Welcome to the very beginning of my international cooking challenge! For the first week, I cooked food from Afghanistan. Before this challenge, I don’t think I could have told you much about what Afghan people eat, other than that they probably use lots of spices. I was excited because, while I’m a little apprehensive about the food in some countries, I was pretty sure this week was going to be good.
I have researched Afghan cuisine from many online sources, and realize they may not all be 100% accurate, so please forgive any mistakes!
What Do People Eat in Afghanistan?
Afghanistan is in South Central Asia and is often mistakenly labeled as being part of the Middle East. It is, however, very close to the Middle East, and the cuisine of Afghanistan reflects this. I also noticed some Indian influences in some dishes.
A lot of Afghan food uses spices such as coriander, cumin and turmeric, and mint and cilantro are commonly used herbs. Lamb seems to be the favored meat, though chicken and beef are also used. Main dishes are often served with naan bread or rice, and yogurt is very popular as a topping or accompaniment.
I found it hard sometimes to find information on breakfast in particular when beginning my research for this project, so I want to include my findings here. Breakfast in Afghanistan often involves eggs cooked in various ways, as well as flatbread, cheese, and jam. Breakfast is my favorite meal so I am always interested in what other cultures start their day with.
What I Made
- Kulche Birinjee (Afghan Butter Cookies)
- Afghan Naan
- Borani Bademjan (Eggplant Dip)
- Aushak (Leek and Scallion Dumplings)
- Bolani (Stuffed Flatbread) and Afghan Green Chutney
- Tokhme Banjanromi (Afghan Breakfast Eggs)
- Dough (Cucumber, Mint and Yoghurt Drink)
- Afghani Burger
- Kabuli Pulao (Spiced Lamb Pilaf)
- Afghan Salad
Kulche Birinjee (Afghan Butter Cookies)
This was the first Afghan recipe I made. We were going to visit relatives so I thought this was a good opportunity to bake something and not have to eat it all myself.
These Afghan butter cookies are made of rice flour and flavored with cardamom and pistachios, and since I like those things, I figured they would be pretty good.
I found there wasn’t much difference in the recipes I found online, and I ended up going with one from food.com. I halved the recipe since I really didn’t need 40 cookies even if they were small, and I only baked for 10 minutes because they were not supposed to get brown and I thought they would if they were in the oven for much longer. They turned out more or less how they are supposed to, I think.
They tasted good, though the texture was a bit dry. I guess that’s what rice flour cookies are like? I thought they might be better with tea, and when I tried that later, they were.
I’ve made naan bread before, but from what I was reading, it seemed there was a specific type of naan bread eaten in Afghanistan and it wasn’t like the usual Indian naan that most people are familiar with.
Traditional Afghan naan bread is made of whole wheat flour and has nigella seeds on top, and is baked in a tandoor, a very hot oven.
I found what seemed a fairly traditional recipe from Saveur and made the whole thing, because although I didn’t need 4 large naan breads right away, I was sure they would freeze well and I could enjoy them throughout the week with my other Afghan food.
These were good, though next time I need to brush the naan with egg white or something to help the nigella seeds stick, or maybe just push them into the dough, because they mostly fell off when I picked the bread up. I thought the water used to shape the dough might have been supposed to help the seeds stick but it didn’t.
My naan didn’t end up looking as nice as those in the picture, perhaps partially because I didn’t have a pizza stone and used a regular baking sheet instead. I might’ve got more color by cooking longer but they were cooked through after 5 minutes and I didn’t want them to get too hard.
Borani Bademjan (Eggplant Dip)
My earliest remembered experience with eggplant was as a teenager. I had it on some grilled vegetable sandwich thing and thought it was one of the most disgusting things I had ever tried. So I avoided it after that. But recently, I’ve been trying to expand my palate, and I’d been meaning to give eggplant another go. So, while at a Persian restaurant last year, I decided to try some eggplant dip which they offered as an appetizer. It was a version of borani bademjan and it was delicious.
Despite that, I’ve been kind of nervous about trying to cook eggplant myself, because what if it turns out badly? But I saw this dish when researching Afghan recipes, and decided this was the time.
I found a lot of different versions of this dish online. Some had a lot more ingredients, including a variety of spices and extra vegetables, and some kept the eggplant pieces large so that it’s less like a dip and more like a side dish. I chose Persian Mama’s recipe for a few reasons. One was that the eggplant gets broken up into small pieces, which made trying eggplant I’ve made myself less intimidating, and the other was that it was simple, and the author came across as very authentic. I don’t need authenticity in all my cooking, but for this challenge, I’m striving for it, and some things truly are better when they are made in their more original form.
So the result? I really enjoyed this dish! I ate it with some of my homemade naan bread. You can probably see from the photo that it looks a little greasy, and I don’t know if that’s right or not, but I didn’t feel that it tasted greasy when I was eating it. I do think the yogurt is a necessity, because otherwise the flavors might be a little too intense. I halved the recipe, and used one globe eggplant since I couldn’t get the Italian ones at the supermarket. This made a great lunch, and I had enough left for the next couple of days.
Aushak (Leek and Scallion Dumplings)
This dish consists of dumplings filled with a leek and scallion mixture, topped with a tomato-based sauce, usually with beef or lamb, and finally finished with a garlicky yogurt sauce.
I love dumplings and knew I had to try this. I’m glad I did, because it was very good! I followed a recipe from Tara’s Multicultural Table, which used store-bought wonton wrappers. I used ground beef because although I love lamb it’s expensive.
Bolani (Stuffed Flatbread) with Afghan Green Chutney
Bolani is a flatbread with a filling, which is usually potato-based, like the version I made, but it can also be filled with pumpkin, red lentil, or chives. Bolani is usually served with a green chutney, which I also made. Both recipes I used can be found on Pick Up Limes.
I enjoy just about anything involving bread or potato, and so I was confident I would like these filled flatbreads. They were very good, especially with the chutney, which was quite spicy, but not too much so. I used serrano chilis for both the flatbread filling and the chutney, since the recipes just specified ‘green chilis’. I think they provided just the right amount of spice.
Tokhme Banjanromi (Afghan Breakfast Eggs)
This dish is similar to shakshouka, if you are familiar with that (and if not, you will be soon as it’s coming up in a couple of weeks for Algeria). Onion, garlic, tomato, and chili are cooked in oil and then the eggs are added and the pan is covered until they are set. Just before serving, I sprinkled cayenne pepper and cilantro on top. (There would have been more cilantro here, but I was running low by this point. Should have got two bunches!)
I mostly followed the recipe from Parwana but I made a few changes. I didn’t like the idea of sautéing my vegetables in a whole cup of oil, so I opted for 1/4 cup instead which I felt was plenty. I had to use a green serrano chili because I can’t get fresh red chilis without shopping around, which I am trying to avoid unless absolutely necessary because of COVID. I only cooked my eggs for 5 minutes which was more than they needed. They weren’t exactly overcooked, but the yolks weren’t really runny, which is how I prefer them. But regardless, this still tasted really good, especially for something so simple, and went well with some of my leftover naan.
Dough (Cucumber, Mint and Yoghurt Drink)
This is a drink made from plain yogurt, mint, cucumber, water, and salt. I’m unsure of the most correct Afghan spelling, because I have also seen it spelled ‘Doogh’ and ‘Dugh’, but I went with the spelling in the recipe I used.
I’m sure this is refreshing on a hot day and probably goes well with spicy food because it does have a cooling effect, but I didn’t really like it. I think it’s because I generally expect — and want — cold drinks to be sweet, and this was salty. That is how it is supposed to be though. If you want to try it, I used the recipe from Cook With Manali except I didn’t have black salt so I left it out.
I know what you’re thinking: that’s not a burger! Maybe something got lost in translation, because this fast food wrap is called an Afghani Burger. It consists of Afghan naan bread wrapped around french fries, chutney, various other condiments, vegetables, and often meat of some kind.
I didn’t use a recipe for this, because there are so many variations, and I thought it would be a good way to use up whatever I had lying around at the end of the week. I had planned to use some of my naan bread, but I could see that it wasn’t going to work well for a wrap, so I used a tortilla instead. I filled it with Greek yogurt, leftover Afghan green chutney, hot Italian sausage, red onion, some queso fresco I had sitting in the fridge, and of course french fries. Not the most authentic, but it was really good.
Kabuli Pulao (Spiced Lamb Pilaf)
Kabuli Pulao is considered the national dish of Afghanistan, so I knew I wanted to try it. It is a rice-based dish, with chunks of lamb, caramelized carrot, and raisins. I chose the recipe from I Got it From My Ma Man because it appeared authentic and I liked the blend of spices used, something which I found differed among recipes. This version included optional pistachios on top, which I think were a nice touch. I did make a few small changes to the recipe: I used chunks of lamb rather than shanks (which is included as an option) and I didn’t strain the onion and garlic from the sauce. I also didn’t submerge the bottom of my hot pan in cold water to release the rice because I was using stainless steel and you are not supposed to do that as it can warp the pan. I did have some rice stick to the bottom but it came off easily after a short soak.
This was, overall, a pretty tasty dish. I don’t particularly like raisins so I was a bit wary, but I couldn’t really taste them in the end result. They just added some extra sweetness. This probably isn’t something I would make again, as it took around 3 hours to make and lamb is expensive, and I didn’t love it. But I can see how some people might.
This is a popular salad in Afghanistan, consisting of cucumber, tomato, onion, cilantro, mint, and lemon juice. It is really similar to Shirazi salad — in fact, you could say it’s just a variation. So for this salad, I used the same ingredients but swapped out the parsley for a mix of cilantro and mint. Other vegetables are often included, probably whatever is at hand, but I kept it simple since I was serving it with the Kabuli Palao and didn’t need it to be too substantial.
I really enjoyed this week. My favorite meal was probably the aushak, but I also really enjoyed the tokhme banjanromi and the afghani burger. The afghan green chutney that I made to go with the bolani was excellent too, and I used the leftovers on eggs for breakfast, which worked really well.
This amount of dishes is definitely on the high end of what I’ll be making each week. It all depends on what I’m interested in and what is feasible to make and consume within the week. Next week I will be making food from Albania. There won’t be as many dishes but I’m sure it will be interesting all the same.