly bland components, but transforms them into something decidedly unique. Texturally, it’s a grab bag of cooked pasta, rice, lentils, chick peas, fried onions, tomato sauce and garlic vinaigrette. Even though there is no meat involved, this is the one vegetarian dish that packs one hell of an Umami wallop. Couple that with the tangy sourness of the garlic vinaigrette, the subtle sweetness of the fried onions and the saltiness of the tomato sauce; and you get a perfect storm of texture and flavor. Be sure to try eating it out of a plastic bag.

Recipe – Umami packed Caramelized onions

[Prep time 5 minutes, Cooking time approx  60 minutes]

  1. 5 large white onions – finely sliced
  2. Very Large pot
  3. 2 TBSP Olive oil
  4. 1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
  5. 1 beef Bouillon cube
  6. 2 TBSP Brown sugar
  7. 1 TSP White sugar
  8. 2 TSP Salt
  9. 3 TSP Pepper
  • On a medium low heat, add the onions to the pot – do not overcrowd the pot, the layer at the bottom should be no more than a couple of centimeters deep. If necessary, cook in batches.
  • Add oil, and coat the onions.  Give it a couple of tosses to coat the onions.
  • Add salt and pepper, cover and let it cook over a low heat for 20 minutes. Check on it every now and then to give it a quick stir, to prevent the onions from “catching” on the bottom of the pot. After this point, they should start to become soft and transparent.
  • Add the sugars, Worcestershire sauce and the bouillon cube; stirring to evenly distribute it among the cooking onions. Cover again, and let it cook over a medium-low heat for another 30 minutes. Once again, check on it often to make sure it doesn’t catch. If the onions look like they’re beginning to fry, then turn down the heat a little and stir.
  • At this point, the onions should have turned a brown color’ give it a taste and season accordingly. You can finish it off with another splash of Worcestershire sauce or even a little bit of barbecue sauce.
  • This mixture keeps for upto 2 weeks in the fridge. Enjoy it with anything your heart desires – scrambled eggs, meat, or even potatoes.

About Wesam E Masoud
Chef Patron of @chefsmarketmasr, Host of @CBCSofra's #matbakh101. I have one degree in Medicine & 3rd degree burns from cooking.

2 Responses to On Egyptian flavors, and Caramelised Onions

  1. Mister Hanky the Christmas Poo says:

    Where’s that crazy Parquet guy? He always spiced things up.

  2. Dun b wowry myn frendiss, he gunna back her ferry sun!

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