Afghan cuisine is largely based upon the nation's chief crops, such as wheat, maize, barley and rice. Accompanying these staples are native fruits and vegetables (including nuts) as well as dairy products such as milk, yogurt and whey. Kabuli Palaw is the national dish of Afghanistan. The nation's culinary specialties reflect its ethnic and geographic diversity. Afghan food is prepared Halal according to Islamic dietary laws. Afghanistan is known for its high quality pomegranates, grapes and sweet football-shaped melons.
- 1 Kabul influence on Afghan cuisine
- 2 Major foods
- 3 Eating out
- 4 Special occasions
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
Kabul influence on Afghan cuisine
An ancient city of art, traditions and its status as the nation’s multi-cultural capital, Kabul has traditionally offered a wide variety of cooking styles and ingredients for its citizens. Afghan food items known today were probably first served by urban residents. Most food and trade recipes were traditionally handed down through the generations. Late in the 19th or early in the 20th century,[when?] a collection of formal gastronomy documents was published by Afghanistan’s government. These invaluable documents included preparation, food history, cookware fabrication and dining etiquette.
The varied climate of Afghanistan allows for an abundance of crops throughout the seasons. Fresh yogurt, coriander, garlic, onions, spring onion, tomatoes, potatoes and fruit are widely available in all parts of Afghanistan, and are used in preparing foods. Fruits and vegetables, fresh and dried, form an important part of the Afghan diet, especially in the rural areas. Afghanistan produces a variety of fruits, notably grapes, pomegranates, apricots, berries and plums. These fruits have traditionally been Afghanistan's main food exports. Dried nuts and seeds such as walnuts, pistachios, almonds, peanuts and pine nuts are very popular and plentiful in Afghanistan. A variety of oranges, known locally as "malta" are grown in the warm climate of Nangarhar province. Also in the temperate climate of Nangarhar, olive groves once stood for the nation’s consumption of olive oil. Wardak Province is well known for its apples and apricots, as is Kandahar for its fabled pomegranates. Herbs and spices used in Afghan cuisine include mint, saffron, coriander, cilantro, cardamom, and black pepper. Lamb and chicken are the preferred meats. Afghan cuisine emphasizes well-balanced, contrasting tastes, and food is neither spicy nor bland.
Known as the dastarkhan, the floor spread is an important expression of culture in Afghanistan. Regardless of economic status, creating an adequate dastarkhan is important to any family, especially when hosting guests. A large tablecloth will be spread over a traditional rug. Most likely a young member of the family will present an "aftabah wa lagan", a copper basin and elaborate pot filled with water for the household to wash their hands in. He or she will go around the destarkhan to each of the people dining, pouring fresh water over their hands. Soap is provided, as is a drying cloth. The destarkhan is then filled with breads, accompaniments, relishes, appetizers, main courses, salads, rice and fruits. Arrangement of foods is important when having guests; they must have easy access to the specialty foods.
Breads and accompaniments
There are mainly three types of Afghan bread:
- Naan - Literally "bread". Thin, long and oval shaped, it is mainly a white/whole wheat blend. Topped with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, nigella seeds or some combination of these. More expensive naan can be made with all white flour and oil.
- Obi Non - Uzbek-style bread. Shaped like a disc and thicker than naan. Often made with white flour.
- Chapati (also called Sapati or Dodi in some areas of Afghanistan) - is the main type of bread used with meals in the Pashtun tribal areas.
- Lavash - Very thin bread and usually used as plating for meats and stews.
Accompaniments may include:
- Torshi - Various pickled fruits (e.g., peach, lemon) and vegetables (eggplant, garlic) mixed with vinegar and spices.
- Chutney - Pepper sauces. Usually made with vinegar, fresh cilantro, chili peppers, and sometimes tomato paste.
Rice dishes are the "king" of all foods in Afghanistan. Afghans spend much time and effort creating rice dishes, as they are considered the best part of any meal. Wealthier families will eat one rice dish per day. The Afghan royalty spent much time on rice preparation and invention as evidenced in the number of rice dishes in their cookbooks. Weddings and family gatherings must feature several rice dishes and reputations can be made in the realm of rice preparation. The types of rice prepared are outlined below.
White rice. Extra long grains such as basmati are required. First parboiled, then drained and finally baked in an oven with some oil, butter and salt. This method creates a fluffy rice with each grain separated.
Chawal is served mainly with qormas (korma; stews or casseroles).
Cooked the same as chawal, but either meat & stock, qorma, herbs, or a combination are blended in before the baking process. This creates elaborate colors, flavors, and aromas for which some rices are named after. Caramelized sugar is also sometimes used to give the rice a rich brown color. Examples include:
- Kabuli Pulao - The national dish of Afghanistan, meat and stock added, topped with fried raisins, slivered carrots, and pistachios.
- Yakhni Pulao - Meat & stock added. Creates a brown rice.
- Zamarod Pulao - Spinach qorma mixed in before the baking process, hence 'zamarod' or emerald.
- Qorma Pulao - Qorm'eh Albokhara wa Dalnakhod mixed in before the baking process
- Bore Pulao - Qorm'eh Lawand added. Creates a yellow rice.
- Bonjan-e-Roomi Pulao - Qorm'eh Bonjan-e-Roomi (tomato qorma) added during baking process. Creates a red rice.
- Serkah Pulao - Similar to yakhni palao, but with vinegar and other spices.
- Shebet Pulao - Fresh dill, raisins added at baking process.
- Narenj Pulao - A sweet and elaborate rice dish made with saffron, orange peel, pistachios, almonds and chicken.
- Maash Pulao - A sweet and sour palao baked with mung beans, apricots, and Bulgur (a kind of wheat). Exclusively vegetarian.
- Alou Balou Pulao - Sweet rice dish with cherries and chicken.
Rice that is cooked with its water and forms a sticky consistency, is known as Bata. Bata is usually eaten with a qorma, such as Sabzi (spinach) or Shalgham (turnips). With the addition of stock, meat, herbs, and grains, more elaborate dishes are created. Notable dishes include Mastawa, Kecheri Qoroot, and Shola. A sweet rice dish called Shir Birenj (literally milk rice) is often served as dessert.
Qorma is a stew or casserole, usually served with chalau rice. Most qormas are onion-based. Onions are fried, then meat is added, as are a variety of fruits, spices, and vegetables depending on the recipe. Finally water is added and left to simmer. The onion caramelizes and creates a richly colored stew. There are over 100 qormas. Below are some examples:
- Qorma Alou-Bokhara wa Dalnakhod - Onion based, with sour plums, lentils, and cardamom. Veal or chicken.
- Qorma Nadroo - Onion based, with yogurt, lotus roots, cilantro, and coriander. Lamb or veal.
- Qorma Lawand - Onion based, with yogurt, turmeric, and cilantro. Chicken, lamb, or beef.
- Qorma Sabzi - Sauteed spinach and other greens. Lamb.
- Qorma Shalgham - Onion based, with turnips and sugar; sweet and sour taste. Lamb.
Pasta is called "khameerbob" in Afghanistan and is often in the shape of dumplings. These native dishes are popular. Due to the time-consuming process of creating the dough for the dumplings, it is rarely served at large gatherings such as weddings, but for more special occasions at home:
- Mantu - Dumplings filled with onion & ground beef. Mantu is steamed and usually topped with a tomato-based sauce and a yogurt or qoroot-based sauce. The yogurt-based topping is usually a mixture of yogurt, sour cream, and garlic. The qoroot-based sauce is made of goat cheese and is also mixed with garlic. Sometimes a qoroot and yogurt mixture will be used. The dish is then topped with dried mint.
- Ashak - Kabul dish. Dumplings filled with leeks. Boiled and then drained. Ashak is topped with garlic-mint qoroot or a garlic yogurt sauce and a well seasoned ground meat mixture.
Each family or village will have its own version of mantu and ashak, which creates a wide variety of dumplings.
Pasta in the form of noodles is also commonly found in aush, a noodle soup served in several varieties around the country.
Afghan kebab is most often found in restaurants and outdoor vendor stalls. The most widely used meat is lamb. Recipes differ with every restaurant. Afghan kebab is served with naan, rarely rice and customers have the option to sprinkle sumac or ghora, dried ground sour grapes, on their kebab. The quality of kebab is solely dependent on the quality of the meat. Pieces of fat from the sheep's tail (jijeq) are usually added with the lamb skewers to add extra flavor.
Chapli kebab, a specialty of Eastern Afghanistan, a patty made from beef mince, and is one of the most popular barbecue meals in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. The word Chapli comes from the Pashto word Chaprikh which means flat. It is prepared flat and round, and served with naan. The original recipe of chapli kebab dictates a half meat (or less), half flour mixture, which renders it lighter in taste, and less expensive.
Quroot (or Qoroot) is a reconstituted dairy product. It was traditionally a by-product of butter made from sheep or goat milk. The residual buttermilk remaining after churning of the butter is soured further by keeping at room temperature for a few days, treated with salt, and then boiled. The precipitated casein is filtered by cheesecloth, pressed to remove liquid, and shaped into balls. The product is thus a very sour cottage cheese. Quroot is hard and can be eaten raw. It is typically served with cooked Afghan dishes such as Ashak, Mantu, and Qeshla Qoroot, among others.
Other Afghan food items
- Afghan Kofta (meatball)
- Afghan Kaddu Buranee (sweet pumpkins)
- Ashak (vegetable and chive-filled dumplings topped with tomato and yogurt sauces)
- Aush (hand made noodles)
- Bichak (small turnovers with various fillings, including potato and herbs, or ground meat)
- Shorba (Afghan soup similar to borscht)
- Dolma (stuffed grape leaves)
- Londi, or gusht-e-qaaq (spiced jerky)
- Khichri (sticky medium grain rice cooked with mung beans and onions)
- Badenjan (cooked eggplant w/potatoes and tomatoes)
- Badenjan-Burani (fried slices of eggplant, topped with a garlic sour cream sauce, and sprinkled with dried mint)
- Bhindi/Baamiyah (okra)
- Bolani (some what similar to Quesadilla)
- Nan-e-Afghan/Nan-e-Tandoori (Afghan bread cooked in a vertical in ground clay oven, or a tandoor)
- Nan-e-Tawagy (flat bread cooked on a flat pan)
- Osh Pyozee (stuffed onion)
- Mantu (meat dumplings), usually served under a yogurt-based white sauce.
- Qabili Palau (traditional rice dish)
- Dampukht (steamed rice)
- Bonjan Salad (spicy eggplant salad)
- Shor-Nakhud (chickpeas with special toppings)
- Maast or labanyat (type of plain yogurt)
- Chakida or chakka (type of sour cream)
- Salata (tomato and onion-based salad, often incorporating cucumber)
- Sheer Berinj (rice pudding)
- Cream roll (pastry)
- Baklava (pastry)
- Afghan Cake (similar to pound cake sometimes with real fruit or jelly inside)
- Gosh e feel (thin, fried pastries covered in powdered sugar and ground pistachios)
- Kebab (similar to Middle Eastern style)
- Fernea (milk and cornstarch very sweet, similar to rice pudding without the rice)
- Mou-rubba (fruit sauce, sugar syrup and fruits, apple, sour cherry, various berries or made with dried fruits "Afghan favorite is the Alu-Bakhara")
- Kulcha (variety of cookies, baked in clay ovens with char-wood)
- Narenge Palau (dried sweet orange peel and green raisins with a variety of nuts mixed with yellow rice glazed with light sugar syrup)
- Nargis kabob (egg based angel hair pasta soaked in sugar syrup wrapped around a piece of meat)
- Torshi (eggplant and carrot mixed with other herbs and spices pickled in vinegar aged to perfection)
- Khoujoor (Afghan pastry deep-fried, oval shaped, similar to doughnuts taste wise)
- Kalah Chuquki or Kalah Gunjeshk (battered deep fried bird heads)
- Kalah Pacha (lamb or beef head/feet cooked in a broth served in bowls as a soup dish or in a stew or curry style)
- Shami kabob (cooked beef meat blended with spices, flour and eggs rolled in hot dog shapes or flat round shapes and fried)
- Shorwa-E-Tarkari (Meat & Veg Soup)
- Chopan kabob (lamb chops, skewered and grilled on charcoal)
- Delda or Oagra (mainly a Southern dish made from the main ingredient of split wheat and a variety of beans mixed)
- Owmach (made from flour, soup-like dish, very thick and pasty)
- Peyawa or Eshkana (a soup, based on flour very similar to a gravy but mixed with chopped onion, potatoes and eggs)
- Aushe Sarka (vinegar-based flat noodle soup, taste very similar to Chinese hot & sour soup minus the Chinese ingredients)
- Maushawa (mixed beans and tiny meat balls, served in a bowl)
Doogh (known by Afghans as Shomleh/Shlombeh) is a cold drink made by mixing water with yogurt and then adding fresh or dried mint. It is the most widely consumed drink in Afghanistan, especially during lunch time in the summer season.
Afghans do not usually eat out at restaurants, but some restaurants have booths or a separate dining area for families, so women may dine out when they are with their families. Women do not dine out alone or with friends.
Serving tea and white sugared almonds is a familiar custom during Afghan festivals. Eid-e-Qorban is celebrated at the end of the Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, when families and friends come visiting each other to drink a cup of tea together and share some nuts, sweets, and sugared almonds called noql.
- Helen J. Saberi (1997). "Travel and Food in Afghanistan". In Harlan Walker. Food on the Move: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, 1996. Prospect Books. ISBN 978-0-907325-79-6.
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