Yoghurt-based kishk: A simple version of a Pharaonic Egyptian dish

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Kishk is an Egyptian dish evocative of times past yet perennially present in the modern cuisine. It never fails to be celebrated as a treat when served-up.

Legend has it that kishk has existed in Egypt from the time of Pharaoh Ahmes I who liberated Egypt from the Hyksos Invasions.

The story goes that as he was preparing to travel on a military expedition from the south of Egypt to the north, kishk was offered to Ahmes in the city of Ashmunein, in what is now the Upper Egyptian governorate of Minya.

Kishk was recommended to the Pharaoh as a meal that was easily digested, easily prepared and fit as food, not only for him but for his soldiers and horses as well.

kishk dry (photo: esyria)

Food historian and nutritionist Dr. Habiba Hassan Wassef describes Kishk Saeedi as the first historically certified Egyptian food and she is currently working to have it officially recognised as such.

Kishk features again – complete with a recipe – in Edward Lane’s 19th century book ‘Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians’.

Lane mentions that kishk was prepared by Egypt’s Copts as part of their celebrations for Good Friday.

kishk (photo: TNN/Aziza Sami)

He describes their festive repast on this occasion as “a dish of khul’tah composed of kishk with foo’l nabit [sprouted fava beans,or fuul], lentils, rice onions”.

Sprouted favas (photo: blogspot)

The recipe which Lane gives for kishk is essentially that which we now call Kishk Saeedi. Interestingly, the birthplace of Kishk Saeedi is the Upper Egyptian governorate of Minya where Ahmes I is believed to have first become acquainted with it.

Today Minya remains famous for its Kishk Saeedi.

Every year in July in the city of Dilga in Minya, a “kishk-making festival” is held. July is the month of the wheat harvest, and the aim is to provide enough kishk to last for one year until the next harvest.

a “kishk-making festival (photo: tamecom)

This is carried out by means of an arduous process which takes several days.

a kishk-making festival

The wheat is dried in the sun, cooked and then crushed. Specially fermented milk is then added to it.

a “kishk-making festival

And just as the saying goes that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ it also literally takes a village to make Kishk Saeedi.

The village’s men are also involved in the preparation of the kishk, their special role being to knead together the fermented milk and wheat.

Kishk is laid out

The Kishk Saeedi is finally prepared in the form of disks the size of ping pong balls. They preserve well all year long.

The discs are heated with some butter or ghee. More milk may be added to taste.

The kishk is then ready to be eaten.

But if you don’t have a full village on hand to help it is possible to make a much quicker version of kishk from yoghurt.

A simple method for preparing yoghurt-based kishk:

Combine half a cup of flour with 450 grams of yogurt (four and a half 50 gram containers).

Add salt and pepper, whisk together well.

Allow the paste to rest outside of the fridge in a ceramic or earthenware bowl, covered with a cloth or towel for 12-24 hours.

Heat 2 cups of chicken broth.

(photo: hayah)

Add the paste to the broth while it is simmering, stirring constantly until it thickens into a sauce.

Place the sauce in a shallow dish and let cool.

Meanwhile, fry sliced onion in oil till golden brown.

Drain on a paper towel and garnish the kishk’s surface with it.

Serve the kishk at room temperature.

It may later be eaten cold, which is the traditional method but you can also heat it up. Strips of boiled chicken may also be added while it is still hot, but vegetarian kishk is very delicious, and serves well as a side-plate: