I say the verdict is still out. Living in San Francisco, like many Afghans in the diaspora, I play the role of cheerleader rather than a player.
I say the verdict is still out. Living in San Francisco, like many Afghans in the diaspora, I play the role of cheerleader rather than a player.
Ever since leaving Afghanistan 34 years ago, I would think back to the summer days in Paghman where my family would go for Friday outings to escape the Kabul heat. Paghman is only a short drive from Kabul but has very mild weather. Wealthy Kabulis would spend their summer days in their lush villas, have picnics in their beautiful gardens and swim in the rivers of Paghman.
Our summer holidays were filled with great food but my favorite was the afternoon snack of fresh cheese with raisins (kishmish paneer). A local Kochi-nomad woman would deliver the fresh panare which would be wrapped in a cloth. It would be served on a platter with black raisins, nuts and fresh fruit. My mouth is watering just writing about it.
My family never found an equivelant to Afghan panare in American, so we created our own recipe. The cheese is very mild in flavor and has a chewy mozzarella like consistency . The key to bringing the flavors out is the raisins. They are heavenly together. You can also have it on a cracker with a dribble of cherry preserve or honey. Many Americans who have tasted it feel that it needs more salt but traditionally this cheese has unrecognizable amount of salt. You can adjust the recipe to your own taste.
I hope you love this as much as I do.
Fresh Afghan Cheese
1/2 gallon of one percent milk
1/2 gallon of buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp. of salt
Cheese cloth (Whole foods, Bed Bath & Beyond)
Round deep colander
This recipe can be doubled.
In a large heavy pan heat the milk on medium heat. While waiting, cut the cheese cloth to fit the colander and have some of it drape off the side of the colander. If the mesh on the cheese cloth is not very fine, lay 2-3 layers.
Just when the milk starts to boil (don't burn the bottom) remove it from heat. Add the buttermilk and salt. Stir for 1 minute. Set the colander in the sink and slowly pour the contents of the pot into the colander. Make sure that the cheese cloth doesn't slide off the sides of the colander. The milk will curdle and the liquid will drip out of the colander. Scrape the side of the cheese cloth to speed up the drainage of the liquid.
The contents will reduce slowly. Grab the side of the cheese cloth and tie with with a clip or a rubber band. Continue squeezing the cheese cloth until there is barely any water squeezing out but it should still feel moist otherwise the cheese will be too dry. By now the cheese should be the size of a large softball.
Put the cheese in the cheese cloth with a bowl lined with two layers of paper towel. Leave it in the fridge for 2-3 hours or until it is solid.
Take the cheese out of the cheese cloth, cut in 1/4 inch thick slice, serve with black raisins.
Mixtured poured into the cheese cloth in the collander
Cheese is ready to be unwrapped
Except where otherwise noted, all content on this blog is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license.
Haleem is a delicacy mostly enjoyed in the cold winter months of Afghanistan. It’s considered a warming dish, usually made with protein, oats and wheat. In Afghanistan, due to the high price of chicken, Haleem is made with beef. Traditionally it’s served in a bowl with brown sugar and topped with a generous dollop of hot cooking oil. Haleem lovers in the Afghan diaspora, mostly use chicken and they substitute butter for oil.
I didn’t grow up eating Haleem, since Jeja, my mom, can't stand the idea of protein in her oatmeal. Truthfully, I only learned about the dish a few months ago at an Afghan dinner party. I was immediately obsessed with finding the right recipe. My sister Nabila reached out to her network of accomplished Afghan cooks. We found many variations in people’s techniques. Some people use whole chicken, others use short grain rice instead of oatmeal. In many cases people added milk before baking the dish in a dutch oven overnight
After much testing and tasting, we came up with an easy recipe which makes having a hot bowl of Haleem very easy. You can wake up to the scent of cardamom.
Aghan Breakfast Oatmeal with Chicken and Cardamom
One skinless, boneless chicken breast, around ½ lb
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 rolled oats
¾ cup Cream of Wheat
1 tsp ground cardamom
Place chicken breast in a heavy pot, add five cups of water, a cinnamon stick and salt, bring to boil. Cover top, reduce heat to low, simmer for 40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and soft. Remove pot from heat, let it cool for half hour.
Discard cinnamon stick. Add chicken breast and two cups of broth to a food processor. Save the rest of the broth if there is any. Pulse the chicken and broth five to eight times until it becomes a thick mixture.
In a large crockpot, add oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, chicken mixture, left over chicken broth, cardamom and 5 cups of water. Stir well. Set crockpot on low for eight hour.
Serve in a large bowl with a generous spoonful of powdered sugar and a knob of butter. Stir well and enjoy. I usually add almonds milk, chopped dates and walnuts to my bowl of Haleem.
For many years I hosted an Afghan dinner as an auction item for my daughter’s school fundraiser. I found myself slaving over the meal for many days and at the end there was nothing to show for my hours of labor except for a kitchen full of dirty dishes. After someone mentioned that they wanted to learn how to cook Afghan food, a light bulb went on. Why not do a “Cook Your Own Afghan Feast” auction item? That is exactly what I have done in the past two years and I must say it has been lots of fun sharing the cooking with my guests.
Jeja, my mom and all her friends would be horrified to find out that I have my guests cooking the whole meal. It is against all the rules of Afghan hospitality. So, when I told Jeja about this dinner party, I left out this minor detail. Instead I focused on my mantoo dish, which is a conglomerate of various recipes that I tested over and over until I got just the right flavors. Normally, Jeja is my source for recipes, but she prefers aushak to mantoo and rarely makes this dish. The basic difference between the two dumpling dishes is that the aushak is boiled and served with a meat sauce on top while mantoo is steamed with the meat mixture inside the dumpling. You would think this is not a big deal but the meat is cooked differently in each recipe, which of course makes the dishes taste very different.
I tinkered with this mantoo recipe until it ended up tasting like the dish I was served in in Ghazni, Afghanistan two year ago when a warlord brought dinner for us on the NATO forward operating base (a story that will be revealed in a different post).
My conclusion after various versions of the recipe is that lamb meat is key in getting the best flavors with mantoo. I have said many times that I don’t like lamb but what can I say, it is the only way to go with mantoo.
When I was little girl in Afghanistan, my relatives from Ghazni would have an aushak and mantoo making party in the spring. It was an all day event, we would arrive at Boboa Jan’s house in the early afternoon, our mothers would stuff fresh dough cut into thin square wrapper with various stuffing. They would gossip, laugh and pass the afternoon away. The servants would steam the stuffed dumplings and serve it on a distarkhwan on the floor where we would all gather to feast on these mouth-watering dishes. Maybe it was the memory of those afternoon which inspired me to have my own “Make Your Afghan Feast” party.
In the spirit of Afghan hospitality I suggest you gather a few friends and create your own mantoo making party filled with an afternoon of gossiping, cooking and eating.
Afghan Meat Dumpling
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 cup dried kidney beans boiled for 20 minutes on high heat but not cooked through
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. diced garlic
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. turmeric
2 cups organic chicken broth
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 medium yellow onions diced
1 lb. ground lamb
1 tsp. coriander
2 medium white onions diced
1 cup finely chopped cilantro
1 large package of wonton dough
½ cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
½ cup full fat plain yogurt
1 tsp. salt
pinch of garlic powder
Heat the olive oil in a deep saucepan on medium-high, and add garlic. Sauté for two minutes until golden. Add all the ingredients of the sauce to the pan, stir well, and bring to a boil. Once the sauce is boiling, turn down the heat to low, cover with a lid and simmer for an hour until the beans are soft and the sauce thickens.
In a large frying pan, sauté the diced yellow onions in olive oil. When the onions are golden brown add the lamb and coriander. Mix well; make sure the lamb does not clump together. Cook over medium heat for around 30 minutes. Remove from heat; place the meat in a colander until all the juice is drained. Let it cool.
While the meat is cooling mix the sour cream, yogurt, salt and garlic powder in a bowl. Stir with a fork until creamy. Set aside.
Add the meat, cilantro and the diced white onions in a bowl and mix by hand until all the ingredients are evenly distributed. On a large clean surface, set out as many wonton wrappers as you can.
In each wrapper, place a tablespoon of the meat mixture. To assemble the dumplings, fill a small bowl with water and put it at your workstation.
Dip the tip of your finger in the water. Moisten the edges of the wrapper. The water will serve as glue for the dumpling. Take two opposite edges of the dough and bring them together in the center, use the tip of your finger to firmly press the edges of the dough together to form a tight seal. Nip together the two remaining sides of the wrapper. Repeat until all the wrappers are used.
Use a dab of oil to grease the steamer shelve with the tips of your fingers, this will prevent the mantoo from sticking to the pot.
Place each stuffed mantoo next to each other leaving a little room in between each one. When the water is boiling, place the steaming rack inside the pot, cover and steam each batch for around 7 minutes. Spread 2 tablespoons of the yogurt sauce on the large platter.
Remove the cooked dumplings from the steaming rack and place on the platter. Repeat these steps until all the dumplings are steamed. Arrange the cooked mantoo on the platter in one layer
Spoon the piping hot bean sauce on top of the mantoo. I like to pour some of the yoguft sauce on the finished platter but traditionally the sauce is served separately for each person to add to their own taste.
Except where otherwise noted, all content on this blog is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license.
Haft seen, meaning "Seven S's", items have symbolic meaning for a good year
A conversation with Afghan American Author, Ted speaker, Mom - Fariba Nawa
Fariba and her family, Naeem, Fariba, Andisha (9 months) and Bonoo (4 years) in Palo Alto - 2012
Sal e Now Mubarak
Happy New Year
In the United States most people are familiar with “Nouroz” which is considered to be an exclusively Persian holiday from Iran. The truth is, what was originally a Zoroastrian festival is now celebrated in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kurdistan, the Indian Sub Continent and many other countries in the world. Although each country celebrates it a little differently, it always centers around a celebration of spring and the beginning of a new year. This year, March 2oth marks the start of year 1393, a date based on Prophet Muhammad’s migration from Mecca to Medina in 622 BC.
People ask me about Afghan culture, customs and traditions all the time. I sometimes find it hard to answer such questions in a simple way. What makes it difficult to explain is that lot of our traditions and customs are influenced by religion, cultural traditions, provincial resources and of course each family’s traditions. So, I will tell you about Nowroz from my Afghan family’s perspective.
The first day of Nowroz or the Afghan calendar falls on the March equinox, the first day of spring. An equinox occurs when the sun crosses the celestial equator; day and night are of nearly equal length at all latitude. The March equinox generally occurs around March 21st, give or take a couple of days. Nowroz means new day in Dari, the language spoken in Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan the planning for Nowroz starts two weeks before the actual date. There are many preparations that go into celebrating the New Year and you guessed it, food is the most important part of the festivities. Afghan refugees around the world organize Nowroz celebrations that allows their communicties to come together and celebrate. On Saturday I attended a Nowroz celebration organized by California State Univeristy, East Bay Afghan Students Association.
I have to admit, Nowroz was not a big holiday in my immediate family, but thanks to my extended family we got a great taste of it. Growing up Nowroz was always bittersweet because while I loved the food and the festivals, it also signaled the start of the school year. In Afghanistan children go to school from March to November, Saturday to Thursday. Next time your kids complain about school tell them Afghan children to go school six days a week. That should set them straight.
Afghan Nowroz Celebration 101:
There are many customs around Nowroz but here are the most common ones that I have experienced:
My aunts’ preparation of a very special drink called Haft Mewa (seven fruits) was the highlight of Nowroz for me. Haft Mewa is essentially compote made from seven different dried fruits and nuts served in their own juices. Traditionally the seven ingredients are as follows: red raisins, black raisins, yellow raisins, senjid (the dried fruit of the oleaster tree), pistachio, dried apricot, and dried apple. The recipe for this dish is very flexible and now many people use walnuts, almonds and other dried fruit to makethis yummy dish.
This is a special sweet made from wheat germ which requires several weeks of perparation. The custom is for women to gather, essentially a “girls’ night in” and prepare the dish from late in the evening until daylight, singing special songs. I was in Afghanistan the Spring of 2006. My cousin invited me to attend her Samanak party. At that time I didn’t have much interest in Afghan food so I declined. Instead I stayed in my guest house with my beer drinking, whiskey jugging travel mates. You can imagine how sorry I am for missing this wonderful opportunity.
Mela e Gul e Surkh:
It means the Red Flower Festival referring to the red tulip. It’s mainly celebrated in Mazar i Sharif in Northern Afghanistan where many people travel to experience the gorgeous flowers. However, I do remember tulips at our house and around town during the Now Roze celebration in Kabul and even to this day when I see tulips I think of the holiday.
I have to say the Buzkashi tournament ranks pretty high on my list of memories, perhaps as high as the Haft Mewa. Buzkashi is the Afghan national sport, similar to polo but we use…. are you ready…. a dead stuffed goat instead of a “ball”.
People cook Sabzi Challaw (spinach and rice) on the eve of Now Roze to welcome spring and a prosperous crop. Also, bakeries make Kulcha e Now Rozie a special rice cookie very similar to our recipe for butter cookies but decorated with beautiful colors in honor of the holiday. People also make or buy Mahi (fried fish) and Jelabi (fried sugar dessert) mostly eaten at picnics.
Festivals and Picnics:
There are many festivals celebrating spring and the upcoming crop. People go on picnics to enjoy the greenery, flowers and time with family. Of course, kite flying, a national pastime in Afghanistan, is at the center of all these outings.
There is much more to say but I will stop now. I am thrilled not only to share about my country and this rich festival but to give you the recipe for Haft Mew, my favorite Nowroz specialty enjoyed mostly during this celebration. I don’t think Katie loved it as much as I do but I think you should give it a try.
I decided to make Haft Mewa with ingredients purchased from Trader Joe’s, I found everything but rosewater. Actually, the rosewater is my own addition to the traditional recipe so you don’t have to use it. This is not a traditional recipe but it is very delicious and don’t fret about the ingredients. This is a very flexible recipe, just use dried fruit and nuts that you have in your pantry.
Afghan New Year Dried Fruit Medley
3/4 cup walnuts
½ cup pistachios
½ cup yellow raisins
1 cup red raisins
½ cup dried bing cherries (not sour cherries)
1 cup dried apricots (look for sweet ones)
½ cup blanched, slivered almonds
½ tsp. rosewater (optional)
5 cups cold filtered water
Large (at least 5 pints) lidded container with a wide mouth
Begin by blanching the walnuts and pistachios. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil, remove from the heat, add the walnuts and pistachios, cover and let it sit for 20 minutes. In the meantime in a large bowl add both kinds of raisins, cherries and apricots. Rinse three times in cold water to remove any residue.
When the nuts are ready, pour the hot water out and add cold water. That way you won’t burn your hands. Peel the skin off the nuts using the best method you can muster up. I must admit, the pistachios were a dream but the walnuts take patience, which I don’t have. I found if you have a whole walnut, break it in half and then start peeling. It really makes it easier. Give yourself around 20 minutes for this; perhaps recruit family members to help. Make sure all the skin is removed from the pistachios and the walnuts, no exception.
Add the dried fruit and the nuts to the container along with the rosewater and 5 cups of cold water. Stir well. The water should be at lead 1 inch above the ingredients. Refrigerate for 2-4 days. The longer you leave it the sweeter it gets. It will keep in the fridge for up to 7 days.
Serve in a bowl with its juices. I also think it would taste wonderful on vanilla or mango ice cream or plain yogurt.
Share your comments, thoughts and experiences below!
While Humaira's roots are firmly planted in Afghanistan, mine are in Ireland. The Irish landscape is lush and verdant, the country is surrounded by water, the people are fair skinned and friendly, and the pub is the centerpiece of Irish social life.
Afghanistan is an arid, landlocked country where community centers around the homefront and the very notion of a public watering hole is virtually non-existent. The two countries mutual devotion to brewing and serving endless cups of tea was the one commonality I could think of.
While in Ireland, little grabbed my interest on the culinary front, this hearty quick bread became a minor obsession. Toasted with plenty of Irish butter and blackberry jam, it was the perfect accompaniment to all that hot tea.
While it's hardly Afghan food, it pairs just right with some of Afghanistan's hearty, flavorful soups and stews.
Brown Soda Bread
Makes 1 loaf
1 3/4 cups self-rising flour
1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
6 tbsp. ground flax meal (or wheat bran)
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. cold butter, cut into small pieces
2 cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Sift the first 6 ingredients into a big bowl. Add the butter to the bowl, pinching it between your fingers to incorporate it into the flour mixture until it is evenly distributed and is like a coarse meal. Pour in the buttermilk and stir with a wooden spoon until just barely combined. Do not overmix it. Put the dough in buttered loaf pan and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean (about 40 minutes).
Share your comments, thoughts and experiences below. We love hearing about your experiences.
Except where otherwise noted, all content on this blog is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license.
Your comments are welcome!
I no longer have to send friends to Fremont for an authentic chapli kebab and bolani meal. De Afghanan Kebob House, which has been in Fremont's Little Kabul district for over 20 years, has opened it's doors in San Francisco's Tenderloin district.
The restaurant is run by two nephews of the original kebab master, Omar Aziz. They have created an extensive menu of mouth watering dishes and they are committed to staying in San Francisco's lucrative restaurant market where there is little competition for well priced, delicious, Afghan street food.
The restaurant is small with around 22 seats. I found the ambiance sterile, the art synthetic but the great food is what won me over.
I ordered the main staples of any good Afghan restaurant; bolani kachaloo, chicken kebab and Afghan ice cream. All three items along with the complimentary shor nakhod (Afghan spicy potato salad) were wonderful.
For a small restaurant and single wait person, the service was timely and efficient. I left very satisfied with a to go order of bolani in hand for next day's lunch.
De Afghanan has two locations in Fremont, one in Livermore and another in Berkeley.
1035 Geary Street (between Polk and Van Ness
Phone number - (510) 549-3781
Your comments are welcome!
Your comments are welcome!
Shortly after my daugther Aria was born, fourteen years ago, I started a book club to create an incentive to read someting beside mind numbing picture books. The women I recruited were moms I met at a mommy-baby gathering. Every month we bundled up our bundles of joy, and met at someone's home to discuss the book.
Once the babies started crawling, and walking, we left them with Dad and met at restaurants for a coveted night of adult conversation and relaxed dining. Unfotunately five years ago the book club dissolved when driving carpools trumped reading.
Now, I live vicariously through friends who are still part of a book club or, women who write asking about Afghan dishes they can make for their discussion of Khaled Hosseini's books.
I love themed gatherings and nothing can be more fun than turning a book discussion into a cultural experience. So I decided to created a menu which will transport you into the world of Abdullah, Pari, Nila and all the wonderful characters in Khaled's most recent book, "And The Mountains Echoed."
When "And The Mountains Echoed" was first released, Khaled shared with readers of this blog his favorite foods.
Khaled's family is from Herat, a province in Western Afghanistan that has delicious regional dishes which I've yet to try: Qolor toroosh, Ishkana, Kichiri gosht landi, and Pati mash.
To this day Jeja, my mom, talks about the delicious foods Khaled's mom used to make when our families lived near each other in the Bay Area during the 80's. Jeja is not one to give fellow cooks undeserved recognition.
Although this menu does not have recipes from Herat, I have chosen traditonal dishes that are complementary, travel well and are perfect for pot lucks. I hope you will experience the wonders of Afghanistan through Khaled's beautiful words and my recipes.
An Afghan Feast For Your Gathering
Laghataq, Creamy eggplant dip with pita chips
Bolani, Afghan potato, scallion bread
Lawang, Turmeric braised chicken
Sabzi, Slow cooked spinach
Kadu, Braised butternut squash
Challaw, Afghan rice
Salata, Afghan salad
Warm pita bread (optional)
Halwa e Zardak, Rosewater carrot pudding
Black raisins, almonds and walnuts in separate bowls
Chai, Afghan cardamom tea
Your comments are welcome!
Yogurt is one of my obsessions. I eat it with everything. I love the tangy cool taste, which enhances every dish. Once I horrified my husband by dumping two large spoonfuls of plain yogurt into my bowl of ramen noodles.
Afghans add yogurt as a topping to many dishes such as kadoo, aushak, and aush. However, my family goes over the top, we add yogurt to everything. Recently I learned I am allergic to yogurt. This was a sad day for me. Apparently I am allergic to the protein in milk not be confused with lactose intolerance. This type of allergy can cause inflammation, body aches, mucus build-up and cold symptoms.
As part of my yogurt grieving, I went on a rampage of furious yogurt making. Since I couldn’t eat any of it, the yogurt was delivered throughout the city to my taste testers at children’s basketball games, carpool lines or by husband’s delivery service.
For years I have watched Jeja (my mom) make tangy creamy yogurt but I never mustered up the courage to make it myself. When I finally dove in, I found yogurt making very relaxing and rewarding. To transform a liquid into a semi-solid made me feel like a chemist or, better yet, a magician.
The right yogurt starter is the key to success. Unbelievably yogurt starter is just a few spoonfuls of yogurt. The yogurt kick starts the thickening of the milk proteins, adds tartness and acts as a preservative. Choose your favorite yogurt as the yogurt starter; your homemade yogurt will taste just like it. I use Saint Benoit Yogurt which is creamy, tart and to die for.
Heating the milk to the right temperature is important. The milk must first reach 185° and then it must cool to 110° before you add the yogurt starter. I used a digital thermometer to help track the temperature. I hung the thermometer on the side of the pot and kept an eye on it until it reached the right temperatures. In the recipe I provide some pointers to help you gauge the right temperature if you don’t have a thermometer.
This recipe calls for whole milk, which makes the yogurt very creamy but you may use 2% or 1% milk, which met my tester’s approval too.
Homemade Creamy and Tangy Yogurt
½ gallon whole organic milk
3 tablespoons good quality whole milk yogurt with live and active cultures
heavy bottom deep pan
two 2 pint size jars with tight fitting lids, disinfected and dry
Instand read thermometer (optional)
I think making yogurt overnight is the best way to do it. There's nothing like waking up to a fresh batch to have with your breakfast. Letting the milk rest in the oven (turned off, of course) is the ideal spot according to Jeja, who feels the cozy temperature of the oven is just right for turning milk into yogurt. Don't forget to set aside 3 tablespoons of your finished yogurt to use as a starter for your next batch before you gobble it all down.
Pour the milk into a deep, heavy bottom saucepan and set over medium heat. Cook stirring occasionally, until the milk reaches 185°. You can test this using an instant read thermometer or gauge it by cooking the milk just until it is on the verge of boiling. Look for lots of tiny bubbles on the surface of the milk. This will take about 15 minutes depending on your pan and stove. Remove the milk from the heat and let is cool to 110°. This will take about an hour.
While the milk cools down, put the starter yogurt into a medium bowl and stir with a fork until creamy. Once the milk has cooled to 110°, pour into the bowl and stir for 2 minutes to make sure the yogurt and milk are mixed well.
Pour the milk into the jars and close the lids tightly. Place the jars on baking tray right next to each other so they can keep each other warm, cover with several dishcloths to make them cozy. Place them in a warm place, such as near the stove, for 9-12 hours to rest.
Serving size: Half a gallon of milk make ½ gallon of yogurt
My thermometer was really handy with reaching the right temprature
If you don't have a thermometer look for the bubblesl which is a great indicator of reaching the right temprature.
During my two week visit to Afghanistan in 2011 I found myself obsessed with the bakeries of Kabul. As my bullet-proof US Embassy car zoomed through the streets, I'd find myself drooling at the sight of the beautifully arranged pastries in the bakery shops.
Due to threat of riots and security issues I mostly travelled in convoys or stayed in my hotel. I didn’t get to do any shopping or wander the markets as I had hoped. But, in my last hours in Kabul, I asked my cousin to take me to a bakery and the street with butchers. I had a chance to pop into a nice bakery, take some photos, chit chat with the owner and admire the beautifully displayed items.
I think it is worth noting that Afghans don’t usually eat dessert, unless it is a special occasion and in that case it is not usually baked items. Pastries are served as a snack with tea in the mid afternoon, at celebrations such as Eid or to a special guest. Flour, sugar and oil are expensive. Afghanistan being the second poorest country in the world, doesn’t allow for such luxuries to the majority of its population.
Roht is an Afghan sweet bread which is traditionally made with wheat flour. Here you'll find my post featuring a classic roht recipe. However, since many folks in my family are going gluten free, my sister Nabila came up with this recipe for roht which uses corn flour instead of wheat flour. I have to say, I find the corn roht much tastier than the traditional flour roht. I do encourage you to use finely ground corn meal; otherwise your roht will turn out coarse and crunchy.
Gluten Free Afghan Sweet Bread
1 cup corn meal
1 cup finely ground corn flour
1/4 cup butter at room temperature
1 to 2 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon nigella seeds (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Fit your food processor with the dough blade. Put all dry ingredients in the food processor, pulse a few times until all ingredients are mixed well.
Add butter and pulse several times until mixed well. Scrape the sides of the food processor, add the eggs, and mix until the dough is formed. If your dough is dry, add 1-2 tablespoons of milk to add some more moisture. You may not need the milk at all. You might have to stop periodically to scrape the dough off the sides. After a few minutes, the dough will come together in one smooth lump and move around the food processor.
Remove the dough from the food processor and pat it into a smooth ball. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the dough into two balls and work gently into a circular flat shape, about ½- inch thick. Poke little holes in a circular pattern on top of the dough with a fork, about 20 pokes per loaf. Sprinkle the loaves with nigella seeds. You can also divide the dough into 12 small balls and make approximately 4 inch round mini rohts.
Bake in the middle rack for 25-30 minutes until the corn roht is golden brown. Let it cool to room temperature before serving.
Cut into 6 wedges. Enjoy with a cup of tea.
Store roht in an airtight container or Ziploc bag. I find it tastes even better the next day.
*Nigella seeds are commonly used in Indian or Middle Eastern dishes. They are tiny black roasted seeds that taste likbitterness with a bitterness like mustard-seeds. They are sold at Middle Eastern or Indian markets. Check out the list of markets that we have compiled for you. If you can’t find them, use sesame seeds instead.
I don’t have a sweet tooth. My go to snacks are dates, mulberries, almonds and walnuts. However, there are a few things I can’t resist; pistachio ice cream, our Afghan butter cookies and Sheer payra, Afghanistan’s fudge.
Recently a friend asked about Sheer payra, so I cast a wide net for possible recipes. My friend Helen Saberi kindly referred me to her recipe in Afghan Food & Cookery*. My sister Nabila shared her wisdom and lessons learned from previous attempts to make this mouth watering delight.
It turns out making Sheer payra requires a great deal of precision and patience, the two qualities I lack. So, I created my own fast and easy recipe which, turns out a killer tasting Sheer payra. Since milk and sugar are at a premium in Afghanistan, this sweet is served at Eid holidays, weddings, baby births and of course for very special guests.
Perhaps this valentine, you can skip the chocolate and give your sweetheart a box of our "Afghan Rosewater, Cardamom Fudge".
Afghan Rosewater, Cardamom Fudge
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon warm water
1¼ cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups powdered milk
1 teaspoon rosewater
1 teaspoon cardamom
2 tablespoons walnuts, finely chopped
2 tablespoons almonds, finely chopped
2 tablespoons pistachios, finely chopped
Lightly butter a glass or metal pan, approximately 7x11 inches and 1-2 inches deep.
Time is of essence in this recipe. For best resutls, have all your ingredients measured and accessible in your work area before you go to the next step.
Add the water in a heavy bottomed sauce-pan, cook the sugar and salt over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar melts, around 3-4 minutes. Turn the heat up to high, bring to a boil, stir constantly for 2 minutes, a white foam will form on the syrup and it will thicken.
Remove pot from heat and move to your work area. Drizzle the powdered milk in the pot, as you stir, a creamy smooth mixture will form. Add rosewater, cardamom, almonds and walnuts. Mix well, making sure the nuts are distributed evenly in the batter.
Pour the mixture into the pan, scraping all the extras from the sides of the pan. It should spread out but if it doesn’t, use the back of a spatula to flatten it evenly. Sprinkle with pistachios and set to cool, approximately 1-2 hours.
Cut with a sharp knife in 2x2 inch squares, serve with a cup of black tea or coffee. Store the extra in in an air tight container or ziploc bag. Do not refridgerate, keep at room temprature.
* Afghan Food and Cookery by Helen Saberi
Afghan Lamb in Cherry Sauce with rice and cauliflower
It's not every day when lamb meets cherries in a pot. In the case of today's recipe, Qorma e Aloo Baloo, the end result is a symphony of sweet and sour delight for your taste buds.
After 33 years of living in the United States, I still remember cherry season in Afghansitan, when my mom’s cousin would deliver boxes of cherries to our home. Jeja, my mom, would get busy making jams and cherry juice before the lot went bad.
My younger brother and I would secretly stuff our faces with fresh cherries before we were found out and banished from the kitchen.
Afghan street vendor selling cherries
My creations are not always welcomed by my children. They live in fear of the next recipe, and the “strange” dish that will be presented at dinner. I was convinced that the rich taste of slow cooked lamb and the sweet cherry sauce would not be popular. But, to my surprise, I got two thumbs up.
Generally I find sweet and sour dishes overwhelming. so I served this with a side of braised cauliflower, Gulpea and Afghan white rice, Challaw which was just the right combination of sweet and savory. This dish will also go well with a side of fresh salad or yogurt.
My sister Nabila made this dish with beef over the holidays. Of course I tweaked what created and discovered the lamb works well too. I hope you like this dish and I welcome your thoughts in the comment section of this post.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion diced
1 pound boneless lamb stew, cut in bite size pieces
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
24.7 oz. jar of dark Morello cherries in light syrup from Trader Joe’s
1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
Note: If you are not near a Trader Joe’s, you may use two cups of any type of canned or frozen sour cherries. If you are not a fan of lamb, just substitute beef stew meat. It is equally delicious.
Add olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot with lid, place on medium high heat. Add diced onions to the pot and sauté for 3 minutes or, until the onions are translucent. Save 1/2 cup of cherry syrup from the jar and drain the cherries in a colander.
Wash meat thoroughly; pat dry with a paper towel before adding to the pot. Sprinkle the coriander on the meat, stir well and cook on medium high for five minutes or until the meat is browned. Add the cherry juice, turn the heat down to low, cover with the lid and simmer for 45-50 minutes, stirring every ten minutes.
Just added cherries and cilantro to the pot
Once the sauce thickens add the cherries, cilantro, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Stir well and simmer for 20 minutes without lid.
Serve with challaw rice and a side of salad or yogurt.
I made these Almond and Cardamom Meringue Cookies and could barely get them onto the baking sheet because of all the finger licking that was going on. If I come down with a ferocious case of salmonella, you’ll know why. All that sweet meringue, spiced with cardamom, and accented with the texture and flavor of ground almonds made a delicious batter, and an even better finished cookie. But then, I’m a sucker for anything meringue.
These cookies couldn’t be easier to make. Essentially, you whip egg whites with powdered sugar and then fold in ground almonds. You can buy almond meal, which is finely ground, blanched almonds, or make your own, which is what I did when I discovered I didn’t have any on hand. Just be sure not to grind it so much that you end up with almond butter.
The recipe comes from a new cookbook called “Afghan Desserts Made Simple” (Dog Ear Publishing, 2010). It’s the only Afghan dessert cookbook we know of, probably for good reason. There frankly aren’t a whole lot of Afghan desserts to write about. Afghans most often turn to dried and fresh fruits to satisfy their sweet tooth. Prepared desserts are reserved for special occasions. Truth be told, this recipe isn't authentically Afghan. It's inspired by an Afghan almond cookie But, using this many egg whites and this many ground almonds would be prohibitively decadent in Afghanistan.
The book is written by Sina Abed, a woman who, like so many in Afghanistan, fled her home in Kabul and came to the United States with her family. Like our blog, her book is a way to keep a record of the precious recipes that are preserved in the memories of the women who left Afghanistan over the past several decades. This particular cookie is well worth preserving in your own repertoire of recipes.
Almond and Cardamom Meringue Cookies
2 ½ cups almond meal *
¾ cup all-purpose white flour
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
4 egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
2 cups powdered sugar
Whole or slivered almonds for garnish
Makes 3 dozen cookies.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium bowl, mix together the almond meal, flour, and cardamom. Stir well.
In a large, immaculately clean mixing bowl, whip the egg whites with an electric beater until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue beating until soft peaks form. Gradually add the powdered sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form.
Gently fold the almond meal into the egg whites, mixing until you have a smooth, even consistency.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop large spoonfuls (about 2 tablespoons or so) of the batter onto mounds on the baking sheet. Top each mound with one whole almond or two slivered almonds.
Bake until the cookies just begin to brown around the edges, 15 to 20 minutes. Less cooking time will result in a chewier cookie.
Adapted from “Afghan Desserts Made Simple,” Sina Abed, (Dog Ear Publishing, 2010)
*You can make your own almond meal by grinding blanched almonds in a blender. Grind the almonds enough so they form a fine meal, but not so much that it begins to stick together and resemble almond butter.
There has been much debate about the accuracy of Lone Survivor, a movie based on a riveting story chronicling Operation Red Wings, where four highly trained Navy SEALs are sent on a mission to kill a dangerous “Al Qaeda” leader in a remote mountain village of Afghanistan, but they are discovered and overrun by enemy fighters.
Despite valiant fighting, three of the SEALs are killed. However, the fourth, Marcus Lattrell, is given a second chance in life by an Afghan village leader who risks his own life, his family’s life and perhaps his village’s future security to give this stranger refuge from his enemies.
This movie misses the mark by brushing over what makes this story different than other war stories: the time Marcus Luttrell spends holed-up in this remote village. In the movie, Mark Wahlberg asks over and over “Why are you helping me?” A great question that Peter Berg (the director) fails to answer. Not all Afghans are uncivilized, gun toting, American haters.
You see, Mohammad Gulab, follows the ancient Pashtun code of honor called, Pashtunwali. The main principals of Pashtunwali are hospitality, protection for all guests, justice against wrong doers, bravery, loyalty to family, righteousness, belief in Allah, courage, and protection of women. This unwritten code of conduct among traditional Pashtun tribes serves as a system of law and governance in parts of Afghanistan.
In his book, Marcus Luttrell details his memorable stay in the Afghan village. In the movie, he spends less than 2 rushed days in the village!
Marcus Luttrell explains that Gulab's duty as a Pashtun is to protect him against his enemies and get him to safety. Even though the insurgent fighters are enraged, in the real story they never attack Gulab's village nor do they try to kill Gulab while he is fulfilling his duty as a Pashtun. The villagers who live in the remotest part of Afghanistan live by a code not dissimilar to the SEAL’s code of honor. Unlike the movie, the book highlights how the villagers and the Talibs work with in this system to resolve the dispute over the American.
The movie opens with brutal SEAL training scenes that help forge a strong bond among the SEALs. What follows is forty minutes of non-stop battle where the SEALs are attacked by hundreds of fierce looking Afghan men senselessly popping out from behind trees and bushes into the SEAL's bullets.
After tumbling off rock cliffs, the SEALs dust themselves off with quick witty exchanges. The fight scenes resemble video games where the bad guy’s pink blood splatters across the screen as he flies into his death. In this case the bad guys are Afghan fighters dressed in nicely starched, colorful outfits with comically large turbans.
When I read the book, I was really moved by the story. It showcases the humanity of ordinary Afghans normally overshadowed by unceasing stories of violence. So, when I discovered the book was being made into a movie, I contacted the studio to get involved as a cultural advisor for the production. I’ve done this type of work with previous productions. They didn't enlist my assistance. Still, I hoped the movie would capture the strength of ordinary Afghans but in the end, I'm irritated that this movie tells half of the story.
Marcus Luttrell and Gulab have stayed good friends
Although the movie is billed for showcasing American heroism, I think it should have also given Afghan heroism due respect .
I dedicate this post to the memory of NATO forces, the brave men of Operation Red Wings and all Afghans who have perished in the past 34 years of war in Afghanistan. May they all rest in peace.
from my family to yours
Aria (14), Sofia (11), Cleo (1 ½), Jim & Humaira (ageless)
Thank you for reading my blog and your words of encouragement throughout the year. I am very grateful for your interest in my country and it's culture.
My New Year's resolutions are:
- Enjoying more and worrying less,
- Staying in the moment and being mindful.
- Continuing to write!
Please share your 2014 resolution with me.
Your Comments are appreicated!
Our holiday season was made even more special by a visit from my cousin Ghani, who is on his first trip to the United States. It was really fun to show him around, and see my world from his perspective. He had many insightful questions such as:
- What is the difference between McDonalds and In-N-Out Burger?
- Why did educated, democratically elected American politicians shut their government down?
- What is the difference between a street, court, boulevard and avenue?
Some questions were easy to answer and other not so much.
We took him to many restaurants, he was game to try new things but felt most foods were too dry and needed more oil.
He shared recipes for a variety of his favorite Afghan dishes which I hope to share with in 2014. In Afghan hospitality the guest is never allowed to enter the kitchen but we finally relented and allowed him to make his favorite juice for the family --- an instant hit.
I find that most people stay away from whole pomegranates since they are difficult to seed. In this recipe I have a quick and easy technique to seed pomegranate in less than one minute.
I hope you start your new year with a glass of Ghani's wonderfully refreshing and healthy juice.
Ghani's Quince, Pomegranate and Apple Juice
1 large pomegranate seeded
1 quince cored and cut in slices
3 red apples cored and cut in slices
1/2 cup water
Roll whole pomegranate on a hard surface or kitchen counter while putting pressure with both hands. This loosens the seeds. Cut the pomegranate in half, hold the open side down in the palm of your hand over a deep bowl to avoid the splatter of the juice. Take a heavy spoon or a wooden spatula and hit the back of the pomegranate 3-4 times. Most of the seeds will fall out after a couple of whacks.
Pick out the rest of the seeds by hand and remove any skin before juicing. Put the fruit through your juicer, pouring a little water in between each fruit to clear out the juicer.
Serve with ice. Makes 4 large glasses.
Your Comments are appreicated!
Your Comments are appreicated!
I think back to 1998 when my husband Jim and I hosted our first Christmas holiday get together. We had been married for two years at the time, were living in a tiny apartment, and I worked a busy jobs which left no time to cook. Although I had spent a couple of holidays with Jim’s family, I had never played hostess
Looking back, Christmas dinner was a little over my head. Come to think of it, there were several things wrong with this plan:
1. I didn’t celebrate Christmas growing up, and frankly, knew very little about the holiday. Even though I came to the United States from Afghanistan at the age of 11, I didn’t know much about the American traditions of Christmas. My family took advantage of the Christmas sales and the days off work, but we didn’t do anything special around the holiday. Once in a while, my Dad would show up with gift, but that was at random and no one reciprocated.
2. I did not know how to cook.
3. I had no idea what one traditionally serves on Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day, and Jim wasn’t much help in enlightening me.
Since our apartment was small the tree was sufficient decoration. Thanks to our landlord we had a wreath on the door. I worried about what to feed everyone. Afghans host by plying their guests with many meals, tea, snacks, and more tea, never letting anyone lift a finger. Considering I didn’t know how to cook, figuring out what we were going to eat was a challenge. I made up for this shortcoming by being a resourceful planner, which usually serves me well. But sometimes I plan too quickly and miss important details.
My game day plan was to serve fresh bagels, lox and cream cheese from Noah’s down the street on Christmas morning. For dinner, I called Mollie Stones, an upscale grocery store, and ordered the full line-up: “homemade” turkey, stuffing, potatoes, rolls, vegetable and dessert. It all sounded great and all I had to do was heat and serve.
As Christmas approached, I made many calls to my mom, Jeja, for advice. She was worried that I do a good job hosting my in-laws and supported my plan to order in dinner since she had no faith in my cooking ability. She even offered to cook an Afghan dinner one night and send it over from Fremont to San Francisco. I declined since I was not sure if Jim’s family would like Afghan food. I still don’t know if they like Afghan food.
On Christmas morning I woke up before everyone else, got dressed and walked to Noah’s bagels on Fillmore Street. It was a crisp San Francisco day. I noted how deserted the streets looked. “Maybe it’s still too early for people to be up,” I cautiously wondered. “Maybe people are sleeping in today." As I turned onto Fillmore Street it quickly sunk in that every shop on the street was closed, including Noah’s bagels. Not a single soul was in sight on this normally bustling street.
To my horror I realized that EVERYTHING is closed on Christmas. Not just Noah’s, but Mollie Stone’s too. After a cheerful greeting from a homeless person who seemed very happy to see me, I ran home and shook Jim to a quick state of wakefulness. “Did you know everything is closed on Christmas day?” I asked. “Yes, everyone knows that,” he said. Everyone, apparently, except Jeja and me.
Thank goodness I had enough bread, jam and cereal to offer for breakfast that day. Nobody seemed to care about the missing bagels, but I couldn’t work up the nerve to tell them about our missing dinner.
I called Jeja. She was panicked. “How could this be,” she said. “No food for guests? How horrible.” I could hear my Dad, siblings and even my young nephew Abe jabbering in the background, offering ideas, suggestions, and “tisk tisking” this bad fortune, shaking their heads all the while, I’m sure.
At noon my brother Waheed called with Plan B. He said Jeja had intended to roast a couple of chickens for their dinner that night. Instead, she’d send them over for our Christmas meal. At 5:30 Waheed showed up at my doorstep with a car full of food, still warm. Jim’s family was amazed that my family gave up their meal so we could have a special Christmas dinner, and that Waheed had driven an hour to deliver it to us. They couldn’t comprehend the importance my Afghan family placed on making sure my guests would get the royal treatment. In my country, not doing so would be considered shameful -- to our province, to our clan, to our qala (the family compound) and to our family.
I will forever be grateful to my mom for cooking, to Waheed for delivering the food, and to the rest of the family for their belief that it takes a village to host well. I am also grateful to Jim’s family for happily accepting what came to them without judgment or resistance.
I have since learned to cook, entertain and plan better. In honor of this rescue I share our Roasted Chicken with Afghan Spice Rub recipe.
Happy holidays to all of you!!!
Roast Chicken with Afghan Spice Rub
1 whole chicken, rinsed and patted dry
½ tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. ground paprika
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. turmeric
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. Kosher salt
1 lemon, cut in half
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Set the chicken in a roasting pan, preferably on a roasting rack. In a small bowl stir together the 4 spices, the garlic powder and the salt. Squeeze both halves of the lemon over the chicken and then stuff into the cavity of the bird. Gently pat the spice rub evenly over the entire chicken. Roast the chicken until done, 45 minutes to an hour depending on the size of the bird.
Your Comments are appreicated!
Eva standing with a young student in the Mobile Mini Children's Circus in Kabul
The Patience Stone is a mythical stone believed to have special powers. The owner of the stone can tell all her stories, sorrows, and secrets for safe keeping. Finally, one day when the stone has heard enough, and it can no longer take another secret, it explodes into tiny pieces, releasing all it has accumulated into the universe.
Make my day!
Leave a comment at the
end of this post.
Guest Blogger: Eva Vander Giessen
I felt honored just to be talking with her. I couldn’t believe there wasn’t a crowd around us in the Kabul restaurant where we were sitting – why weren’t people hanging onto her words, moved like I was with respect and gratitude for her matter of fact courage?
She is an educator, a mother, a wife. When the Taliban took over, she started a secret school with kids packed into her house. She fought for girls’ education and she even became the Minister of Education in one of Afghanistan’s most conservative provinces, Ghazni, home to ancient minarets, dusty roads, and a resilience that defies reason.
The woman I’m speaking of is Fatema, the Director of Afghan Friends Networks’ programs in Afghanistan.
Why should you care about Fatema, whose story you might forget five minutes after reading? I believe there is something precious that has been lost to us, which Fatema and other Afghans can help us find: patience.
Let me just say, I am not a patient person. When Google maps takes too long to load on my phone I get irritated. But my two visits to Afghanistan have made me passionate about a quality that we in the West usually reserve for 85-year olds and people who like to watch paint dry. Here’s why I am a student of patience.
Widespread change takes time. Ask Nelson Mandela or Susan B. Anthony. This seems obvious, but as Americans we undervalue subtle, steady progress. We also have forgotten that democracy is a system that evolves out of its people, not a one-size-fits-all formula.
I’ve never met young people so passionate in the face of adversity. I met Afghan girls who walk two hours in deep snow to attend classes at AFN Khurasan Learning Centers because they see education as a privilege. One of our University Scholarship recipients graduated high school in his 20s, persevering despite numerous interruptions so he could get into medical school as he dreamt.
The AFN scholarship students I met want to “help other girls achieve their wishes,” or “help my people get better treatment,” or “teach children of Afghanistan to build a better country” --- their aspirations are based on large scale, multi-generational hopes, and this is common among many young Afghans I met.
Patience is essential to courage. Fatema would be safer if she stopped working. People like her get “night letters” nailed on their doors by the Taliban, marking them as targets if they continue behavior deemed “un-Islamic”.
She has to disguise herself with several changes of clothes as she goes about one day’s work. But none of this stops her. She gets up at 5am every day and goes to the Khurasan Learning Centers because she, like our schoolchildren’s parents, know Afghanistan can only be as strong as its people are educated. Her long-term perspective gives her patience and fuels her courage for the long haul.
Lastly, patience helps bring laughter. You might be surprised to hear this, but I spent a good chunk of my time with Afghan friends and colleagues laughing. We laughed about extremist mullahs, we laughed about the uncertainty around what will happen after 2014, we laughed about the prejudice rampant between sexes, ethnicities, and families. Humor helps us deal with the painstakingly slow pace of change.
Kabul sunrise courtesy of Frank Petrella
My trip to Afghanistan in October 2013 was sobering. Violence in Ghazni has shot up. Unemployment is estimated at 40% and the gap between young and old is causing tensions. But I take my cue from Afghans themselves when they say, “We have patience, it will take time to rebuild and reinvent.”
I must say their patience has paid off. Progress is apparent everywhere. Access to electricity has tripled, the number of children in school went from 1 million to over 7 million in just seven years. Life expectancy is up due to better health care, and media has blossomed from one TV station to 75, plus 175 radio stations.
I am not optimistic enough to believe that Afghans have an easy road ahead. I worry about Fatema, about our students, about the uncertainty of it all. But I am learning how patience plays a role in lasting change, and how rare and important patience is for all of us.
What would our relationships, political and personal look like if we had patience to see big changes through? If we checked our urge to fix, and instead invested in the people who could “fix” themselves?
Eva wrote about her first trip to Afghanistan in 2012, "Survival of The Vegetarian in Afghanistan."
Leave a comment!
Tell us about your visits to Afghanistan.
While testing today's recipe though, I consumed too much of this scrumptiously delicious Date Log. My sister Nabila created the original recipe, but I've tweaked it to my taste.
As you may notice in the photos, I tested the recipe with various types of nuts and techniques to create the right crunch and combination of flavors. I add a drizzle of rosewater to each pieces before serving. The combination of the tang from lemon juice and the delicate fragrance of rosewater creates a beautiful symphony for the pallete.
This dish also transforms into an unexpected appetizer! Just spread a thin layer of goat cheese on the dates before adding the nuts and then follow the recipe. No rosewater needed.
Lemony, Almond and Walnut Date Delight
18 dates seeded and cut on one side
1/4 cup roasted almonds roughly chopped
1/4 cup roasted roughly chopped walnuts
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. finely ground cardamom
Plastic food wrap
Set aside 1 tbsp of almonds and 1 1/2 tbsp walnuts
Lay a long strip of platic food wrap on the kitchen counter. Arrange three dates flattened, side by side. Make sure they are overlapping. Repeat so you have a 3x3 square arrangement of dates. Save half the dates for later.
Sprinkle the almonds and walnuts on the bed of dates. Pour the lemon juice evenly and then sprinkle the cardamom before arranging the remaining nice dates on top.
Place a another piece of plastic food wrap on top of the date sandwich, make sure the plastic extends by 4 inches on over the lenght of the dates. Firmly press on the stack with the palms of your hands. Use the rolling pin to flatten the mixture into a think layer.
Remove the top plastic and gently roll into a log making sure that you press all the pieces together tightly.
Take the date log and roll onto the extra nut which you set aside, making sure all sides are covered with the ground nuts. Wrap in the plastic wrap and refridgerate for an hour or longer. When the log is firm, cut in bite size pieces.
*If you buy nuts, toast them in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes before doing the recipe
Khasta e Shereen
Afghan Cardamom Almond Brittle
1 ½ cup granulated sugar
1 lb. unsalted roasted almonds*
1 1/2 teasspoon ground cardamom
Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the almonds in a single layer on the baking sheet, grouping them all together with no spaces between the nuts.
Heat the sugar in a heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat, stirring regularly. The sugar will eventually turn to liquid. Continue to cook, stirring all the while, until the sugar is golden brown. Add the cardamom and cook a little longer until it reaches a deep amber color and smooth texture. The whole process of caramelizing the sugar will take about 15 to 20 minutes.
Drizzle the sugar in a thin stream evenly over the top of the almonds, covering them all. Cool completely. Break up the almonds with your fingers into two-bite pieces. Store in a jar with a tight lid or package for gifts.
*If you buy raw almonds, toast them in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes before doing the recipe
Toasted Turmeric Cashews
Humaira's Khast e Shor
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp. ground turmeric
1 1/2 tbsp. Kosher salt (adjust to your taste)
1 pound unsalted, dry-roasted cashews
Heat a wok or large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add oil, turmeric and salt; quickly stir to make a paste. Immediately add the cashews and stir-fry for 1 minute, turning the cashews in the pan to coat with the spices but don’t burn them. Pour into a colander. Shake the colander for 1 minute to eliminate extra spices; you may need to brush off extra coating of turmeric. Let cool and store in a jar with a tight lid.
Note: Trader Joe’s has well priced and really fresh cashews.
* Afghan proverb is from "151 Afghan Proverbs" book.
I grew up with my father spouting Afghan proverbs at every turn of a conversation or teaching moment. His favorite one for me, a tomboy, who came home with scraped knees from playing soccer or riding my bike was ----
“I have seen a girl play with dolls but not with bow and arrow like a champion prince.”
I find that Afghan proverbs are getting diluted with DarEnglish spoken by young Afghans in the United States. Sometimes in my writings I struggle with a specific thought, which I can express seamlessly with a Dari proverb but not in English.
You can imagine my delight when I discovered “Zarbul Masalah – 151 Afghan Dari Proverbs”, a book by Captain Edward Zellem.
Yes, a U.S. Navy Captain wrote the Dari Proverbs book, now available in 35 countries and translated in eight languages. A Pashto version is coming soon. During his time in Afghanistan, Captain Zellem collected and translated these proverbs in cooperation with Afghan friends and colleagues. Here is a favorite food related proverb from the book:
“We didn’t eat the aush, but were blinded by the smoke.”
Meaning, we did all the work but received none of the benefits. I can’t say that about Captain Zellem’s book. He has done the work resulting in a wonderful book that every Afghan under the age of 45 should have a copy.
What I love about the book is that the proverbs are in Dari, followed by transliteration in English so anyone can pronounce it. Then, he goes on to give the literal translation and finally the deep meaning or root of each proverb.
I call on young Afghans to get a copy of this book. Your mothers will be dazzled to hear you use speak with proverbs. I have my book marked up with favorite proverbs and every time I talk to Jeja, my mom, I throw out a new saying. It delights her to hear how much my Dari has improved.
Humaira Ghilzai of Afghan Culture Unveiled asks Captain Zellem about his love of language, Afghanistan and food:
You can learn about Captain Zellem's book on his website Afghan Sayings.
Humaira: Tell me a little bit about your overall impression of Afghanistan and its people.
Capt. Zellem: I spent far more time with Afghans than I did with foreigners during my year and a half in Afghanistan. As a Dari speaker I got to know Afghans pretty well during that time.
My overall impression is that Afghans and Americans have a lot more in common with each other at the personal level than most people think. Like most Americans, most Afghans greatly value basic human qualities like hospitality, trust, humor, good conversation, family, friends, courage, and freedom. Those are only a few; there are many more qualities that we share. Enjoyment of good food is another one, and I know you can appreciate that with the many great Afghan recipes that you share.
There are many religious, cultural and other differences between Afghans and Americans. And of course, there are tremendous differences in life experiences.
All Afghans have been affected greatly by three decades of war, and most Americans have not. But despite these differences, I found the similarities at the person-to-person level to be remarkable. I’ve lived and traveled a lot of places around the world for thirty years, and I’ve known people of many different nationalities. So I think I can say this with some authority.
When peace and security come to Afghanistan one day, I think many others will discover the same thing I did. The common human thoughts and feelings found in Afghan Proverbs can show us these commonalities too. My books of Afghan proverbs are also a completely personal hobby and a project to support Afghan literacy and charity
Humaira: I understand once you were in Afghanistan and working with Afghans you noticed their usage of the proverbs. Do you think programs should teach such intricacies of language, or the discovery of such knowledge should come from interaction with the native speakers?
Capt. Zellem: I think if you learn a baseline of proverbs and sayings in language school, the discovery of more can come naturally once you start working in that language.
The key is being a good listener and open to interacting with other cultures and people. When learning another language it’s certainly important to learn how to ask things like where the bathroom is, or how much something costs. But it’s also important to gain cultural competency in a language by trying to talk the way regular people and native speakers do. It’s also a lot of fun and it builds conversations and friendships fast.
Once I got to Afghanistan and started using Dari every day, I noticed proverbs being used all the time. So I started using these Afghan proverbs myself. I immediately found them to be useful and fun, great shorthand for very complicated thoughts, and a great way to understand Afghans better. Learning Afghan Proverbs also helped me learn more Dari vocabulary.
So for all these reasons I started writing down the proverbs when I heard them used. One thing led to another, and a personal learning tool became a hobby, then a passion.
Humaira: Since I write about Afghan food and culture, I have to ask you about your favorite Afghan dishes. Are you a cook and have you attempted making Afghan food?
Capt. Zellem: I love Afghan food, it’s some of the best in the world! I especially enjoy qabili palau, boulanee with either potatoes or leeks. Mantoo, eggplant cooked Afghan style, and of course kebabs of all kinds.
I especially like kebab-e chopan. And there is no better bread in the world than fresh naan!
“Neem-e naan, raahat-e jaan.” نیم نان، راحت جان
My wife does most of the cooking in our house – she is a lot better at it than I am. But, I do insist on cooking Afghan food, it always brings back good memories of Afghanistan. Nothing can beat Afghan food cooked by an Afghan, but I try and it is usually pretty good.
Your recipes help a lot!
I’ve used your holiday recipes for haft mewa and Afghan cookies several times with great success. People love them both, and we now serve them to our families and guests during the holidays. One day I’ll be bold and try to make my own mantoo! It is probably easier than it looks, I need to be brave and just do it.
Humaira: Are you still in contact with the Marefat School High School students who did the illustrations for your book? How do they feel about the upcoming withdrawal of the U.S. army and NATO force?
Capt. Zellem: I am still in regular contact with Marefat High School, because the students there are illustrating my next book of 151 Pashto Proverbs. In fact, the faculty is using the Pashto book project as part of the art curriculum at Marefat this semester, and the students are learning a lot from our work together.
The paintings I have seen so far are absolutely beautiful, I know people around the world will be inspired by them.
Everyone in Afghanistan and the world is concerned about what will happen after 2014. But Afghan youth like the students at Marefat are the hope for a brighter future. The world needs to support Afghan youth, Afghan literacy, and Afghan education to help bring peace and security. As the Afghan Proverb says,
“Doonya ba omeed zenda ast”
“The world is alive with hope.”. دنیا با امید زنده است
I also like to remind people that,
“ Shab dar meaan ast, Khodaa mehrabaan ast.”
“Even in the middle of the night, God is kind.” . شب در میان است، خدا مهربان است
These are two very famous Zarbul Masalha, which have great meaning for Afghanistan after 2014.
* Please note that Captain Zellem is an active duty U.S. Navy officer, anything he say here is his personal opinion and does not represent the position of the U.S. Government, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. Navy.
The older I get the more I like my own food. At pot-lucks, I grab a nice plateful of my dish before others get to it. At restaurants I order food with similar spices and flavors. I recently accepted the dark reality that I have become my mother --- when it comes to food.
The first time I had Mujaddara, it was love at first bite. It tasted very similar to my favorite Afghan dish Shohla but not as filling. I recently sought a recipe for this dish popular in Arab countries and settled on a recipe from the Food Network since I had the ingredients in my pantry. To my children's annoyance, I have made this dish every week in the past month to perfect the recipe to my taste, my waist line and to my kid's palette.
It occured to me that most of us struggle with new and innovative Thanksgiving side dishes. If you want to jazz up your Thanksgiving meal, perhaps you might want to consider Mujaddara or some of following Afghan dishes:
Sabzi - Slowe cooker Afghan spinach
Kadoo - Afghan braised pumpkin
Gulpea - Tender Afghan cauliflower
Sweet Potato Bolani - Yummy turnover
Lghataq - Creamy Afghan eggplant dip as a starter
Mujaddara means pock-marked in Arabic, referring to the the black or green lentils mixed in with rice, onions, coriander and cumin. I have to admit, I did make the dish with Trader Joe's steamed lentils which turned out fabulous and it cut the cooking time in half. However, in this recipe I use dry green lentils so those who are not near a TJ's can still make the dish.
May the cooking fairies make your Thanksgiving day a fabulous one. This year I give thanks for my family, for my health and for my community (that includes all of you). I also remember my father Ghulam Farouq Ghilzai, who celebrated Thanksgiving with great enthusiasm every year since it was his favorite American holiday. He always reminded us to be thankful for living in this fabulous country, the United States.
An Arabic Rice and Lentil Dish
1 cup small green lentils
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. cumin seeds
3 red onion thinly sliced
1 cup short grain or calrose rice rinsed
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper or skip if you have kids
1 tbsp. salt (adjust to your taste)
1 tsp. ground black pepper
3 cups water
In a pan, add lentils and cold water. On high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Cook until lentils are soft, around 15-20 minutes. Don't over cook the lentils since they will simmer with the rice.
While the lentils are cooking, place a deep frying pan on high heat and add olive oil. After a minute, add cumin seeds and stir until the seeds turn slightly brown and fragrant, around 2 minutes. Add the onions to the pan and reduce heat to medium high. Stir frequently, cook the onions until slightly brown and crispy, around 15 minutes. Scoop out a quarter of the caramlized onions onto a plate to use as granish later.
Add the rice to the pan, stir consistently so it doesn't stick to the pan or break. Once the rice is translucent, around 3-4 minutes, add the cooked lentils, the spices, salt, pepper and the water to the pan. Stir well and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to low, place a lid on the pan, let the ingredients simmer until the rice is cooked through and all the liquid is absorbed, 20-30 minutes. Remove the pot from heat, let is sit for an additional five minutes before serving.
Serve the dish on a bed of lettuce, topped with the carmalized onions, a wedge of lemon or a dollup of plain yogurt.
If I was on the fence about the slow cooker, this particular dish here has tipped the scales. When the slow cooker had finished doing its magic, I found myself hovered over the pot, fork in hand, double dipping, tongue burning, and hoping nobody would stumble into the kitchen. It was crock pot crack.
The dish is called mashawa. Humaira deemed it Afghan chili when she posted the original recipe a few months ago. It has the consistency of chili and boasts three different legumes. It’s crowned with a scoop of yogurt just as you might finish a Southwestern chili with sour cream. The flavor however, is distinctly Afghan, not remotely Tex Mex: coriander and dill in lieu of chili powder and cumin. And while it’s loaded with flavor, it lacks the heat of a traditional chili. If you like spicy, boost the amount of red chili flakes in the recipe.
I’m keeping this posting short. I need time to figure out which crock pot I’m going to buy.
Slow Cooker Afghan Chili
1 medium onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. beef stew meat, cut into bite-size pieces (too big and it won’t be tender)
1 tsp. Kosher salt, plus more for seasoning the meat
¾ tsp. black pepper, plus more for seasoning the meat
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tbsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. red chili flakes
1 1/2 cups dried mung beans
1 15-oz can of kidney bean
1 15-oz can of chickpeas
2 tbsp. dried dill
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 tsp. dried ground garlic
Heat the oil in large skillet over medium-high heat, add the onions and sauté for 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Season the meat with a healthy pinch of Kosher salt and black pepper and add to the onions/garlic. Cook for 10-12 minutes until nicely browned.
While the meat is browning, combine the chicken broth, tomato paste, coriander, chili flakes, mung beans, ½ tsp. of the salt and the black pepper to the crock pot. Stir well. Add the browned meat/onions to the pan and stir again. Turn the crock pot to low and cook for 6 hours. After 6 hours, add the kidney beans, chickpeas and dill. Continue to cook on low for an additional 30 minutes. If the meat is not tender enough, let it go another 30 minutes.
When you are ready to eat, stir together the yogurt, dried garlic and remaining half teaspoon of salt.
In a small bowl mix together the yogurt, garlic and remaining ½ tsp of salt.
Serve in bowls with a dollop of yogurt and a piece of nan or flat bread.
Makes 6 hearty portions
Today, even after 12 years of Afghanistan's "emancipation" from the Taliban, the only photos we see are of Taliban fighters, destruction and war. Oppression, lawlessness, corruption and hopelessness are associated with this central Asian country.
After spending 3/4 of my life in the United States I had also forgotten the real Afghanistan that Joe Hoyt captures in his photos.
Six years ago, I met Joe when we were panelists at an event in San Francisco. I was brought to tears as I spent hours going from one photo to the next and really absorbing what I was seeing. They reminded me of the Afghanistan I once knew, "From an Era of Peace", so perfectly named. Joe captured these images during his five adventure filled trips to Afghanistan from 1970-1975.
Yes, there was a time when Afghans did not wake up to new bombings every day. They could travel without being shot at and they could send their children to school without fear.
Joe captures that time with elegance, honesty and love. “Bus Top” is one of my favorite photos. It reminds me of my family road trips from Kabul to Ghazni when we passed the central bus stop on the outskirts of Kabul and saw colorful and intricately decorated buses all dolled up like brides waiting for their grooms to sweep them off their feet.
As a little girl how I wished to ride on one of those buses rather than in our orange Volkswagen bug. In “Bus Top”, you can really see the joy in the passengers’ faces, perhaps the true essence of an Afghan: their need for independence, their stubbornness in doing things their way and their resilience. In each of these amazing photos, Joe depicts the peace, the freedom and the optimism that all Afghans shared at that time in history.
These photos are an artistic account of a time that should not be forgotten and a stark reminder for us, not to give up on Afghanistan and its people.
On November 13th, Joe’s photos will go on display at the beautiful Afghan Center at Kabul University. It is the first time Afghans in Afghanistan will view these photos.
Joe’s photos have been exhibited in San Francisco, Fremont, San Jose and Belmont, California. Other locations in the U.S. include Miami, Aspen, and Easton, Maryland. The photos have also visited Coventry in the UK and Calgary, Canada.
“Afghanistan - Images From An Era Of Peace”
50 black and white photographs from 1970 -1975
by Joseph Hoyt
November 12 - December 12th, 2013
Opening Reception - Hamed Mubarez and Jawad Jalali
Afghanistan Center at Kabul University
Open and free to the public
Exhibit Sponsors: Dupree Foundation and The Aga Khan Trust for Culture
I asked Joe to select five of his favorite photos from this exhibit. Each photo has a introduction by Joe and an accompanying Rumi poem translated by Coleman Barks.
Nineteen Boys – A great kids photo, but the back story is the essence. Otherwise a bunch of characters running the streets, behaving well and learning to read the Koran. Possibly the only book they’ll ever hold in their lives.
A swift stream never gets bored
with the fish that swim in it.
Nor do those fish weary
of feeling the flow around them.
No. This world loves its lovers,
and those lovers never tire of being
so dear and near what bears them along.
Village of Lash – e – Jouayn – An ancient and uber- mysterious place in the desert unlikely to ever be seen by any tourist. The town is located way past Farah in Nimruz Province. I rode the bus out there.
Find your place and close your eyes,
so your heart can start to see.
When you give up being self-absorbed,
your being becomes a great community.
Dusty Kabul Backstreet –The old and the new juxtaposed in the dark -- full of questions.
I wander through the towns of this world,
leaving them each to those in charge
of decorating them for festivals.
Like a boat drifting on the ocean
with no set direction, one afternoon
resting in a caravanserai, that night,
starting out for somewhere else.
Stepping Stones – A frozen moment, one leg up another down. Like a Cartier-Bresson, what a capture is meant to be, pure chance.
I love the soul that lets my soul
stay healthy, growing
like an orchard, a garden.
He brings symbols through me
to show the world.
Then at other times,
he clears my consciousness
to be transparent like himself.
Clouds and Poplars – Unlike all the others; this shows the solitude, grandeur and beauty of the natural aspects of Afghanistan. A sole Afghan is walking the road to --- where?
This is how I would die
into the love I have for you:
as pieces of cloud
dissolve in sunlight.
All Rumi verses compliments of and © Coleman Barks, All rights reserved.
Humaira Ghilzai of Afghan Culture Unveiled interviews Joe Hoyt about this historical exhibit:
Humaira: What does it mean to you to have these photos exhibited in Afghanistan?
Joe: This is an interesting opportunity to actually see what impact the images have after all. Unlike in the west, photographs do not have an aspect to them where they are viewed as art or have innate historical significance.
Some of the most appreciative audiences have been Afghans living in the United States. The thing is, the photos are likely to be viewed by individuals who have not seen images of what their very own country was like before 35 plus years of war and upheaval. I’m sure some aspects will seem more or less what they experience even today.
As international forces are set to leave Afghanistan in 2014, I would hope the collection will help set the stage to engender ethnic co-operation, pride in national identity, appreciation for the rich and remarkable history of the nation the resilience of the Afghan people.
Humaira: Why do you think there is so much interest in your photos? After all, over the past 12 years many new photographers and filmmakers have created beautiful work in Afghanistan. What intrigues people about your photos?
Joe: Clearly, mine are compelling because of the era – well before the nation was overrun by the Russians and before the civil war, before the Taliban and before foreign occupation. I am unaware of any other vintage collections from that time period being toured around for exhibition.
But the key factor is they are for the most part black and white. They are riveting because they are personal, they are honest, un-posed, they are candid and in the moment captures. All are in natural light and taken one-on-one; perhaps it is even because they are naïve and unadorned. I was a 21 – 22 year old using my wits and, dare I say charm, to approach common people to take their photos. The trust shows in the subject’s faces (most of the time anyway). You do not see the hollow-eyed visages visible in so many images taken during the years of terror and fear.
Humaira: How did you go from creating the booklet to finding exhibits around the U.S. and in Europe?
Joe: After San Francisco where we met, I came away encouraged the exhibition would have wider interest, but had no idea how to go about marketing it. I found a group specializing in traveling photo exhibits and contracted with them. They booked some exhibits but I mostly arrange them myself. Some US universities might be a good place. And I’d love to do an exhibit in DC and maybe San Francisco again!
Humaira: Tell us about your collaboration with Coleman Barks (Rumi expert and student of Sufism) for this exhibit.
Joe: In May 2012, I sent a letter to Mr. Barks that included a copy of my book. I told him about my photos, the intent of my work and so on. I asked if he might be interested in and have time to match up some Rumi quatrains with my photos.
Six months later I received a reply. He thought the photos were great, but did not have time. He sent a copy of The Big Red Book as a really nice gift.
Some months later Coleman (we now use our first names) changed course and sent me four quatrains! Some time went by – I received more! Some unpublished verses! I used them in an exhibit at the local museum when the work was exhibited.
You can see six of the verses on my website. To date, I have received 16 verses selected to go along with certain photos. The others will be posted soon.
After moving to the U.S., my Afghan family embraced two American holidays; Thanksgiving and Halloween. My father always cooked a big turkey with all the fixings to give thanks for his arrival to the United States a week before Thanksgiving of 1978, when he joined my sister and two brothers who were already here. The remaining family members followed him nearly a year later.
I was 11 and my brother Tamim was eight when we arrived in New York with no English or any sense of life in America, except for dreams we had created over the nine months of travel from Afghanistan to the U.S.
My sister Nabila excitedly told us about the upcoming holiday, Halloween. She explained that American children dress in costumes, go to parties, carve pumpkins and get candy. Somehow the order of all of this didn’t make any sense but, we zeroed in on the candy part. In Afghanistan, the only time we got candy was during two annual Eid holidays, the rest of the year we had to settle for raisins and dried fruit.
We had heard in America kids got candy and chocolates all the time but we couldn't believe our luck that people would come to our door to give us candy. Clearly, something was lost in translation. On Halloween, Tamim and I patiently waited all day for the candy bearers.
Finally around 6pm the doorbell rang; on the other side we found a sheep, a girl in a bonnet and a wolf. They said something in unison.
We said nothing, and waited for them to hand over their candy.
They said the same thing again.
We just stood there, waiting.
The girl in the bonnet looked annoyed, it was hard to tell with the sheep and the wolf. Just when they were about to leave without giving us candy my Dad interfered. He dropped coins in their bags and then ushered us inside where he patiently explained how Halloween truely works. So, we quickly got to work on a costume with our limited resources.
Making something out of nothing is a skill all refugees develop over time, either by choice or necessity.
We decided to be clowns. I used my mom's red lipstick to draw bright red circles on our cheeks and reddened our lips. Somehow this didn't seem enough of a diguise so I darkened and elongated our eyebrows with her black eyeliner. We looked more like a drag queens than clowns.
We headed out with one shared bag and started ringing doorbells in our low income, high rise apartment building in a down and out part of Queens, New York. The first couple of doors didn’t answer, but the third one did.
A nice woman opened the door, paused and then said something to us. We just stood there with outstretched hand, holding our bag.
She cocked her head to the right and repeated the same thing again, but a little slower.
We just stared without a word. She gave up and dropped two small chocolates in our shared bag.
We walked away in disbelief about this amazing holiday. I turned to Tamim, "Didn't I tell you Amreekaw is great. All you have to do is ring someone’s bell and they give you chocolate."
Later, with a bag full of candy we sat happily telling Nabila about our adventures, while she spent half an hour trying to get the lipstick off of our cheeks. This was my first lesson in make up application, don’t put lipstick on anything but lips.
What are some of your blunderous Halloween stories?
Eid e Qurban Mubarak to all my Muslim friends. This Eid holiday, also known as Eid al-Adha falls after the annual pilgrimage of Muslims to Mecca. Hajj is the largest gathering of Muslims in the world and it is one of the five pillars of Islam. If an able bodied Muslim has the means, they should perform Hajj once in their lifetime. Going to Hajj is cost prohibitive for most Muslims around the world. I recently discovered that it can cost well over $7,000 to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca from the United States.
I don't consider myself a devout Msulim but I have alway been intrigued by Hajj. The idea of thousands of pilgrims with one belief, one devotion and one identity gathered in one place could be an unfogettable spiritual experience. This year my sister Nabila and I made a pact that we will make a pilgrimage to Hajj in the next few years. We hope this wish will come true once we win the lottery.
TEA AND HOSPITALITY IN AFGHANISTAN - continued from last week's post.
By guest blogger: Helen Saberi
Tea, whether it is green or black, is not usually drunk with milk in Afghanistan except perhaps at breakfast time.
On formal occasions, however, such as weddings and engagements, a special tea is prepared called qymaq chai. Qymaq is similar to clotted cream or the kaymak of the Middle East. This tea is prepared with green tea and by the process of aeration and the addition of bicarbonate of soda the tea turns dark red. Milk is added (and sugar too) and it becomes a purply-pink colour. It has a strong, rich taste. Cardamom is added for added flavour.
The qymaq is floated on the top. My husband, who is very poetic, likens the colour of the tea to the rosy-hued glow of the mountains in Afghanistan as the sun rises or sets. The qymaq represents the white snow-capped peaks. He also says that the colour of the tea should be like the purply-pink blossom of the Judas tree which flowers all over in Afghanistan in the spring.
Afghan Milk Tea
For the qymaq:
2 cups (450 ml) whole milk
½ tbs cornflour
6 tbs (75 ml) double cream
Add the milk to a pan and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and stir in the cream. Sieve in the cornflour, stir to mix, then whisk until frothy. Leave on a low heat. A thick skin will form on the top of the milk. This should be removed from time to time and collected in another pan until there is only a small amount of milk left. Place the pan with all the collected qymaq again on a low heat and leave for a couple of hours more. Then keep the qymaq in a cool place until it is needed.
For the tea:
3 cups (680 ml) water
6 tsp green tea
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1¼ cups (280 ml) milk
4 to 8 tsp sugar, according to taste
1 to 2 tsp ground cardamom
8 tsp qymaq
Put the water in a pan and bring to the boil. Add the green tea and boil for about 5 minutes until the leaves have opened up. Add the bicarbonate of soda and continue to boil for a couple of minutes more. The tea will rise to the top of the pan whilst boiling. Each time it does add an ice cube to reduce the temperature. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the tea leaves to settle. Strain off and discard the tea leaves.
Put an ice cube into another pan and pour the tea into it from a height in order to aerate the tea. (A ladle could also be used to do the aeration (see the illustration below). Repeat, pouring from a height from pan to pan, several times, adding an ice cube each time until the tea becomes a dark red colour.
Put the pan back on the heat and add the milk. The colour of the tea will now be a purply-pink colour. Slowly heat it to just below boiling point, then stir in the sugar and cardamom according to taste.
Pour the tea into teacups and float two teaspoons of qymaq on top.
Recipes come from Afghan Food and Cookery by Helen Saberi published by Hippocrene in the United States. The illustrations are by Abdullah Breshna who illustrated the book.
By guest blogger: Helen Saberi
As the small aeroplane from Peshawar came into land bumpily at Kabul airport on 4 March 1971 little did I know that I was to marry an Afghan and spend the next nine years happily living in Afghanistan. My first impressions from the air were of the snow-capped mountains circling what seemed like a huge dust bowl. However, after these first rather daunting impressions I grew to love Afghanistan – its stark and stunning scenery, the brilliant blue skies, snow-clad mountains, lush green valleys, the colourful and bustling bazaars; but most of all I loved it for the wonderful hospitable people.
Hospitality and tea play a very important part in the lives of the Afghan people. Tea is drunk copiously throughout the day. The warmth and generosity of Afghan hospitality can be almost overwhelming at times. During the time I lived in Afghanistan I was lucky enough to travel around the country visiting places and towns such as Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, Kunduz, Bamian, Bandimeer, Kandahar, Jalalabad and many other places. I was also fortunate enough to be a guest in many households. A guest is always made to feel welcome and special. He or she will be invited to sit in the place of honour at the head of the room and made comfortable on colourful cushions called tushak with a pillow (bolesht) placed behind to lean back on before being offered tea.
Tea (chai) will be served. It may be green tea or black. Meanwhile the host’s family will be preparing the best possible food. The tea is sometimes served in small glasses called istakhan or small porcelain handle-less bowls, similar to the Chinese tea bowl, called piala.
Western style cups may be used, especially in the cities. The first cup of tea is usually served with an enormous amount of sugar – the more sugar, the more honour. Another Afghan custom is to have the first cup of tea sweet, chai shireen, followed by another cup without sugar, called chai talkh. Many people dip sugar lumps or cubes, called qand, in their tea which they then hold in their mouths as they sip the tea. Sometimes, especially if it is winter, ghur, which is a kind of lump sugar made from sugar cane, is served with tea because of its warming properties. Chai is often flavoured with green or white cardamom – the pod is opened and the seeds crushed and sprinkled over the tea. Sometimes a whole pod is lightly crushed and put into the teapot before boiling water is poured over.
Your glass or cup is constantly refilled by your host. You must remember to turn your glass or cup over when you have had enough otherwise the refilling will continue! Sometimes tea is served in individual teapots allowing the guest to pour out as much or as little tea he needs or requires. Very often you will be provided with a small bowl for the dregs.
Sweets called shirnee often accompany the tea, especially for guests. These can be ‘chocolate’ (not what we know as chocolate but actually locally-made toffees). Noql are particularly popular. These are almonds, pistachios or chickpeas coated in sugar. Noql-e-badomi (sugared almonds) are the most popular but my favourite were the noql-e-nakhod (with chickpeas) which were tasty and very moreish.
In the afternoon biscuits (kulcha) may also be served with tea. Although cakes, biscuits and desserts are a luxury in Afghanistan they are often served to guests. I remember very well when unexpected guests arrived in the afternoon we would send a young member of the family or the servant to go and buy biscuits from the bazaar.
Many different types were available. My favourite ones were ab-e-dandon which means ‘melt in the mouth’ and they really did! If it was Nauroz (the Afghan New Year) then kulcha-e-Naurozee (also known as kulcha-e-birinji – rice biscuits) were popular. If one knew guests were coming biscuits or pastries might be made at home. For special occasions delicious light and crispy goash-e-feel (literally ‘elephant’s ear’) pastries might be made.
I have vivid memories of the time I visited my husband’s relatives in Kunduz and being shown how to make fritter-like biscuits called kulcha-e-panjerei (meaning ‘window biscuits’) by my husband’s cousin Mahgul. There were of course other sweetmeats for us to enjoy but this has remained in my memory for all these years.
I remember the batter being made, the wok-like pan containing oil being heated up over a fire and the fritter iron being used. I remember the sweet crispness of the biscuits. Kulcha-e-panjerei are light and delicate and best eaten when they have cooled down but still fresh and crisp dusted with a little icing sugar just as I ate them in Kunduz many years ago. Here is the recipe.
You will need a fritter iron like the one shown in the drawing below, although the patterns do vary considerably. I have one in the shape of a butterfly and one in the shape of a flower.
2 medium eggs
1 tsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
4 oz (110 g) plain flour
1 cup (225 ml) milk
2 tsp melted butter
oil for frying
icing sugar for dusting
Beat the eggs in a bowl until well blended. Add and mix in well the sugar and salt then gradually stir in the flour alternately with the milk and the melted butter. Beat well.
Heat about 4” (10 cm) oil in a deep pan or fryer to 200o C (400o F). Immerse the fritter iron in the hot oil to season. Then dip it in the batter, making sure the batter does not cover the top of the iron. Immerse quickly in the hot oil for about 20 to 30 seconds, until the bubbles disappear and the biscuit is golden brown. Remove the fritter carefully from the iron, if necessary with a fork, and drain. Repeat until all the batter is used up. When cool, dust with icing sugar. These are best served immediately and do not store well in a tin.
*Next week, Helen's post will continue with the recipe for Qaymaq Chai. A special milk tea made for celebrations or hosting guests.
Recipes come from Afghan Food and Cookery by Helen Saberi published by Hippocrene in the United States.
An Afghan woman's marriage prospects hinges on her ability to make Palau. So, you can imagine how much thought and effort goes into perfecting the Afghan rice dish. To this day my children and husband tell me that my Palau is not as good as my mom's. Thank goodness Jim didn't test my Palau making skills before he proposed to me over 17 years ago.
Jeja, my mom, makes the best Kabuli Palau in our family. My cousins request this dish when they visit her. Kabuli Palau was created by the upper class families of Kabul who could afford to include caramalized carrots, plump raisins and coveted nuts in their rice.
Over time as people in Afghanistan became wealthier this dish became more common. So, the name was changed from Kabuli Palau to Qabili Palau. The Dari word Qabil - means well accomplished, indicating that only a skilled chef can truely balance the various flavors of this dish.
The most important part of making Qabili Palaus is to keep the rice from breaking while it develops a deep rich brown color in the multi step cooking process. Most people think we use brown rice, let me tell you folks, I had not seen brown rice until I was well into my 20's when I started cooking for myself. The white, long grain rice takes on a rich brown color from the caramalized onions and chicken sauce.
Using unprocessed, long grain white rice is key in having success with this dish. I buy rice from the Afghan grocery market which passes muster with Jeja. I soak the rice in water for at least an hour to plump up the grains but most store bought Basmati rice can't handle the soaking and the two step cooking technique. That is why I left out the soaking in my recipe.
This dish takes me around 1:45 minutes from start to finish. I have integrated short cuts to help save time. I know Jeja would frown upon some of my techniques but I have made sure that the Palau retains the rich flavors of the original recipe.
I hope you too can make the best Kabuli/Qabili Palau from this this updated recipe.
Kabuli/Qabili Palau - Afghanistan’s National Dish
4 cups basmati rice
5 skinless chicken legs
5 skinless chicken thighs
3 medium yellow onions, peeled and quartered
½ c plus 2 tbsp. olive oil or vegetable oil, divided
5 tsp. salt
1 cup chicken broth
3 large carrots, peeled
1 cup black raisins
½ cup slivered almonds
3 tbsp. sugar
¾ cup water
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 ½ tsp. ground cardamom
½ tsp. ground black pepper
12 cups water
2 tbsp. browning sauce such at Kitchen Bouquet (optional)*
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
Immerse rice in a bowl of water and drain in a colander. Repeat this step 3 times.
Wash and dry the chicken. Set aside.
Chop the onions in a food processor using the pulse button. Don't puree the onions. You can do this by hand if you prefer.
Choose a sauté pan that is at least a couple inches deep and large enough to fit all the chicken. Pour ½ cup of the oil in the pan and sauté the onions over high heat, stirring quickly, until brown (5-10 minutes). Don't burn them.
Add the chicken to the pan and sprinkle with 3 tsp. of the salt. Cook the chicken over medium-high heat for 6 minutes, turning from time to time so all sides turn golden brown. The onion will start to caramelize and turn into a thick sauce.
Add 1/4 cup of the chicken broth, and continue stirring to keep the chicken from burning. Once the liquid has been absorbed, add another 1/4 cup of chicken broth, bring it to a boil, cover with a lid or aluminum foil, and simmer for 10 minutes. The sauce should turn a dark brown. If your sauce does not take on a dark color you can add the Kitchen Bouquet to give it color.
While the chicken is cooking, cut the carrots into long think matchsticks, about 4 inches long and 1/8-inch thick. Make sure that they are not too thin. In a large frying pan add ¾ cups of water and bring to a boil, add the carrots and cook until tender and a deep orange hue, 5 to 7 minutes.
Keep a close eye on this to make sure you do not overcook them. Once the carrots are done, drain any leftover liquid out of the pan. Add the remaining 2 tbsp of oil, raisins, almonds and sugar to the carrots. Stir quickly over medium-high heat and keep stirring for about 3 minutes. The raisins will look plump; the carrots will take on a nice sweet flavor. Remove from heat and package the carrots into a sealed aluminum foil pouch about the size of a small paperback novel.
Remove the chicken pieces from the broth and set aside. Stir the cumin, cardamom and black pepper into the broth. Continue to cook on low for 5 minutes to allow it to thicken.
Meanwhile, measure 12 cups of water and the remaining 2 tsp. of salt into a large Dutch oven or pot (see our Palau post for photos) with a fitted lid. Bring it to a boil. Add the rice to the water and boil until it is al dente (nearly cooked, though still slightly crunchy). This will take just a few minutes depending on the rice you use. You will have to taste it to check for doneness. Do not overcook it.
Immediately strain the rice through a colander. Put the rice back into the cooking pot and add the sauce from the chicken. Mix well. Arrange the chicken pieces on top of the rice. Set the aluminum package of carrots on top of the rice. This will keep the carrots warm and deepen the flavors without mixing with the rice yet.
Bake the rice for 15 minutes in 500 degrees then drop the temperature down to 250 degrees. Cook for another 20 minutes.
Arrange the chicken pieces on a large platter, cover with the rice. Sprinkle the carrots, raisins, and almonds on the rice. Serve with a simple salata.
People always ask me if ingredients for Afghan recipes are hard to find. The answer to this is always a resounding “no”. While there are a small handful of unusual ingredients in Afghan cooking, the great majority of what’s needed can be found in your neighborhood supermarket such as Safeway, Ralph’s, or Whole Foods. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area has many advantages (house prices are not one of them) including accessibility to ethnic grocery stores. However, you can access a large selection of more exotic ingredients online at www.sadaf.com. I have not used this site since I purchase Sadaf brands in my local ethnic market, but I have friends who rely on it for specialty ingredients.
Here is a peek into our pantry with a breakdown of the ingredients most commonly used in Afghan cooking. We hope this will make it fun and easy for you to try our Afghan recipes.
In Afghanistan spices are typically bought in bulk and ground as needed. But as busy moms and home cooks, we buy most spices already ground and packaged. Below is the list of the most commonly used herbs and spices:
o Black pepper
o Sea Salt
o Ginger, fresh and dried
o Dried garlic
o Fresh cilantro
o Mint, fresh and dried
o Chilies, fresh and dried
o Nigella seeds (tiny black, slightly bitter seeds; available in specialty markets/mail order businesses)
o Sesame seeds
· Beans and Peas
Legumes are used as an extender for kebabs and other meat dishes since they are far less expensive than meat. You will find them fried and salted as a snack or coated with sugar to have with tea.
o Chick peas
o Kidney Beans
o Mung Beans
o Split Peas
· The Onion Family
Practically every savory Afghan dish is made with onions in some form. Most common is something called piaz e surkh kada, which is finely minced onion cooked in plenty of oil until deeply browned, lending a rich and mellow flavor to meats and vegetables. Afghans also use the “juice” of the onion, squeezing out the liquid and distributing it in ground meat for kebabs.
o Yellow onions
o Red onions
o Gandana (similar in appearance to leeks; available in specialty markets. Leeks and/or green onions can be substituted)
Afghans are very particular about their rice; it is the centerpiece of nearly every meal. Using the right rice and cooking it properly are considered essentials for a good Afghan cook. We recommend the least processed Basmati rice you are able to find.
o Long grain rice
o Short grain rice
You are never too old or too knowledgeable to learn something news.
Recently, I learned about an Afghan dish called Qorma e khawar. Qorma is the common name for all Afghan meat or vegetable dishes that are slow cooked in a sauce. However, I had never heard of khawar. I called my mom, Jeja, my Afghan food encyclopedia.
This is how our conversation went in Farsi.
“What is khawar?”
“The tiny green things.” Jeja responds.
“Oh, you mean mawsh (mung beans)?”
“No, the other thing. It ‘s small, green, and soft. I don’t know what its called in English.”
“Do you mean karam (Brussels sprout)?”
I spent sleepless nights, as this mystery loomed unsolved. Finally, I got a call from Jeja that she found a jar of khawar in Trader Joe’s, which turned out to be capers.
I always associated capers with smoked salmon, that is where my knowledge of capers ended. I had no idea that capers are native to Afghanistan and that they are used in Qorma. Fresh capers are bitter but once they are dried and pickled, the bitterness dissipates.
It turns out that my aunt makes the best Qorma e khawar. She lives in Orange County so I got a rudimentary recipe from her and then went to work on creating this dish. After a few tests and tweaks I settled on the best combination of ingredients and techniques. If you love capers, try this recipe.
Afghan Qorma e Khawar
Creamy Chicken, Caper and Yogurt Stew
3 ½ cups jarred capers (four jars of Trader Joe’s capers)
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 large yellow onions diced
1 tbsp. chopped garlic
1 1/2 lbs. skinless boneless chicken breast cut in thin strips
½ cup chicken broth
½ tbsp. ground coriander
½ tbsp. ground turmeric
½ tsp. ground black pepper
1-cup full fat Greek yogurt at room temprature
Rinse capers in fresh water and soak for an hour in warm water to remove the vinegar and salt taste.
Heat olive oil in a sauté’ pan on medium-high heat. Add diced onions to the oil, sauté on high for 10 minutes until they are lightly brown. Add garlic, chicken strips, coriander, turmeric, and pepper to the pan. Stir well, cook for five minutes until the chicken is slightly brown. Add the chicken broth, stir well, cover pan with a lid, and simmer for fifteen minutes until the sauce thickens.
Add 2 tbsp. of the chicken sauce to the yogurt; stir until creamy smooth. The warm sauce will neutralize the yogurt so it won’t curdle when it is added to the pot. Add strained capers and yogurt to the sauté pan; stir well so the yogurt is distributed evenly. Simmer for five minutes without the lid until the sauce is fully heated.
Even after rinsing and soaking, the capers retain much of it’s salt. I felt the dish was seasoned perfectly without additional salt. You may add some salt to your taste.
Ok, so this dish does not have an Afghan name since it’s not a traditional Afghan dish. Mustard Chicken, as my family fondly calls it, was created by a friend of a friend who is an accomplished Afghan cook. Although it is not an authentically Afghan dish, it uses a lot of the traditional spices. At first I was not sure if this recipe should become a blog post. But after my friend’s son, David Rupright (age 12), declared it “Afghan enough” I decided to share.
Over the years I have noticed Afghan ladies such as my mom and her friends not only adapt their cooking to their American kitchens but they have integrated ingredients they have found in the U.S. to their cooking. This is the natural evolution of food and cooking so it should be honored.
Mustard Chicken is a low-fat and very flavorful dish. I’ve experimented with different kinds of mustard but came to the conclusion that your basic, inexpensive yellow mustard works best. I like to serve it with warm pita and a simple salad. It reminds me a little bit of Mexican fajitas, only with Afghan seasonings and pita instead of tortillas. We hope you enjoy this dish.
Afghan Mustard Chicken
2 lbs. skinless, boneless, chicken breast
14 oz. yellow mustard
½ tbsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. cumin
½ tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. Kosher salt
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced thin
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and sliced thin
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and sliced thin
After washing and drying, cut chicken in thin long strips, similar to fajita meat. Combine the chicken, mustard, coriander, cumin, pepper and salt in a bowl. Mix well, until all pieces of chicken are coated with mustard. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate for 1 hour. This dish can be marinated for many hours or overnight if you like.
Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Add the chicken, stir well so it doesn’t stick and drop the temperature to medium high. Cooking, stirring regularly, until just cooked through, around 10 minutes. A thick sauce will form. Add the onions and peppers to the pan and stir fry in the sauce for 5 minutes or until they are slightly tender. If you like your veggies softer, you can cook for another 5 minutes.
Serve with pita bread and a nice crispy salad.
Bolani is Afghan unleavened bread stuffed with any number of fillings, typically potatoes, or gandana (akin to leeks). Not quite turnover, not quite crepe, or quesadilla, it’s in a category all its own, and completely worth knowing about.
The De Afghanan Kebab House, a hole-in-the wall along the strip known as “Little Kabul” in Fremont, makes the best bolani we know. Watching the cooks roll out, fill and brown the big, beautiful bolani is worth a road trip. You can also find bolani sold by the folks at East West Gourmet Foods, who set up shop at many of the Bay Area farmers’ markets and sell at Whole Foods.
We’ve taken some liberties with the recipe here. Making the bolani dough from scratch requires elbow grease, along with an investment of time many of us don’t have. Using tortillas is a doable short cut. The sweet potatoes are also a departure from the norm. The sweet, tender flesh of the potatoes marry well with cilantro and scallions.
Bolani are best hot out of the sauté pan, when they are still brown and crispy. Serve them cut in half as an appetizer or tucked in a lunchbox along with a spoonful of yogurt.
1 pound sweet potatoes
1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/3 cup finely chopped scallions, white and light green parts
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons water
6 6-inch flour tortillas
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Roast the sweet potatoes in the oven until very tender. The time will vary depending on the size of the potatoes.
Cut the potatoes in half, scoop out the flesh and put it into a medium bowl. Discard the skin. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to the sweet potatoes along with the cilantro, scallions, and salt. Mash with a fork until thoroughly combined. You can make this ahead of time and keep it refrigerated until ready to use.
In a small dish, mix together the flour and water to make a paste. Set a tortilla on your work surface and spread ¼ cup of the potato mixture on the tortilla, leaving a half-inch border around the rim. Using your finger spread a small amount of the paste around the edge of half of the tortilla. Fold the tortilla over, encasing the potatoes into a half circle. Press the two sides of the tortillas together firmly to form a tight seal.
Heat the remaining ¼ cup of oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Brown the bolani, two at a time, until golden on both sides. The bolani should sizzle when they hit the pan. Lay cooked bolani on a paper towel. These are best served warm but are tasty at room temperature.
Serve with plain yogurt.
Afghan Culture Unveiled is a promotional partner of World Affairs Council and the 16th UN Association Film Festival preview of "We Came Home", a documentary by Afghan femal artist Ariana Delawari.
Afghan Culture Unveilved readers will receive 50% off the published ticket price for this sceening. I hope to see you there.
"We Came Home" trailer
"We Came Home" tells the story of Afghanistan through Afghan American artist, Ariana Delawari. Born into a suburban Los Angeles home the same year the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Ariana’s life unfolds parallel to the ever-changing events of her father’s homeland.
The Delawari household is a place of both celebration and activism, with the family attempting to recreate the Kabul they knew and left behind, before the tanks and land mines. September 11th changes the course of her family’s lives and Ariana spends the following ten years traveling between Los Angeles and Kabul, documenting the land of her ancestry through photographs, film and music.
With the Taliban resurgence, Ariana realizes that her currency is art, and that the opportunity to bridge the two halves of her existence may soon be gone forever. She rounds up her Los Angeles bandmates and sets out to record an album in Kabul with three Afghan Ustads, or master musicians. The recording is a glimpse into the challenges of building anything in Afghanistan after thirty years of war, but nothing can touch the universal language of music that unfolds between these LA hipsters and elder maestros.
The film will be followed by a short Q&A with the filmmakers.
This program is presented by the World Affairs Council of San Fracisco in partnership with the United Nations Association Film Festival. The 16th UNAFF celebrates the power of documentary films dealing with human rights issues, the environment, racism, women’s issues, universal education, war and peace.
To register and receive the 50 % discount please click on this link.
Whenever I describe the Afghan beverage dough (the “gh” makes a guttural sound in the back of your throat) to my American friends the conversation goes something like this:
“It’s a refreshing yogurt drink ...”
“Is it like an Indian lassie?”
“No, it’s salty, not sweet.”
Silence…and then, “A salty yogurt drink?...that sounds i.n.t.e.r.e.s.t.i.n.g.”
Well, dough is interesting. It’s also refreshing and delicious. It’s a summer drink in Afghanistan usually enjoyed at lunchtime with rice or meat. We don’t drink dough with dishes that contain yogurt such as Aush, Lawang or Aushak. Dough has a reputation for inducing drowsiness. A great nap often follows a meal with a glass of dough (not unlike the French and their wine-soaked lunches).
You could try it like my brother-in-law Brian did at his first Afghan meal. To be polite he decided to order a glass of dough (which I was raving about) along with a beer, which was what he really wanted. He would take one sip of dough and then wash it down with his beer. He didn’t complain but I am guessing they were not complementary to each other.
Cucumber & Mint Yogurt Drink
2 medium Persian cucumbers. peeled and finely chopped
4 cups full-fat plain yogurt
2 tsp. salt (adjust to taste)
3 cups cold filtere water
1 tsp. dried mint or 1 tbsp fresh chopped mint
Add all of the ingredients in a large pitcher or bowl and stir well. Pour or ladle into glasses that have a few cubes of ice. Make sure that you get some cucumber pieces into each glass.
When it comes to food, I like a theme. The first time I invited my now husband over to my apartment was for an ice cream social. That was soon followed by a “tacky party” which featured fruity cocktails and “candy kabobs” on miniature colored skewers all of which I served wearing a baby blue terry cloth tube top.
So I had a hard time when Humaira sent this halwa recipe my way with instructions to adapt it to the slow cooker. It didn’t fit any of my notions of dessert. It’s sweet like dessert, but it’s got enough carrots to qualify as a salad. And although we’re calling it pudding, that’s just because we don’t know what else to call it. It’s not creamy like a pudding, but it’s not a cake either. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever eaten before. But it is worth eating: gently flavored with cardamom and rosewater, warm, rich and satisfying.
Afghan halwa is related to halva, a sweet popular in India, the Near East and other parts of Central Asia. It is most commonly made not with carrots but with rice, wheat or semolina flour similar to this Afghan recipe here . I imagine it could be made with other sweet, hearty vegetables such as butternut squash and beets. Humaira says it’s delicious with apples. Like all desserts in Afghanistan, halwa is strictly a special occasion dish, a luxury for sure.
By conventional method, carrot halwa is prepared by combining grated carrots, milk, cream, butter and sugar (what’s not to like?) in a pot and letting it gently bubble away until the liquid absorbs and the carrot is tender. It’s topped with toasted pistachios or almonds. The recipe definitely requires some attention so if you have neither the time nor the patience, the slow cooker is a fine substitute. The texture is slightly different, but the flavor is just as good. If you like, feel free to add a ½ cup of dried currants or golden raisins to the halwa when it is done.
After making this recipe a few times, and eating more than my fair share, I’ve found my theme. It’s the perfect sort of thing to share with a friend over a cup of tea in the afternoon. Homey, warm, pleasing, nourishing, wholesome: a heck of a lot better than a candy kabob.
Recipe by Humaira
Rosewater and Cardamom Flavored Carrot Pudding
Halwa e Zardak
½ stick unsalted butter
¾ cup sugar (or ½ cup honey)
1 1/4 cups whole milk
½ cup whipping cream
pinch of salt
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. rosewater or vanilla
2 lbs. carrots, peeled and grated
1/2 cup chopped, toasted pistachios, almonds or walnuts
Melt the butter and sugar (or honey) together in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring from time to time. You can also do this in the microwave. Pour the melted butter/sugar into the slow cooker and add the milk, cream, salt, cardamom and rosewater. Stir well. Add the grated carrots and stir again. Cook on low for 6 hours.
Stir well and serve warm or at room temperature with toasted nuts sprinkled over the top.
Serves 6 - 8
Eid al Fitr or Eid e Ramazan as it is called in Afghanistan is the end of the month of fasting. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sun down. They are encouraged to participate in pious activities such as charitable giving and peace-making. Ramadan is most difficult on summer days when the daylight hours are long.
To celebrate, at the end of Ramadan, Muslims throughout the world observe a three-day celebration which in some places is called Festival of Fast-Breaking. I tell my non-Muslim friends that it is Christmas for Muslims.
A big feast is part of every Eid celebration
When we lived in Afghanistan, Jeja (my mom) prepared for Eid holiday by purchasing sweets, cleaning the house and having new clothes made for us. The immigrant life has made Eid celebration less festive but ,Jeja still makes a feast on the first day of Eid.
Prior to the first day of Eid, Muslims give alms to less fortunate families so they too can celebrate the holiday with their families. The alms consist of practical things such as, money, rice, sugar, oil, dates, rice, etc.
As a little girl I loved Eid
Most Muslims attend Eid prayers at their local mosque but after the prayer, they visit family and friends, give gifts (especially to children), and they practice forgiveness by mending broken friendship.
Before the wars, before my family members became scattered around world, and before the world looked at Muslims suspiciously, my family celebrated Eid by spending the first day at my grandfather's house. We played with our cousins, ate sweets and received Eidi (money gifts) from our elatives. At the end of the day we measured our money pile to see who got the most Eidi.
Women shopping for Eid outfits
In Muslim countries the entire 3-day period is an official holiday. I wish you and your family "Eid Mubarak" and wonderful celebration. I am with Jeja who now lives in Los Angeles. We are heading to my aunt's for an Eid celbration.
Sweets are a big part of Eid holiday
Lining up for Eid prayer
Children donning their best outfits
Katie Sullivan Morford, the co-founder of this blog just released her first book, Best Lunch Box Ever, published by Chronicle Books. Besides being an excellent writer, Katie is a certified nutritionist. Her book is packed with healthy, easy and delicious lunch box ideas. Best Lunch Box Ever is beautifully designed with gorgeous photos and easy to follow layout. It is so easy that I gave a copy to my 13-year old daughter who is the chief lunch maker at our house.
One of my favorite recipes is the Perfect Date on page 60. It has six simple ingredients: whole-wheat lavash, whipped cream, dates, celery and baby spinach. As Katie suggests, most of her recipes are sophisticated enough for an adult’s lunch box too.
The Perfect Date, recipe on page 60
Three years ago Katie followed her bliss and went back to writing about how to nurture healthy eating in children. Although I miss working with her on Afghan Culture Unveiled, I am very proud of her accomplishments. She has a very popular food blog, she was tapped to write this book more interestingly, she develops recipes and cooking videos on back-to-school meals for Pottery Barn Kids. I am thrilled to share this conversation with Katie Sullivan Morford followed by a recipe she chose from her new book.
Humaira Ghilzai of Afghan Culture Unveiled interviews Katie Sullivan Morford, author of Best Lunch Box Ever:
Humaira: Tell us what you have been doing since you stopped blogging with Afghan Culture Unveiled?
Katie: I started a blog called Mom's Kitchen Handbook, which brings together my interest in food with my expertise as a registered dietitian and my experience as a mother of three. I write about food and family with the goal of inspiring parents with easy recipes and practical advice on feeding their kids.
Humaira: Afghan Culture Unveiled is read by people in India, Latin America, Europe and of course the US. What are three top things parents around the world can do to give their children the most nutritious meals?
1. Number one is to eat together as a family as much as possible. Kids who eat with their families tend to eat healthier and overall be happier and more successful in school than kids who don't.
2. Eat whole foods with less reliance on packaged goods. Beans, legumes, fruits, vegetables, grains, yogurt, eggs, and so on, should be the foundation of our diets, not what's inside of a box with 30 ingredients.
3. Teach your children to cook. It will increase their interest in eating good food and give them the tools to nourish themselves once they're grown. I imagine that families in many parts of the world do a much better job of these three things than we do here in the States.
Humaira: Were any of your recipes in Best Lunch Box Ever influenced by your experience with Afghan food?
Katie: There is a lot of yogurt in the book, which is something I really got hooked on when I was focused on Afghan cooking. I also use flatbread in a number of recipes such as pita and lavash, which is very much a part of Afghan cuisine.
Humaira: Do you still make Afghan food? If yes, what are your family's favorite dishes?
Katie: I really crave Afghan food and I do continue to cook it at home. My favorite remains Chicken Lawang but I probably cook Sabzi more than anything else. I love to make a big batch of that and have it for lunches with, of course, yogurt and flat bread.
TERIYAKI Fried Rice
Best Lunch Box Ever Book
WARM AND NOURISHING, this panfried rice is a brown-bag favorite. The dish starts with a couple of scrambled eggs to which rice, edamame, and seasonings are added. If you happen to be making eggs for breakfast, it’s just a few extra steps to make this savory lunch dish. Naturally, brown rice is more nutritious than white. Leftover farro or barley make tasty substitutions.
MAKES 2 TO 3 SERVINGS
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 green onions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups leftover cooked rice
1/2 cup cooked shelled edamame
1 tablespoon teriyaki sauce
MAKE-AHEAD NOTES: can be made a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator. In the morning before school, warm up and pack into the thermoses.
Two year ago we visited Morocco on our family vacation. I found people quickly warmed up to me when they learned I am Muslim. We often talked about the upcoming month of fasting called Ramazan in Arabic (better known as Ramadan in the West). To my surprise, everyone was looking forward to the start of Ramazan.
How could this be? Shouldn’t they dread a whole month of not eating, drinking or doing anything pleasurable from dawn to dusk? The answer was a resounding, "No."
Muslims around the world see Ramazan as a month of blessing, filled with introspection, charity, fasting and kinship with their fellow brothers and sisters. It’s also one of the five pillars of Islam so any healthy and able Muslim over the age of 12 fasts.
Ramazan falls in the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Since the lunar calendar is 12 days shorter than the solar calendar, Muslim holidays move each year. This year Ramazan started on August 10th and will end around September 9th depending on the sighting of the moon.
Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown to remind them of the suffering of the poor and the duties of a Muslim to help others less fortunate than them. The fasting also helps Muslim practice physical and mental self-control. Families get up early for suhoor, a meal eaten before sunrise. Most Afghans choose filling food such as eggs, cheese, bread, halwa and of course lots of tea to sustain them through the day.
After the sun sets, iftar or breaking of the fast is done with dates and a cup of tea for a quick burst of energy. Most families prepare a large meal of delicacies to reward themselves for the hard day but many take the time to share their good fortune by feeding the poor a few times a week. Needless to say, in the Islamic world all restaurants are closed during the time of fasting and work days are cut short. So, don’t plan your visit to a Muslim country during the month of Ramazan.
It all ends with a three day celebration called Eid al-Fitr, which means the “Festival of Breaking the Fast”. During Eid, Muslims dress in their best clothes, visit family, and mend broken friendships. They give treats to children, contribute to their local mosques and they feed the poor.
Many of my best childhood memories are of the first day of Eid, when we donned our new clothes, gathered at my grandfather’s house, played tirelessly with our cousins all day and collected Eidee (gifts of money) from our uncles and aunts.
I find it hard to fast in my fast-paced American life and to recreate the magical Eid experience of my childhood for my children. However, in our family Jeja (my mom) was a diligent observer of Ramazan. She looked forward to the month of fasting and observed it with pride, enthusiasm and diligence. Now, she is 78 year old and is no longer able to fast.
In celebration of the month of fasting, I would like to share Jeja's favorite dish halwa e sojee , semolina flour halwa. Afghans don’t know how to make a small amount of halwa, since it’s usually made in large amounts to be shared with others. You can easily half this recipe and reduce the baking time to 15 minutes. I wish you a peaceful and rejuvenating month of fasting.
Halwa e Sojee
1 ½ cups vegetable oil
4 cups semolina flour
3 cups sugar
6 cups boiling hot water
2 tsp. ground cardamom
Heat oven to 300 degrees
In a large bowl, mix the sugar with the boiling water and stir until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.
In a large, preferably non-stick pot with a fitted lid, heat the oil on high heat. Once it's piping hot, add the flour and stir for 10 minutes or until golden. It’s important that you continuously stir so the flour doesn’t burn, yet it gives it time to cook and turn golden. Remove the pot from the stove and put it in the sink.
Slowly add half of the sugar mixture to the pot, being careful that it doesn't splatter on you. Stir quickly and return to the stove. Set over medium heat, and stir as you add the rest of the sugar mixture. Keep stirring for 2 minutes, the halwa will start to thicken. Reduce temperature to medium- low, add cardamom, stir for another 3-4 minutes until mixed well and it turns a darker shade of brown, being sure that the bottom doesn’t burn.
Wrap aluminum foil around the lid and set it on top of the pot. The aluminum foil will insure a tight seal as the halwa continues to cook. Place the pot in the oven and cook for another 20 minutes. Serve with pieces of pita bread.
Serves 8-10 people
(Some of the information about Ramazan was taken from Fact Monster and Wikepedia)
There are a lot of Afghan words I struggle to pronounce. I’m not even quite sure I’ve got Humaira’s name exactly right and we’ve been friends for seven years now. This is just one little reason I like this dish so much; its name is a breeze: kuku. Plus, it’s sort of fun to say. Far more important, though, the dish is seriously delicious.
Kuku is Afghanistan’s answer to the Spanish tortilla and the Italian frittata. Eggs are beaten, mixed with vegetables and cooked either on the stove top or in the oven, or a combination of the two, until the eggs are just tender. Seasoned Afghan cooks prepare the dish entirely on the stovetop, flipping it part way through. However, this can be tricky. The method I offer here is a bit more forgiving.
As you might expect, the seasonings for the Afghan version are, well, distinctively Afghan. This particularly kuku is flavored with an abundance of cilantro and turmeric, along with potato, spinach and scallions. The result is a brightly colored and boldly flavored egg dish suitable for a brunch or lunch or light supper. It can certainly hold its own against even the best from Spain and Italy.
1 Russet potato (about 8 ozs.), peeled and quartered
1 bunch fresh cilantro, stems removed, finely chopped
1 bunch scallions, white and light green parts, finely chopped
4 ozs. spinach, chopped
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1 ½ tsp. Kosher salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil
Immerse the potato in a small pot of cold, salty water. Bring to a boil and cook until tender. Drain and mash with a fork.
Turn your oven on to broil.
Crack the eggs into a medium bowl and beat them with a whisk. Be sure the herbs, scallions and spinach are thoroughly dry (a salad spinner can help with this). Add the mashed potato, cilantro, scallions, spinach, jalapeno, turmeric, salt and pepper to the eggs and whip until combined.
Drizzle the olive oil in a 10-inch, non-stick skillet and set over medium heat. Add the egg mixture and cook for 6 to 8 minutes until the outside browns lightly and the eggs begins to set in the middle. It will still be quite runny across the top.
Set the skillet under the broiler until the eggs are firm, though still tender. Remove the skillet and allow it to cool for a few minutes. You can cut wedges directly from the pan or run a knife around the edge, put a dinner plate over the top of the skillet and quickly invert the kuku onto the plate. Serve warm or cold.
Just when the market is flooded with books written about Afghanistan then a new and interesting book appears on the scene. This summer it happens to be A Fort of Nine Towers, written by an Afghan author, Qais Akbar Omar who mastered English by watching television and reading books while running his carpet factory in Kabul.
The Afghan diaspora is full of amazing, heartbreaking and tragic stories. When I picked up A Fort of Nine Towers it was with an element of jadedness. Qais starts his memoir in 1992, just when the Mujahideen take over Kabul and he walks us through his family’s ten-year struggle to leave war-ravaged Afghanistan for the safety of another country. He shares his family's astonishing and harrowing adventures with grace, frankness and resilience, which kept me turning the pages late into the night.
At times, after several unbelievably horrific scenes I put the book down thinking I couldn't go on reading. After a day of reprieve, I reminded myself that the characters in the book are real people and the author has personally endured these horrors. If he survived these experiences then I can continue on, which I am glad I did.
Qais is a brave and poignant storyteller who takes us on a journey that should not be missed. If you have an ungrateful teenager on your hands get them copy of A Fort of Nine Towers. I guarantee that their view of life will change for the better after reading this book.
Qais has been on a multi-city book tour with many speaking engagements. I am pleased that he took the time to answer my questions which I hope will help you get to know this remarkable young man.
Humaira Ghilzai of Afghan Cultured Unveiled interviews Afghan author, Qais Akbar Omar
Humaira: Did you collaborate with your family members in order to remember the vivid details of your family's adventures?
Qais: Yes, of course. I was not intending to publish A FORT OF NINE TOWERS. It all started when 9/11 happened, and foreigners from all over the world poured into Afghanistan.
They often asked me questions about what it was like to live during the years of civil war and the Taliban. When I talked about the past -- the things we have gone through -- I stopped having nightmares that haunted me in my sleep and left me shattered for days.
But I could not find enough people to tell my stories and ease the pain on my soul. Some foreign friends suggested that I should write them down. Once I tried to write them in Dari, but I could not do it. I have a lot of sentimental attachment to Dari.
In 2006, I tried to write it in English. It was not so hard. I used English language as a tool, a language that I do not have a lot in common with. In the translation process in my head, the level of anguish decreases, which makes it easier for me to write about these things in English.
I wrote the whole book in two months, during which I hardly walked out of the house. My mother often came to my bedroom at two or three in the morning, sat on the edge of my bed while I could not stop the tears rolling out of my eyes. She often asked me what I was writing about. I would tell her. Then she would remind me of a sweet moment. All the beautiful and happy parts are her contribution to A FORT OF NINE TOWERS. She helped me a great deal.
Humaira: In A Fort of Nine Towers you have a little bit of a sibling rivalry with your older sister. How does she feel about your portrayal of her in your book?
Qais: She is an architect with a handsome son, and she is my best friend. We had our fights as kids, like kids everywhere. She often teased me and still does whenever she has her chance. I told her about what I have written about her before A FORT OF NINE TOWERS getting published. She laughed and told me I was silly, and then she gave me a big kiss on my forehead. Even though she is less than two years older than me, but she is like a second mother to me, and my best friend in the world.
Humaira: Would you be able to shed light on how the lives of Afghan Kochis have been affected by 34 years of war in Afghanistan?
Qais: Not very much. They still have the same culture, customs, family values, and their code of Pushtoonwali (a code of conducted practiced by some Afghan Pashtun tribes), which are respect, honor and hospitality. The only thing that has changed about them, is, that they don't travel as much as they used to.
Mines all over Afghanistan limited that for them. I hope one day we get rid of the mines all over Afghanistan, so they can walk back on the footsteps of their ancestors again.
Humaira: Where is your family's carpet shop in Kabul? Do you have some tips on how someone like me can pick a good carpet?
Qais: My family carpet shop is in Kabul's, Shar-e-now district. As for the tips, here are three things to consider:
(Note: Qais couldn’t disclose the exact location of his family’s carpet shop due to safety precautions.)
Humaira: What are your favorite Afghan dishes?
Qais: Lamb kebab of course. Qabili palau, sabzi and naan. But most of all, I love the delicious Afghan fruits such as, pomegranate, apple, apricot, cherry, melon and watermelon. You can't find the taste of Afghan fruits anywhere in the world.
Humaira: Do you cook Afghan food?
Qais: Yes, I can, but I don't like my cooking. I have five sisters, who learned how to cook from our mother. They are the best cooks. So, I have very high expectation of myself when I cook.
My cooking never tastes as good as my mother's and sisters'. So, I eat a lot outside since I came to the US. I miss home meals a lot. If you are as a good cook as my mother or one of my sisters, maybe you can cook me some Afghan food when I come to your city, San Francisco.
(Note: Of course I agreed to make Qais an Afghan meal if he comes to San Francisco but I am sure I am not as good a cook as his mother.)
Once in a while we meet someone who makes a lasting impression. For me that person is Dr. Laura Tedesco who I met in Kabul during a 2011 US State Department Cultural Diplomacy trip. At that time she was at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul working on preservation of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage.
I count Laura as an “unsung hero” working tirelessly and compassionately on preserving Afghanistan’s cultural heritage sites such as Ghazni’s Victory Towers, Mes Aynak, Citadel of Herat and many more.
There are many pressing issues such as lack of infrastructure, lack of clean water, lack of good education and lack of women’s rights, topping the needs of Afghanistan. Why bother with cultural heritage preservation?
It is clear that after 33 year of war there are two generations of Afghans who know more about their differences than their commonalities. Through cultural awareness, pride in their heritage and love of their country’s history, there is hope for Afghans to unify under a shared national identity.
Below is an interview with Laura Tedesco by George Gavrilis of The Heritage Center which not only outlines all the cultural heritage work accomplished in the past 10 years but it also outlines plans for the future of Afghanistan’s national artifacts.
Interview by George Gavrilis
Archaeology and the preservation of Afghanistan’s heritage is a subject that is generally absent from popular knowledge in the United States, even after more than a decade of deep U.S. involvement in the country. What knowledge exists in the public sphere tends to be rooted in the memory of the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban in 2001.
Despite the scars that years of war and economic scarcity have left on Afghanistan’s historical landscape, the country is chock full of rich and impressive archaeological sites and standing monuments. And while few people outside of Afghanistan know much about the country’s historic monuments, even fewer know that the US has worked closely with Afghan officials and cultural experts to preserve these sites.
To discuss these initiatives and Afghanistan’s archaeological scene, I sat down for an interview with Dr. Laura Tedesco, the State Department’s resident archaeologist and cultural heritage specialist who has spent the past three years working intimately on cultural heritage projects both in Afghanistan and from Washington, D.C.
Her interview sheds light on Afghanistan’s archaeological wealth, as well as the successes and challenges of preserving the country’s monuments. The stakes are high.
Gavrilis: What is known popularly about archaeology in Afghanistan tends to be confined to the Mes Aynak site or to the ill-fated Bamiyan Buddhas. Could you tell us about some of the country’s other monuments and U.S.-Afghan initiatives to restore and protect them?
Tedesco: The United States has worked intensively with Afghan authorities to preserve many sites and monuments across Afghanistan. We’ve partnered with the Afghan Government and preservation NGOs based in Afghanistan to support projects in Herat, Lashkar Gah (the capital of Helmand province), Ghazni, at Mes Aynak in Logar, in Balkh province and in Kabul—namely at the National Museum of Afghanistan.
In Herat, the United States contributed over a million dollars towards the restoration of the famous Qala Ikhtyaruddin, also known as the Herat Citadel. In Balkh, we are supporting archaeological investigations at Noh Gunbad, the oldest mosque in Afghanistan and possibly all of Central Asia.
In Helmand, we are engaged with an Afghan owned and operated NGO to restore an 11th century mausoleum that was once linked with the Ghaznavid Empire and today serves a gathering place for local residents.
At Mes Aynak, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul supported a team of French specialists in the preservation of rare Buddhist wall paintings, and at the National Museum in Kabul we are working towards the long-term preservation of the museum’s collections and expansion of its facilities so that it can house the nation’s patrimony for generations to come.
But these projects are not just limited to work on the monuments themselves. It is also necessary to raise awareness of these historical sites all over Afghanistan. For example, we funded a billboard campaign in four major cities and the major airports featuring photographs of prominent Afghan monuments with texts in Dari and Pashto. We also did a great children’s book for schools in Ghazni about the province’s historical heritage, which dates back thousands of years. Ghazni was a center of learning and art, and many early advances in Islamic science were made there.
The idea behind all these initiatives was to work with the Afghan government to restore the monuments and to link Afghans all over the country to their rich history. And we were eager to show Afghans that Americans are respectful of the nation’s past and cultural diversity. These efforts are projects that celebrate Afghanistan as a nation.
Gavrilis: You mentioned Ghazni. Ghazni’s historic towers were part of an elaborate documentation initiative. At the same time, the security situation in Ghazni is not encouraging. What was it like to work in Ghazni?
Tedesco: The Ghazni Victory Towers, as they are sometimes called, were constructed in the 11th and 12th centuries to commemorate the power and wealth of the Ghaznavid Empire which stretched from Persia across into India during the height of the Empire’s power. The towers stand in isolation today, and their condition has been deteriorating due a lack of resources for preservation.
Before any serious preservation project can begin, international standards of preservation encourage a thorough documentation be conducted. This had never been done previously for the Ghazni Towers. So we decided to enlist the expertise of the U.S. National Park Service to conduct high-tech laser scans of the towers which create accurate drawings of the 20m-tall towers down to the millimeter (the towers once stood more than 44 meters in height but an earthquake in the early 20th century caused the top portions of each tower to collapse).
The National Park Service specialists who came to conduct this work had never been to Afghanistan before, and they were doing this in July in extreme heat. It was so hot that the scanning equipment would shut down. So we had to start very early in the morning, just as the sun was coming up while the temperatures were bearable. But Ghazni is considered unstable, and so we worked under the care of the local Afghan Police authorities and under the protection of the U.S. military.
We wanted to do this project for a number of reasons. One is that Ghazni is an earthquake zone. We wanted to map the towers to the last detail in case they are ever destroyed by an earthquake or in conflict, then the outcome of the scanning could at least provide the information required in the event that the Afghan government wanted the towers reconstructed.
Two young Afghan architecture students recently came to Washington to participate in the arduous task of rendering the detailed data collected from the laser scanning project. These architects worked side by side with the National Park Service specialists who had conducted the original field work in Ghazni. Although these data were gathered in a few days, it has taken two years to process it because it is incredibly intricate and labor intensive and required powerful computers. When it is finished, we will hand over the results of this work to the Afghan government’s Department of Historic Monuments and to Kabul University’s architecture faculty so they can study and archive the information.
Gavrilis: The Herat citadel was also part of a major restoration project. How did that differ from the work at Ghazni?
Citadel of Herat
Tedesco: The Citadel of Herat, or Qala Ikhtyaruddin, is one of the most visible landmarks in Herat, and is central to the history of the city. It is truly one of the most impressive of the surviving citadels, or hisars, in the region. From its foundation before 500 BC as the ancient Artacoana/Aria, the town was re-built after its capture by Alexander in 300 BC during his campaign against the Achaemenids, when a citadel was probably constructed.
The site witnessed the changing fortunes of various empires before being laid waste by Genghis Khan in 1225. Again destroyed by Timur in 1381, his son Shah Rukh went on to transform the citadel of Ikhtyaruddin after 1415, when the fortifications were entirely re-built with fired bricks and new buildings were erected inside the walls.
The project to support the Citadel of Herat was a four-year undertaking, and the German government and U.S. government contributed equally to this undertaking. The restoration and reconstruction of certain parts of the structure employed as many as 400 local laborers at a time, trained many in the trade of masonry and provided a boost to the local economy. It was a major undertaking with Afghan construction workers repairing walls, moving bricks, raising scaffolding and so on.
Herat is a bustling metropolitan hub and we were able to do this in a way that we could not do it in archaeological sites of Ghazni. The Afghan government has yet to open the Citadel to the public on a regular basis due to administrative disagreements between the Herat Municipality and the Kabul-based government about the right to control revenue from ticket sales and responsibility for the Citadel’s maintenance and upkeep.
Nonetheless, the restoration of the Citadel has been a major achievement for the Afghans who carried out the arduous work and for the United States, which supported the project. At the opening ceremony of the Qala Ikhtyaruddin in 2011, Governor Saba of Herat stated, “of all the projects the US supported in Afghanistan, this was the most important with the most impact for the people of Herat.”
Gavrilis: There is also the recent competition to design a new Afghan National Museum in Kabul. Tell us about it.
Tedesco: The current National Museum of Afghanistan is an elegant building yet entirely insufficient as the central residence and protector of Afghanistan’s material patrimony. The building was constructed around 1919 originally to serve as an administrative building for the nearby Darulaman Palace.
It was never intended to serve as museum. The building lacks centralized air conditioning or heat, and during the civil war it suffered greatly in cross fighting. The roof was lost entirely, and the much of the building had been destroyed. It was gallantly rebuilt in the early 2000s, and serves today as the nation’s central museum. However, it is too small to properly house or display the collection.
The Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture suggested that the international community rally in support of creating a new National Museum building, one that could better serve the needs of the collection and serve as a symbol of Afghanistan’s rich past and symbol of hope for the future.
The request resonated, and an international competition was organized to design a new museum. The driving force behind the competition is that the international community had to be behind such an incredibly important and unifying project. And so the building would have to make a statement. The competition was designed to draw attention from the professional global architectural community.
One of the key things we looked at was whether designs were sustainable. We were looking for designs that were grand but also realizable. We were not looking for a museum that would be appropriate for Doha or Eastern Europe but one that would suit Afghanistan. The design had to evoke the country’s history—indoor gardens and the use of interior and exterior spaces together, tiles as decorative architectural elements and the appropriate materials in brick and wood that are found throughout the country—but the design should be conceived in an unpredictable way.
Because Kabul is in a seismic zone, a museum building could not be overly tall or incorporate heavy stone towers in the design. So that was a key environmental consideration. This presented a real challenge for the architects to come up with something that was atmospheric and modern at the same time. And there were certain things you just could not do in Afghanistan. You can’t have high-tech air conditioning or intricate security systems because they are difficult to maintain and very costly to import their components and replacement parts. So we were also looking for designs that could be effectively maintained in Kabul.
There was one magnificent finalist entry that envisioned a building whose silhouette mirrored the Hindu Kush Mountains and incorporated the use of natural light. It would have been an exquisite statement for Kabul, but structurally the building might have been unsound in a major earthquake. There were also many designs that did not make it because they would have been too expensive to construct and maintain. The winning entry is sublime. It marries the use of garden space, interior and exterior spaces. It is also a relatively modest design. It does not overshadow the existing museum or the nearby Darulaman palace. It pays homage to them but supersedes them. It uses some of the same architectural language yet represents something entirely new for Kabul. Our next step is to continue in our partnership with the Afghan government in this endeavor and launch an international campaign to raise funds to build the new museum.
Happy 4th of July weekend!
Jeja (my mom) spends a good part of her day surfing the Afghan TV channels. Yes, in the United States you can watch several Afghanistan-based television programs. Since we purchased the satellite TV for Jeja, her life has changed. After 33 years of living in the United States her heart and identity are still in Afghanistan. The television allows her a little window into her homeland. She watches soap operas in Farsi, learns about homeopathic medicines and gets world news from Afghan reporters. She recently informed me that one of her Afghan channels features a reality cooking show similar to ones we see in the US. The claim to fame of the most recent winner is a mastery of 15 rice and 30 kebab recipes.
So, it is with Afghan TV on the brain that I share this kebab recipe. It is from a Khalida Rashid, an Afghan television personality I met at a café in Laguna Beach. After my sister informed me that she is an excellent cook and used to host a cooking show I was in hot pursuit of a recipe from her. She was cautious at first, but after checking out our blog she agreed to offer one of her recipes to us.
The recipe is for lamb kebab made with a marinade that takes less than five minutes to pull together and is quite delicious. The chutney that accompanies the kebab is a little different than what I’m used to eating. Hers includes a few spoonfuls of lebni, which is essentially a very thick yogurt. It adds a little body and creaminess and offsets the heat of the sauce in a very pleasing way.
Needless to say Jeja was very excited when Khalida mentioned our blog on Tamasha, her Wednesday morning television program. We hope to get more recipes from the accomplished cooks in our Afghan community, so if you have a favorite, please share it with us.
Khalida’s Lamb Kebab with Creamy, Spicy Chutney
½ yellow onion, peeled and halved
1 medium jalapeno pepper, stem and seeds removed, cut in half lengthwise
2 cloves garlic, peeled
¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp. Kosher salt
½ tsp. black pepper
2 lbs. lamb stew meat, cut into 1 ½-inch cubes
Put the onion, jalapeno, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until smooth. Mix the blended onion with the lamb in a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Remove the lamb from the refrigerator a half hour before you are ready to grill. Thread the lamb meat on metal or wooden skewers and grill until cooked through but still tender.
Creamy Cilantro Chutney
2 small bunches fresh cilantro, stems removed
1 medium jalapeno pepper (more if you like it really spicy)
2 tbsp. lebni (or Greek yogurt if you can’t find lebni)
¼ cup white vinegar or lemon juice
½ tsp. Kosher salt
Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Blend until smooth.
Serve kebabs with nan or pita bread that you have warmed on the grill along with chutney.
Serves 4 to 6
With the end of school and the flurry of summer plans I have not been able to test new recipes. So, I decided to re-post one of the first recipes I wrote for this blog and realized that wes should be celebrating our four year anniversary. I had no idea I have been at it for this long.
This blog was inspired by my mom's cooking and the urgency to preserve her recipes before she expires. You see, in our family Jeja, my mom is a wonderful cook but she did pass her knowledge to her children. I have to admit, I didn't particulary show any interest in learning her Afghan cuisine recipe until I had my own children. This blog has opened a world of food, culture, and banter which has enriched my life.
I am thankful to all my wonderful readers who post comments, ask questions and share their experiences with Afghanistan or Afghan food. It is encouraging to know, that in a very small way I have touched people around the world in this intimate way, by sharing my culture.
Thank you for your interest in Afghan food and culture. Now, let' s talk kebabs.
With schools out and weekend BBQs on the calendar it seems an appropriate time to talk about some of my favorite grilled food: Afghan kebabs. While nothing could be more ordinary in American culture than the backyard barbecue, in Afghanistan grilling is more typically the domain of street vendors and restaurants. Walk through bazaars of Kabul or Kandahar and you will be greeted with the sizzling sounds and rich smells of beef, lamb and chicken seasoned with garlic, onions, peppers, and a host of spices, speared onto metal skewers. The street vendors (Kebabis as they are called) wrap warm nan bread around the meat and serve it with chutney, cilantro and chives. While it would be rare for an Afghan to own the kind of barbecue we are accustomed to, they are brilliant at rigging a makeshift grill set over hot coals for picnics or other outdoor outtings.
It's simple to translate this faraway and seemingly exotic treat for grilling at home. While Afghan restaurants sometimes achieve the signature golden hue to their chicken by adding food coloring, we've found a little dose of turmeric works just as well, and is tasty, too. Serve the kebabs with plenty of plain yogurt, nan, lavash or pita bread, and a chopped salad with equal parts cucumber, tomato, red onions and cilantro, with a squeeze of lemon and plenty of salt.
June of 2009, me with short hair and a tray of kebabs
Lemony Chicken Kebabs with Turmeric
2 lbs. skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered
4 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice mixed with 1 tbsp. water
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
wooden or metal skewers
Cut chicken into 2-inch chunks and put in a bowl. Puree remaining ingredients in a food processor. Pour marinade over the chicken and mix thoroughly. Cover and put in the refrigerator for at least three hours, preferably overnight.
If using wooden skewers, immerse them in water for at least 20 minutes before using.
Put 4 to 5 pieces of chicken on each skewer. Grill over a medium flame until done. If you don’t have a grill, you can cook the kebabs under a broiler for a few minutes per side or bake them in a 400 degree oven until cooked through.
This blog gets an honorable mention in the July issue of Foreign Policy Magazine. Anna Badkhen writes an engaging article, Recipe for Living : Add Rice. Stir., about how rice is a staple in over half the countries in the world.
Anna is also the author of a delightful new book, The World Is a Carpet, chronicling her journey in a tiny village in Northern Afghanistan for four seasons, which is how long it takes a woman in that village to make a carpet.
By Humaira & Katie
Nothing is more important at the Afghan table than the rice. An Afghan woman’s reputation as a good cook can hinge solely on how well she prepares her rice. Indeed, the number of rice dishes served at a particular wedding and the skill with which the hostess executes her palau can be fodder for gossip amongst a group of Afghans.
Palau is serious business in Afghanistan and nobody does it better than Humaira’s mom, who is fondly known by her grandchildren as “Jeja.” No matter how well our palau may be, it’s never quite up to Jeja’s standards. Most important is not to overcook the rice. Each grain should be distinct from the next. Sticky rice just will not do in a good Afghan kitchen.
Afghan cuisine uses short grain and long grain rice. It's very important to buy the best and least processed Basmati rice. Jeja only shops in the Afghan store where she buys rice for her palau. She always has her finger on the pulse of what the latest, best rice in the market is. When I'm shopping for rice I always call her from the store to get her recommendation for the best brand name. If you don't have access to an Afghan, Indian or Iranian store,you can still make a fine pilau. We do find that many brands in American supermarkets are overprocesses and tend to break in the cooking process. This would probably horrify Jeja, but in our test we found even the broken rice quite delicious.
The recipe for Palau may look daunting but it's not difficult. We have tested it many times to simplify it and retain the flavors. There are two methods to cooking long grain rice.
Afghan Rice with Chicken
Palau e Murgh
3 cups basmati rice
5 skinless chicken legs
5 skinless chicken thighs
2 large yellow onions, peeled and quartered
½ cup olive oil or vegetable oil
5 tsp. salt
1 cup chicken broth
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 ½ tsp. ground cardamom
½ tsp. ground black pepper
12 cups water
2 tsp. browning sauce such at Kitchen Bouquet (optional)*
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
Immerse rice in a bowl of water and drain in a colander. Repeat this step 3 times.
Wash and dry the chicken. Set aside.
Chop the onions in a food processor using the pulse button. Don't puree the onions. Choose a sauté pan that is at least a couple inches deep and large enough to fit all chicken. Pour the oil in the pan and saute the onions over high heat, stirring qucikly, until brown (5-10 minutes). Don't burn the onion.
Add the chicken to the pan and sprinkle with 3 tsp. of the salt. Cook the chicken over medium-high or high heat for 6 minutes, turning from time to time so all sides turn golden brown. The onion will start to caramalize and turn into a thick sauce. Add 1/4 cup of the chicken broth, and continue stirring to keep the chicken from burning. Once that liquid dries add another 1/4 cup of broth and cook until all the broth is used. This process will take around 20 minutes. Once a thick sauce has formed, bring to a boil, turn the heat to low, cover with a lid or aluminum foil and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the chicken pieces from the broth and set aside. Stir the cumin, cardamom and black pepper into the broth. Continue to cook on low for 5 minutes to allow it to thicken.
Meanwhile, measure 12 cups of water and the remaining 2 tsp. of salt into a large dutch oven or pot with a fitted lid. Bring it to a boil. Add the rice to the water and boil until it is nearly cooked, though still slightly crunchy. This will take just a few minutes depending on the rice you use. You will have to taste it to check for doneness. Do not overcook it. Immediately strain the rice through a colander. Put the rice back into its cooking pot and add the broth. Mix well. Arrange the chicken pieces on top of the rice. Cover the pot with foil and then with a lid.
Bake the rice for 15 minutes at 500 and drop the temperature down to 250 degrees. Cook for another 20 minutes.
Arrange the chicken pieces on a large platter and cover with the rice. Serve with a simple salad and plain yogurt.
Chicken just as it was added to the browned onions in the saute pan
Chicken after 30 minutes of cooking with the caramalized onions, the brown color is achieved by browning the onions to the right color
This pan is ready to go in the oven to bake or in Dari it would be "Dam kadan"
Humaira's rice pot. You will find one of these in every Afghan's home in the United States.
"And the Mountains Echoed" by Khaled Hosseini, have you heard of it?
If your answer is "No," then you have either been in a coma or off the grid. Every major publication, media outlet, literary site, bookstore and online vendor has written about Khaled's third and much anticipated novel. I have to agree with them, it is a must read with rich characters and exotic setting -- a multi-generation saga which leaves you wanting wanting more.
"So, what is left to say?" I pondered this question when I was listening to the audiobook of my friend and fellow Afghan American's latest fiction best seller. Yup! I said, “listening” not “reading.”
You see, I walk for exercise so I always have a book or two loaded on my iPhone to keep me company. I love books read by the author, especially if I know them.
In this audio book, Khaled only reads two chapters; Iranian actors Navid Negahban and Oscar nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo skillfully read the rest of the story. The audio book is well directed with haunting Middle Eastern inspired music, which creates a charming ambiance for the listener. I must admit that the actors’ mispronunciation of Afghan names and Dari words annoyed me.
I have known Khaled since the early 80's, long before it was fashionable to be Afghan. As newly arrived refugees, cut off from our roots, living in low-income neighborhoods of San Jose, our families flocked together for familiarity and support.
Remembering when our families barely had enough money to eat, Khaled’s success is a testament to achieving "the American dream" through hard work, and in his case exceptional talent. Khaled makes me proud by using his celebrity to highlight important issues plaguing our world today.
The Khaled Hosseini Foundation (TKHF), brainchild of Khaled's lovely wife Roya, works with UNHCR to build shelters for refugee families who are still suffering. TKHF also provides support to organizations focused on education, and healthcare for women and children of Afghanistan. For many years, TKHF has been a generous supporter of my non-profit, Afghan Friends Network.
To bring a little personal touch to this post, I am pleased that Khaled was able to take time out of his busy month to "chime" in, as he puts it, and share his thoughts about audio books and food…
Conversation with Khaled Hosseini, the author of "And the Mountains Echoed."
Humaira: Do you like listening to audio books?
Khaled: My idea of a great audio book is one that draws you into the story world the way a campfire story can. I love listening to audio books when I am on long car drives. I love how I can lose myself in the narration. I do like it when authors read their own work as it adds a dimension of intimacy between author and listener. A good example was Michael J Fox's narration of his struggles with Parkinson's disease and Alice Sebold's narration of her book 'Lucky' in which she discusses with painful candor how she survived a rape.
Humaira: Did you have a vision for the audio book of "And the Mountains Echoed?" Were you involved in selecting the actors who read the book?
Khaled: As for the audio of my new book the publisher selected the readers. I read two of the chapters. Given the multi-perspective structure of the novel, having multiple readers seemed to me a good choice as well.
Humaira: Since my blog is about Afghan culture and food, I have to ask about your favorite Afghan food.
Khaled: My favorite Afghan dish is turnip stew (shalgham with rice). I like it tinged with ginger and I love to squeeze a little sour orange on it.
Humaira: Who is the cook in your house you, Roya Jan or is it a team effort?
Khaled: Roya cooks. I grill! I can't cook Afghan food but she is great at it.
I am hooked on Facebook . I have met some cool people through FB who I would have never met otherwise. Anna Badkhen is one of those people. Anna has authored four books, and writes for the New York Times, The New Republic, Foreign Policy, the Boston Globe, and others.
She reports on people in extremis which has landed her in the Middle East, Central Asia, East Africa, her native Russia and the Caucasus. She has been reporting on Afghanistan for over a decade. Last week, Penguin Books released her latest book, The World is a Carpet: Four Season in an Afghan Village. I was lucky enough to get an advance copy.
As you might imagine I constantly read about Afghanistan, but Anna’s book exposed me to an Afghanistan that not many have written about before. Anna weaves in Persian poetry, history, sex and at times humor to engage the reader in this world which she personally experienced. Anna spent four seasons in northern Afghanistan visiting a remote rural Turkoman village, which is exactly how long it takes one woman, Thawra, to make a carpet. Anna chronicles the difficult lives of Baba Nazar, Thawra her sex obsessed husband Amanullah, and other colorful characters in an opium infested village where time has stood still for centuries.
I had the opportunity to ask Anna a few questions, which I hope will give you some insight into the mind of this prolific writer who compassionately shares stories of people who are far from our reality.
Interview with Anna Badkhen, author of The World is a Carpet: Four Season in an Afghan Village
Humaira: Do you have an Afghan carpet?
Anna: I don’t have an Afghan carpet: I’m not a big collector of things. If I were to own one I probably couldn’t ever look at it as an objet d’art, let alone a household object. I would think of the history of the Afghan carpet—prehistoric artisans upon these plains were spinning wool and plaiting it into mats as early as seven thousand years ago, and Alexander the Great, who marched through the Khorasan in 327 b.c., is said to have sent his mother, Olympias, a carpet as a souvenir from the defeated Balkh—and also of the history of the carpet in my possession: who wove it? Was she healthy? Was she happy with her marriage? How many children did she lose to disease or malnutrition while she was at the loom? It would become too intimate, almost painfully so.
Humaira: What do you think makes the various types of carpets woven in Central Asia different from an Afghan carpet?
Anna: There are many kinds of Afghan carpets, but those woven by the Turkomans are the most valued. For their rich palette of reds—mahogany, terracotta, liver, and the atrorubent of the fratricidal blood that soaks their land—the Turkomans are called the Rembrandts of weaving. Marco Polo, in the thirteenth century, lauded Turkoman weavers for producing “the best and handsomest carpets in the world.” Six hundred years later, Francis Henry Bennett Skrine, a retired commissioner of the Indian Civil Service, and the London linguist Sir Edward Denison Ross wrote that Turkoman carpets were “unrivalled in Asia for beauty and durability.”
Humaira: Do you have a favorite Afghan dish or two?
Anna: Mantoo. The incredible paisleys in which the three sauces—the yogurt, the chickpeas, and the tomato sauce—feather around the dumplings. I remember the first time I helped prepare mantoo, in the house where I was staying in Mazar-e-Sharif: four women at the counter, preparing lunch for forty. At first, the other women watched me very suspiciously: were my untrained fingers a match for the filigreed, stuffed beauties they were making? After my second mantoo, they said: “Good, you can do this,” and stopped watching. I felt as though I had been accepted into a tribe.
Humaira: What did the people of Oqa make for a wedding celebration? (Note: There is a great wedding scene in the book which I really enjoyed reading.)
Anna: In Oqa, the wedding meal was palau. It was a poor man’s wedding, so the palau was simple: onions, lamb, and rice. The chef cooked it in an enormous cast iron vat he had lowered into a dugout fire pit at the edge of the village. He stirred it with a shovel. After a village elder seasoned the rice with salt, the chef’s apprentices laid serving trays upside down to cover the rice, spread a bed sheet on top of that, covered it with patu blankets, and then with a black tarp. They tucked in the blankets with their fingertips and patted them down with the flats of their palms. The way a mother might tuck in a child.
Humaira: Do you cook for your son? Has he tried Afghan food?
Anna: Definitely—lobia or red beans is a staple, as is borani kaddo, stewed pumpkin with yogurt and garlic sauce. Lamb korma, sometimes. Firni, the dessert pudding. We eat a lot of rice at home, and I season it with the Badakhshani cumin my Mazari host mother gave me. Bamya, the okra stew with tomato sauce. Mantoo is very labor-intensive, but I did prepare it once (I cheated and used wonton wrappers instead of making my own dough). My son loved it of course. Who wouldn’t?
Humaira: Did Afghans treat you differently when they found out your were born in the former Soviet Union?
Anna: I was born in the Soviet Union, and carry an American passport. So one could say I represented two occupying powers. But in twelve years of traveling to Afghanistan I never have experienced distrust. I am very fortunate.
Instead, I met a lot of Afghans who had studied in the Soviet Union and wanted to practice their Russian. I met a lot of Afghans who wanted to know more about the United States. When I first came to Oqa, in 2010, the introductions went like this: “This is Anna, she is an American journalist. This is Baba Nazar, he is a hunter.” And Baba Nazar said, “welcome,” and I said, “thank you,” and he took me inside his mud-and-straw home so I could meet his wife and son and daughter-in-law and grandchildren. In Afghanistan, this is how you welcome a stranger.
Fariba Nawa in Afghanistan
I often find that people are surprised when I tell them I am Afghan. I don’t fit their stereotype of Afghan women. Afghan women are often portrayed as weak, tormented, uneducated, burka clad and in need of being rescued. In this post I am profiling an Afghan women who is far from this western profile.
I met Fariba Nawa at an event at the San Francisco Library; she immediately caught my attention among the female panelists. She was articulate, super smart and clearly knowledgeable about Afghanistan. Also, she is a natural blond, not your typical Afghan woman. We became fast friends through our common interest in Afghanistan and our roles as mother of two daughters. Well, when we met she had only one daughter.
Fariba lives in the Bay Area and donates her time to various causes supporting Afghanistan. She is an Afghan-American award-winning journalist and author of must read Opium Nation: Child Brides, Drug Lords and One Woman’s Journey through Afghanistan.
Recently Fariba spoke at TedX Monterey. She eloquently tell the story of her family's resettlement in the United States and the challenges of living in two words as an exile. I encourage you to get a cup of tea and watch this talk:
Fariba and her guide in Siwa, Egypt while reporting in the Middle East.
Guest blogger: Fariba Nawa
My former housekeeper, “Mojabeen, “ is one of the Afghans who inspire me to be hopeful about Afghanistan’s future. She’s 25 and has four sons now. She recently called me when I was in Washington DC, after seeing my appearance on Voice of America television. She wanted to congratulate me on the publication of my book Opium Nation: Child Brides, Drug Lords and One Woman’s Journey through Afghanistan. I beamed because when I first met her five years ago, she didn’t even know how to hold a cell phone. Here’s a story I wrote about her in 2007 when I still lived in Kabul.
KABUL – The only sound that I look forward to hearing in the morning is the jingle of Mojabeen’s fake gold bangles. When I open my eyes from sleep, that’s how I know that she’s downstairs cleaning our dusty house and that as soon as she hears me call, she’ll come upstairs smiling, with my breakfast and her lively conversation.
She never takes off her dozen bangles or her scarf, which she wraps around her ears to make sure her hair is safely covered. About five feet tall in pink plastic sandals, she’s thin and pale beneath the long, loose dresses she wears, but she’s stronger than she looks.
Mojabeen is my 21-year-old housekeeper and cook and the person I spend the most time with in Kabul. I work from my home while my husband goes to the office. In the past four months, Mojabeen and I have formed a bond and trust that has broken the barriers of class and culture. We’ve learned about each other’s worlds and become friends. She’s an illiterate village girl who’s rapidly urbanizing, and I’m a Western-educated Afghan-American appreciating her resilience and strength. But it would be unfair of me to compare my comfortable life to her troubled one.
When she was 6 months old, in a remote village in the north of Afghanistan, Mojabeen was betrothed to a deaf and mute man. That man’s sister was promised to Mojabeen’s brother, Ahmed. It was an exchange common in Afghanistan – it avoids the cost of dowries. Mojabeen’s brother married the girl, but Mojabeen’s fiancé went away to work in Iran as a laborer. She dreaded her marriage to the man, who she’d never even talked to.
“I only saw him once through my burqa on the street when I was walking to my cousin’s house, and my heart fell. He was unattractive, and I wondered if my fate was forever sealed,” she told me as she hung our laundry.
Mojabeen’s father had passed away and her oldest brother, Tarek, was in charge of family affairs. There had been no ceremony or religious event to bind Mojabeen’s union with the deaf-mute laborer, so in the fiancé’s absence her brother gave his 17-year-old sister’s hand to another man – Mahmood, who had no idea that she was already engaged.
Mojabeen and Mahmood, a warm and open-minded farmer, made a life in their village and had a son. She was happy to be with her husband, but she dreaded the laborer’s return. After 15 months, the laborer came back and took Mahmood to court to get Mojabeen as his wife. Because he was only engaged to Mojabeen, the man had no case under Afghan law. But Mojabeen and Mahmood say the man’s family bribed the judge to order their marriage and their son illegitimate. Mahmood was thrown in jail, and Mojabeen’s family hid her.
Mahmood spent 4 months in the local district prison with three murderers. One day, the four prisoners found a small iron rod and dug a hole through the prison wall and escaped. Mahmood picked up his wife and son, who was four months old, and headed to the mountains to hide. For two years, the three of them lived among strangers in villages nestled against hills where people live on wheat and barley farming. “We’re Tajiks, but it was Hazaras and Uzbeks who took us in and provided us shelter,” Mojabeen said.
Mahmood was often unemployed, but he would find odd jobs to survive. Mojabeen had another son and nearly died in childbirth because there was little medical help in that remote area. It filled Mojabeen with fear that she’d die, leaving her children orphans. Her oldest brother Tarek and Mahmood’s sister had moved to Kabul and they encouraged the couple to join them in the bustling capital where the police from their district did not have the power to capture them.
They settled in with Tarek, his wife, and their two small sons in the servant quarters of my friend Sarah’s house. Not long after Mojabeen arrived in Kabul, I called Sarah asking if she knew a trustworthy housekeeper. Mojabeen considers our meeting a turn of fortune in her life.
She works eight-hour days, five days a week, and goes home for lunch to breast-feed her younger son. It’s the first time she’s earned money – $150 a month. Mahmood stays home to take care of the children – unusual for an illiterate Afghan family in which patriarchy calls for men to work outside and women to play the caregivers. But Mojabeen and Mahmood are eager to modernize.
Mojabeen wears the burqa on her short walk to my house. But one simmering day when I took her shopping, she sheepishly asked if it was all right if she wore just her scarf. I smiled and said it was up to her. I wear a long shirt, jeans, and a sheer scarf in public. She still hasn’t given up the tent like blue garment completely. She dons it when she walks home, fearing her brother’s disapproval.
Mojabeen is also learning about food and appliances. For one dinner, I gave her a bag with a head of lettuce and spinach and told her to cook the spinach. She cooked both because she’d never seen lettuce before. Also she didn’t know the difference between the refrigerator and the freezer, so she twice put lettuce in the freezer, not understanding why it froze. When I explained the difference, we both had a good laugh.
I offered to teach her how to read and write in Dari, and she was thrilled. I got her a literacy-for-adults book, a notebook, and pencils. She put them in a plastic bag, and every day after her chores, she brings the bag, enthusiastic about her next lesson. So far, she has learned the alphabet, her numbers, and how to use a cellphone.
But things between us aren’t always rosy. She often brings her 3-year-old with her to work, and one morning I noticed that his eyes were red and he was unusually quiet. She told me that Mahmood had beaten him with a stick. I pulled up his shirt and saw red marks across his tiny back. I’d also seen Mojabeen slap his face for breaking something. I told her I have no right to tell her how to rear her children, but I do have the right to fire her. Both seem to have stopped abusing their boys.
Mojabeen has taught me about resilience and patience. I moved back to my homeland from the US after the fall of the Taliban at a time of great hope for peace only to witness growing instability, violence, and dissipating hope. Yet, it’s Afghans like Mojabeen who remind me of why I returned.
Our nikah (wedding) in Kabul at our Taimani home in 2007
Fariba and her husband with sad faces infront of the destroyed statue in Bamiyan
Fariba and her family, Naeem, Fariba, Andisha (9 months) and Bonoo (4 years) in Palo Alto - 2012
Note: This article was originally published on September 4, 2007 in The Christian Science Monitor. The original article, “An Afghan village girl blossoms in the city” has been edited for this post. The housekeeper profiled in this story is wanted by authorities in her village for running away from a betrothal made when she was 6 months old. For security reasons, the names in the article have been changed.
On mother’s day I was telling Jeja, my mom, about an Afghan dinner party I hosted. She always wants to know the menu. Followed by a long discussion about whether there were enough dishes served. To change the subject, I told her about the eggplant dip I invented for an appetizer and then described it to her. She frowned and then said, “That is Laghataq, one of your grandfather’s favorite dishes.” It goes to show you that everything has been done before and there are no new inventions.
This is the perfect dish to share or take to a potluck. You can make it several days in advance and I find that everyone loves it, inculding children. Since I have been asked for this recipe many times, I finally hunkered down and wrote the ingredients down. Warning! This dish uses a good amount of olive oil. Don’t skimp on the oil since it adds flavor and creaminess to the dish.
I hope you enjoy this dish as much I do.
Creamy Afghan Eggplant Dip
Heat oven to 300 degree
One eggplant cut in ¼ inch disks
1 red bell pepper cut in thin strips
2 medium tomatoes, toughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, pealed
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. paprika
½ cup Greek yogurt or Lebni
pinch of garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
Pour two tablespoons of the olive oil on a cookie sheet and spread around with fingers. Arrange the eggplant disks on the greased cookie sheet. Place the tomatoes and red pepper on top of the eggplant.
Add the following ingredients in a blender: garlic, tomato sauce, tomato paste, remaining olive oil, cumin, coriander, and paprika. Blend until all the ingredients are mixed and the sauce is smooth. Pour the sauce over the ingredients on the cookies sheet and make sure that it covers the eggplant. Spread the sauce with a spoon over the eggplant to insure it is distributed evenly.
Bake for 1 ½ to 2 hours on 300 degrees. The baking time varies with each oven. It is important to slow cook this dish in order for all the flavors of the ingredients to be absorbed by the eggplant. To test done ness, press the eggplant and the peppers with the back of a fork, if the fork sinks in easily it is done.
Let the eggplant cool for 1/2 hour before throwing all the ingredients in a food processor. Pulse three or four times, don’t over blend, make sure that you can see small chunks of the eggplant. Remove content and place in deep serving dish. The dip can be served cold or at room temperature.
I am dairy free, so I eat this dip with out yogurt but I must admit, it is more delicious with the yogurt topping. In a bowl mix the yogurt, salt and garlic powder until creamy. Pour the yogurt sauce on top of the dip. Serve with pita slices or pita chips.