International Cooking: Food from Afghanistan

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. That was enough for me to be excited about this week!

Afghanistan is in South Central Asia and is often mistakenly labeled as being part of the Middle East. The country has been inhabited by numerous ancient civilizations throughout history and has seen many military campaigns, including those by Alexander the Great, the Mongols, the British, the Soviet Union, and, most recently, a US-led coalition. Afghanistan holds a strategic position along the historic Silk Road, which was once an important trade network.

Afghanistan is rich in natural resources such as lithium, iron, zinc, and copper, and it is a leading producer of opium, cannabis, saffron, and cashmere. However, the country has suffered a lot from various wars in the last few decades, which has led to high levels of terrorism, poverty, and child malnutrition. Currently, Afghanistan is governed by the Taliban

What Do People Eat in Afghanistan?

Although Afghanistan is not technically part of the Middle East, it’s close, and the cuisine reflects this. I also noticed Indian influences in some dishes.

A lot of Afghan food uses spices such as coriander, cumin, and turmeric, and herbs such as mint and cilantro. Lamb seems to be the favored meat, though chicken and beef are also common. Main dishes are often served with naan bread or rice, and yogurt is very popular as a topping or accompaniment.

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

Scroll down to read about other popular Afghan dishes I didn’t make!

Kulche Birinjee (Afghan Butter Cookies)

Kulche Birinjee

I started the week by baking these kulche birinjee. 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.

There wasn’t much difference in the recipes I found online, and I ended up going with one from 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. Maybe that’s just what rice flour cookies are like. I thought they might be better with tea, so I tried that later. The tea did help with the dryness, though I’m still not sure I’d make these again.

Afghan Naan

Afghan Naan

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 Indian naan that most people are familiar with.

Traditional Afghan naan bread is made of whole wheat flour and has nigella seeds on top. It is baked in a tandoor, which is 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 would 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 hard.

Borani Bademjan (Eggplant Dip)

Borani Bademjan

My earliest remembered experience with eggplant was as a teenager. I had it on a grilled vegetable sandwich 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’ve 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. It was also simple, and the author came across as very authentic.

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 and Afghan Green Chutney

Bolani is a stuffed flatbread, which can have a range of fillings. The filling is usually potato-based, like in the version I made, but pumpkin, red lentils, or chives are also common. Bolani is usually served with a green chutney, which I also made. You can find both of these recipes on Pick Up Limes.

I enjoy just about anything involving bread or potato, so I was confident I would like these bolani. 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)

Tokhme Banjanromi

This dish is similar to shakshuka, 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). I started by cooking onion, garlic, tomato, and chili in oil, then added the eggs and covered the pan until they 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. Rather than sauté my vegetables in a whole cup of oil, I used 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. Finally, I only cooked my eggs for 5 minutes, which still turned out to be 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. It 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’. I decided to go 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. The only change I made was to leave out the black salt as I didn’t have it.

Afghani Burger

Afghani Burger

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. I thought it would be a good way to use up whatever I had lying around at the end of the week. The plan was to use some of my Afghan 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

Kabuli Pulao is considered the national dish of Afghanistan, so I knew I had 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. Some rice did 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.

Afghan Salad

Afghan Salad

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. 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.

  • Mantu – steamed dumplings filled with beef or lamb, seasoned with onions and spices. They are usually served with both a tomato sauce and a yogurt sauce.
  • Malida – a dessert that is most often served at weddings or other celebrations. It is made from fresh breadcrumbs, cardamom, and sugar. This mixture is then combined with hot oil (or ghee) and finely chopped pistachios before serving.
  • Haft mewa – meaning ‘seven fruits’ in Persian, this is made of dried fruits and nuts that are soaked to make a compote. This dish is traditionally served as part of Nowruz (Afghan New Year) celebrations.

Final Thoughts

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. I had some leftover, and I found it delicious on eggs for breakfast.

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 I can reasonably eat 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!

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