One thing we all have in common is our love for food. We cannot ignore the fact that food accompanies us through our whole life, from the moment we are born until we take our last breath. It is something that brings us together and lets us share tasteful moments. Even in a country that has been at war for many years, like my homeland Afghanistan, people unite to enjoy a meal together at peace. The significance of food can be widely observed in the traditions of Afghan culture. These traditions are beautiful, diverse, and full of stories to tell, yet unfortunately tend to go unnoticed in the war-torn situation of the country. This book should not only give an insight into Afghan cuisine but also show the importance of food and what it reflects in this rich culture.
Although these are traditional dishes, most of them are adapted to a more modern way of cooking to simplify the cooking process, for example using ready-made dough or canned tomato paste. However, it is obviously always better to use fresh ingredients or homemade dough. Realistically there is not much spare time when you are expecting guests and you are preparing these dishes, therefore it makes sense to use premade ingredients. And of course you always have a lot of freedom in adjusting the recipes as perfecting a dish is an ongoing trial and error process through which you learn to optimize the dish to your own preferences. There are some ingredients that you may not find in your local groceries store, for these I recommend shopping at an exotic (Asian, Indian, Turkish, etc.) supermarket. These recipes and stories are very personal and written from my own point of view. Portions can vary depending on the purpose of the dish as a side or main dish. Measurements: tsp: level teaspoon
tbsp: level tablespoon
Food speaks a language of its own and we can use ingredients as its alphabet, we mix them together to create new words that can speak to us in many different ways. The beauty of it lies in the freedom we have to adjust the amount of each “letter” we add so that each “word” is unique and personalized.
I have always had a passion for food, thus combining it with my origin ignited a deeper interest in it and inspired me to create this book. My parents are both from Kabul and left their homeland due to the outbreak of war during the Soviet invasion (1979). Although today we live a well-adapted life in Switzerland, the connection to Afghan culture and its traditions remain. (Therefore, I identify myself as equally Afghan as Swiss.) My maternal grandfather, who I sadly never got to meet, used to own a bakery with his brothers in the capital Kabul. It was a successful and well-known shop (Afghanzadah bakery) during the time. They were especially famous for their delicious and decorated cakes. His other brother wrote an Afghan cookbook and it was one of the first books of this kind to be published (1974) since it was considered unusual to cook according to written recipes. There are some major culinary differences between the ethnic groups in the country and most families have their own unique recipes for preparing these national dishes, but my great-uncle intended to create a generalized collection of these Afghan recipes. You could say that the interest for cooking and baking runs in the family because my mother enjoys cooking and experimenting with food in the kitchen and so do I. My cooking skills are still far inferior to my mother’s, but I still enjoy cooking and baking new recipes (although I get on her nerves for “messing up her kitchen”). I feel very fortunate to have a mother who cooks extraordinarily well
and took the opportunity to create a memoir of all these delightful dishes with me. We do not eat traditional Afghan food every single day but my mom cooks some of these dishes on a regular basis and I grew up always eating homemade food, which is the best, of course. For most Afghan families, eating homemade food is standard. In Afghanistan girls begin to learn to cook at a very young age. It is the mother’s duty to teach her daughter how to prepare traditional Afghan dishes. This is of great importance for the girl’s reputation and future marriage. I have noticed that many young Afghan girls (including myself) who grew up in western countries, have not been actively taught these cooking skills like our mothers and grandmothers were. So, with the help of my mom, I decided to cook and write down recipes, which I enjoyed the most and tried to describe them as accurately as possible so that they can be recreated. Writing these recipes and measuring all the ingredients was quite challenging for the both of us since Afghans never cook in grams or liters. As my mother says, she measures and cooks with her eyes or she uses cups and spoons as an alternative, but there is no need for a scale. This meant I had to break down every cooking step and carefully take notes while she was cooking. My mother and I went through this little cooking journey together and I learned many things along the way.
Afghans are known to be extremely hospitable in any given situation and they take great pride in it. Even the poorest will offer their guests the best they have. In Afghan culture a guest is seen as a blessing and always highly respected. Whether you come for a short visit or a big party, you will always be taken good care of and most probably not leave with an empty stomach. Even if you do not stay for dinner, you will at least be offered tea, dried fruits and sweets. In comparison to European cultures, an unexpected guest in Afghanistan is never seen as rude and it is quite common to visit someone unannounced, therefore most Afghans keep their house clean at all times.
It is impressive to see that the people of such a war-torn country who have lived through decades of violence and faced many hardships show so much warmth and kindness towards their guests, regardless of their social class. They call each other brother and sister even when they barely know one another. Religion plays a big role in the social coexistence of Afghans, therefore many of the cultural traditions and habits stem from Islam, including their hospitality. As a Muslim you should treat others (guests, neighbors, etc.) with great respect and kindness, beside of being hospitable. Hospitality is also linked to reputation, which plays a major role among Afghans. The more you shower your guests with what you have to offer, the more likely it is for them to speak well of you, which is crucial for the family’s reputation. However, it is not only about offering but also about insisting on accepting the offer as many times as possible, until the guest gives in. For example, when the guest is about to empty their food plate, you repeatedly insist on them eating more until they either pull away their plate or you convince them to eat more. This is done to make sure the guest is not reluctant due to social nicety; so that they have had more than enough food and to ensure their comfort.
After the guests finish drinking their tea, it is time to serve the food. This was traditionally when the youngest child in the family brought the “aftawa lagan” to wash the guest’s hands along with some soap and a little towel. Aftawa lagan is a water vessel, usually made of copper, that comes with its equivalent basin to collect the dripping water. My grandmother would always send my mom to do this and she would dread going up to the guests because she was rather shy and coy, but it was important to respect as well as honor the elderly to be polite.
“Mehmaan“ means guest and “mehmaani” is the word for having guests over.
“Naan-o namak shodem” (naan=bread and namak=salt) This is a saying used by a person that has been your guest once, and has been served your food; they can never do you any harm since you have offered them your “bread and salt”. It is basically like a codex that cannot be broken.
To summarize the aim of these cultural practices, I present you the following saying: “Nan o pyaz, peshani waz!” Literal translation: Bread and onion, an open forehead! Meaning: When you have food, you are happy.
Being a guest in an Afghan household can be overwhelming and at times even confusing for someone who is not familiar with the culture. If you do not eat enough in the host’s eyes, you might hear them say: “You didn’t eat anything. Did you not like the food?”, here you must ensure them that you had enough and compliment their cooking skills multiple times.
Afghan food is always served in form of a buffet on the dining table and never plated up. It does not really matter on what occasion the food is served, there is always self-service for everyone.
Children, especially girls, learn how to be hospitable and respectful towards the elderly at a very young age. They begin by offering tea or dried fruits and evolve to be able to cook elaborate dishes for the guests. Growing up, I also learned to treat a visitor not only with respect, but also make them feel welcome. In addition to that, helping out in the kitchen and serving food is a big part of a good upbringing. Now, when I host my non-Afghan friends, they are surprised at first, but then take great joy in our form of hospitality.
The purpose behind this is that the guest can freely add as much food to their plate as they wish. As a host you repeatedly insist on them eating more of everything and you always have leftovers because naturally you prepare more food than necessary for your guests. There is a similar approach at weddings, but the buffet is much larger of course and set up on long tables in the buffet area.
Most of the meals are usually served on these colorful dishes that are originally from China. Traditionally Afghans do not eat on plates nor like to use cutlery. They prefer eating with their right hand or using bread to scoop directly from the ghoori. Usually up to four people share one ghoori per dish. Some say the food has a more intense flavor when you eat it with your hands. There is a certain satisfaction in eating with bare hands because we can sense the texture of the food and it is a natural act of our digestion. Many Afghan households carry two sets of dishes, one for daily use and one for their guests. Usually the newer and nicer looking set is reserved for the visitors.
The distarkhan is a table cloth that is spread on the ground so that everyone sits around it to eat together. In Afghanistan this is much more practical because the families are usually quite large and there wouldn’t be enough room for everybody to sit at a table. In Afghan culture it is very important that everyone eats together. There is a common belief that eating food together makes it tastier than eating it without company. You rarely see people eating alone. This has a lot to do with the generosity and hospitality amongst most Afghan families. Old, young, rich and poor all sit around the same distarkhan and share a meal together. The elderly are seated at the top (“bala”) end of the distarkhan to show respect and honor to them. It is a crucial part of the children’s upbringing to eat with the family and learn about cultural values. The parents’ duty is to raise their children with good manners and respect for friends and family. Someone who has grown up to be distant and careless towards their family is considered badly brought up, because “they weren’t raised to eat at their fathers distarkhan”.
Colors are very important and widely represented in Afghan culture. Not only the food is colorful but also the traditional clothing, the infamous carpets and even the serving dishes have a vibrant design.
“Karha masala kard, wale laaf ra ashpaz zad” “The spice did the job, but the chef took credits for it/bragged about it”
I personally think color brings life to anything and a colorful dish seems much more appetizing than a boring plain one.
The key for every recipe lies in the addition of its spices. It is the spice that gives the dish a blend of flavor and determines its taste. Many people who try Afghan food for the first time are amazed by the richness of flavor in these dishes. Although there are many spices used, Afghan food is on the mild side, compared to say, Indian cuisine. The dishes have a nice balance of flavor and it is up to you to adjust the level of spice to your own preference. Each and every spice has its own property and purpose. Not only does it make the food irresistibly delicious, but also brings color and aroma to the table. Some of the leading herbs and spices are turmeric, cumin, black pepper, coriander, cardamom, mint and saffron. They do not only provide flavor and color, but can also have many health benefits. I learned from my grandmother that turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties. When her knees swell up, she makes a turmeric paste and rubs it in. After a couple of minutes the swelling reduces and the pain relieves. There are many more beneficial factors that come with these multi-purpose spices but the list is long; you can just try to add them to your food and see for yourself.
My Afghan friends and me (far right) wearing traditional Afghan dresses called Pehran Afghani
i d s h n i e a s m
Afghan cuisine consists of many lavish dishes and usually these dishes are never served as a single meal but rather accompanied with different side dishes and stews. Bread (naan), yogurt and cilantro chutney are always part of the meal like staples. The base for every Afghan dish is the use of onions and garlic. Without these two components the food would not reach its strong and intense flavor.
Portions: 6-8 1 ½ kg basmati rice
1 tsp sugar
1 kg cubed lamb (leg) meat
300 g peeled, julienned carrots
2 chopped onions
300 g soaked black sultanas
50 ml olive oil
100 g pistachios (removed skin)
2 ½ tbsp salt
100 g split, blanched almonds
1 ½ tbsp garam masala
1 tsp caramel color
Method: Topping Tip: To remove skin from the pistachios, boil in water for 5 minutes Heat oil in a frying pan and fry carrots and sugar for 5-6 minutes over medium heat, until soft Reduce the heat (to low) and add raisins, almonds and pistachios, fry for another 2 minutes Remove from heat and leave on the side
Rice and Meat Wash the rice and let it soak for 2-3 hours Wash the meat and leave it in a strainer In a pressure cooker heat oil and sauté onions, then add meat and cook for 15 minutes over high heat Add 600ml water, 1 tsp salt and ½ tsp of garam masala Close the lid and let it cook for 10 minutes Remove from heat and wait until the steam leaves, separate meat from the broth and leave it on the side
Boil about 2 ½ L water in a big pot and add 1 tbsp salt Drain the soaked rice and add it to the boiling water for 5 minutes Now drain the cooked rice and leave it in the strainer To the broth add 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp garam masala, 1 tsp caramel color and bring it to a boil Preheat the oven to 180 °C Add 1 tbsp oil to the cooking pot before adding back the drained rice over high heat Pour broth over rice and cook for 5 minutes (lid must be covered in a kitchen towel) Reduce the heat to medium and when there is no more steam leaving the pot, make deep holes into the pile of rice with a wooden spoon, place the cooked meat on top of the rice (around the perimeter of the pot) and add the raisin and carrot topping as well (center) Put the pot into the preheated oven and let it cook for 30 minutes (make sure to remove the towel)
Cover the base of the ghoori with a layer of rice Place the meat on top of that rice layer, then cover the meat with the remaining rice, forming a big pile Garnish with the raisin and carrot topping The raisin and carrots topping: Gives the dish a sweet and aromatic taste The usual way of measuring the amount of rice needed, is determined by the number of people, meaning roughly one cup of rice per person.
Qabli is the national dish of Afghanistan and comes from the capital Kabul. In Dari “qabil” means competent or skilled, which refers to the chef’s ability in cooking this demanding recipe. The raisin and carrots topping gives the dish a sweet and aromatic taste, which perfectly blends with the rice and meat. Rice is the most important type of food in Afghan cuisine and is essential at family gatherings or weddings. There are many different ways of preparing rice and it takes time and dedication to prepare it the Afghan way. It is mandatory for an Afghan household to have a stock of rice, since it is consumed regularly if not daily. Rice stands as a symbol for wealth and prosperity, therefore it is very valuable in Afghan culture. The usual way of measuring the amount of rice needed is determined by the number of invited people, meaning roughly one cup of rice per person.
Portions: 2-3 Rice (Challow)
500 g basmati rice
4 tbsp oil
2 garlic cloves
4-5 tbsp oil
½ tsp coriander powder
1 tsp salt
4 tsp salt 1 tsp ground cardamom
500 g frozen (leaf) spinach 2 onions
½ tsp black pepper About 100 g leek (optional)
Leave the frozen spinach out to defrost (2-3 hours in advance if possible) Chop onions, sauté with 4 tbsp oil, 2 pressed garlic cloves and leek (optional) over medium heat until golden brown Add the spinach and while stirring add salt, coriander powder and black pepper Stir thoroughly and cover the lid, let cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat, stir occasionally Wash leek thoroughly and cut into small pieces (optional)
Wash the rice and let it soak for 2 hours Boil about 2 liters of water, add 1 tbsp salt and cook the rice for 5-8 minutes (drain before) Boil about 250ml water in a smaller pot, add 4 tbsp oil and 1 tsp salt While that is boiling, drain the rice well through a strainer Put 1 tbsp of oil into the now empty pot over high heat and add the rice back Add the separately boiled water to the rice and let it cook for about 5 minutes over high heat (rice shouldn’t be too soft) Add cardamom and make a pile out of the rice inside the pot. With the end of a wooden spoon make deep holes into the pile, so that the steam can leave through them Wrap the lid with a kitchen towel and cover the pot to let it cook for another 10-15 minutes over low-medium heat
The bottom part will stick together and form a golden, crispy crust (tahdigi)
Serve hot in a dish adding the spinach on top of the rice Can be served as 2 separate dishes as well Serve the crispy rice bottom (tahdigi) on a different plate
This is a dish that is always prepared on New Year’s Day, which translated to the Gregorian calendar starts on March 21st. It also marks the first day of spring and it is said that a good year is determined by a nice spring since it is the season of blossom, prosperity and renewal. “Sabz” means green and sabzee is cooked on New Year in hopes of a “green year”, meaning a healthy, successful and revitalizing year.
This is my personal favorite dish and I get very excited when there is Mantu at family parties or gatherings. It is a very popular dish and these delicious dumplings are the first to be gone at Afghan weddings.
Portions: 4 400 g ground beef
1 tsp turmeric
1 pack Won Ton wrappers = 42 square shaped pieces
3 tsp salt
800 g onions
2 tsp black pepper
50 g chana dal
2 tsp coriander powder
3-4 garlic cloves
1 can tomato paste (400g)
1 cup of water
500 g low-fat curd cheese 1 bunch fresh cilantro 6 tbsp oil 2 diced carrots (optional)
Chop 2 onions and sauté them with 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat in a pressure cooker, add 1 pressed garlic clove Add your ground beef with 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper, 1 cup of water and let it cook for 8-10 minutes over medium heat (when it’s cooked there shouldn’t be any water left) Leave the cooked ground beef in a bowl and add 700g of diced onions Add 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp coriander powder and mix the ingredients well
Folding Wet the edges of the wrapper with your finger Put 1 tbsp of filling in the center of the wrapper Start folding 2 opposite edges together, followed by the other 2 remaining edges Now press the edges on both sides tightly and repeat for the remaining wrappers
Cooking Oil the base of every layer in the steam and place the dumplings with enough space between them If you use the wrappers: Steam for 30 minutes If you use homemade dough: steam for 40-45 minutes For both methods switch the top and bottom layers of the steamer after the first half, so both layers are steamed equally
Topping Chop 1 onion and sauté with 4 tbsp oil over medium heat, add 1 pressed garlic clove Add ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp coriander powder, ½ tsp turmeric, the tomato paste, the chana dal and cook for 10 minutes Optional: add the finely diced carrots and cook for another 5 minutes
Mix 500g of curd cheese with 2 pressed garlic cloves, 1 tsp salt and 4-5 tbsp water Keep mixing until you get a fluffy texture that is not too fluid and not too solid
Evenly spread yogurt sauce on the dish (ghoori) and lay out the dumplings on top Layer more yogurt sauce over the mantu and add a good layer of the topping sauce Garnish with some fresh cilantro
360 g all purpose flour
1 tsp yeast
200 g warm water
½ tsp salt
Method: Melt the yeast with warm water and mix well, make sure the yeast is completely melted Add the flour and stir Knead the mixture together (with your hands) to make the dough Keep kneading for about 15 minutes until it’s smooth Put the dough into a bowl, cover with a kitchen towel and let it rest for 30-40 minutes Form small balls out of the dough (size of a golf ball) and cover them with a clean kitchen towel to prevent them from drying Dust some flour onto your surface and roll out the dough into a round shape If available, pass the dough through a pasta machine 2-3 times, decreasing the roller setting (thinner) each time and adding flour to prevent stickiness, until you get a thin smooth layer Then cut into squares and they are ready to be filled
Portions: 4 500 g leek
3 tsp salt
340 g (1 pack) gyoza round shaped thin wrappers
About 2 cups of water
300 g ground beef
1 tsp red chili powder
1 chopped onion
1 tsp coriander powder
2 garlic cloves
1 ½ tsp dried mint powder
1 ½ tsp black pepper
250 g low-fat curd cheese 1 bunch fresh cilantro 2 tbsp tomato paste Approx. 100 ml oil
½ tsp turmeric For homemade dough you can use the recipe for mantu dough
Method: Filling Wash leek thoroughly and cut into long thin stripes (as wide as a finger) before chopping the stripes into small pieces Put your chopped-up leek into a larger bowl and add 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper, ½ tsp red chili powder and 2 tbsp oil Mix well using your hands and gently squish the ingredients together until the spices are evenly distributed
Topping Heat 4-5 tbsp oil over medium heat and sauté the onion with 1 pressed garlic clove until golden brown Add ground beef and cook for about 4 minutes Add the tomato paste and keep stirring Next add 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp red chili powder, ½ tsp turmeric, ½ tsp black pepper and 1 tsp coriander powder Pour 2 cups of water into the mixture and after some stirring close the lid and let it simmer for 20 minutes
Folding Wet the outer circle of the dumpling wrapper with your finger Put 1 tbsp of leek filling in the center of the wrapper
Start folding the edges making a half circle and pressing the wet edges together with force, so that they stick together Lay out the folded dumplings on a tray and cover them with a clean kitchen cloth to prevent them from drying
Cooking Boil 2 liters of water and add 1 tsp salt Carefully add the dumplings into the water and boil for 10-15 minutes Extract the dumplings with a strainer and drain them gently so that they don’t break or open
Evenly spread yogurt sauce on the dish (ghoori) and lay out the dumplings on top Layer more yogurt sauce over the dumplings and add the meat sauce as another layer Garnish with some fresh cilantro
These two dishes are very elaborate and require a time consuming process, therefore they are only prepared on special occasions like big parties or weddings, where the number of guests is higher, and the effort is worth it. The process of filling and folding the dough creates an opportunity for women and young girls to unite and share their stories or the latest gossip while preparing this dish. Of course, the atmosphere is not always that relaxed but for bigger parties these preparations usually begin quite early or even days before the event, therefore it can be an amusing get-together. Depending on the amount of Ashak or Mantu that is being made, there will be a few extra pairs of hands to help out. In our family it didn’t matter if you were a boy or a girl, if you passed by the table which was set up for this process, you were called to join and fill some dumplings. The tricky part is to get a feeling for how full you take your tablespoon of the filling and how much water you use on your fingers to prevent them from opening or breaking. When I was younger I had a lot of trouble estimating the amount of water and filling needed in order to prevent the dumplings from opening, so whenever my mother started cooking them she would know which ones were made by me if they came undone. I, of course, would deny that the were mine and blamed it on someone else. In the end I had to eat “the ugly ones” myself and it was always an amusing moment for the whole family.
Portions: 4 500 g boneless lamb
3 tbsp flour
150 g chickpeas soaked in water for 1-2 hours
1 ½ tsp salt
3 potatoes 2 onions 2 garlic cloves 2 eggs 3 cups of water
1 tsp black pepper 1 tsp coriander powder Oil for frying (approx. 300 ml) Cilantro ½ bell pepper of every color 3-4 big lettuce leaves
Method: Cook meat in a pressure cooker with ½ tsp salt, soaked chickpeas, 1 chopped onion and 3 cups of water for 10 minutes at medium heat Once the meat and chickpeas are cooked strain them from the juice and let cool in a bowl Boil the potatoes for about 10 minutes (they shouldn’t be too soft) and peel them afterwards Grind meat, chickpeas, potatoes, 1 onion and 2 garlic cloves through a meat grinder Add 1 egg, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp coriander powder and 3 tbsp flour to the paste and mix well using your hands Slightly beat 1 egg with a fork Now start forming the kebab by rolling a ball between your palms and pressing it to an oval shaped form about as long as a finger and keep dipping your fingers into the egg while doing so (this is done so that the kebab doesn’t fall apart while frying) Heat oil in a small frying pan and fry kebabs until golden brown and crispy Cover a ghoori with the lettuce leaves, lay out the kebabs on top and decorate with stripes of bell pepper Garnish with fresh cilantro.
Portions: 3-4 250 g risotto/sticky rice
2 tbsp tomato paste
About 2 L water
100 g mung beans (soaked in water for 2 hours)
4 chopped onions 100 g washed yellow split pea dahl
250 g low-fat curd cheese
250 g ground beef
2 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
4 garlic cloves
1 tsp coriander powder
100 ml rapeseed oil/ canola oil 1 tbsp dried dill ½ tsp turmeric
Method: Shola Heat about 50ml of oil in a pressure cooker and sauté the chopped onions with 1 pressed garlic clove until golden brown Add 1 ½ liters of water, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp black pepper, 1 tbsp dried dill and let cook until the water starts boiling Add the mung beans and cook for about 5 minutes over medium heat While it’s cooking, wash the rice and add it to the mung beans, keep stirring a couple minutes before you let it cook for another 5 minutes Turn down from medium to low heat and let it cook for about 30 minutes, keep stirring it from time to time because the rice is quite sticky Once the water has been absorbed, put a kitchen towel below the lid, so that it cooks well
Kofta (meatballs) In a big bowl add the ground beef, 1 egg, ½ tsp black pepper, ½ salt, 1 tsp coriander powder and 1 pressed garlic clove Add 1 grated onion into the mixture and mix it well with your hands Shape meatballs with the palms of your hands and place them on a tray Chop 1 onion and sauté with 50ml oil, add 1 pressed garlic clove until golden brown Add the tomato paste and 3 cups of water Add ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp black pepper, 1 tsp coriander powder and ½ tsp turmeric
Kofta Once the water starts boiling, add the pea dahl and let it boil for about 5 minutes Carefully add the meatballs, one by one, into the sauce and let it cook for 30 minutes over medium heat (check every once in a while, to make sure the meatballs don’t fall apart)
Yogurt sauce While the meatballs are cooking add the curd cheese to a bowl, mix with ½ tsp salt, 3-4 tsp water and 1 pressed garlic clove Keep mixing with a spoon until you get a fluffy texture that is not too fluid and not too solid
When everything is prepared, put the sticky rice on a bigger dish (round ghoori for example) leaving a hole in the center; pour the yogurt sauce into a little bowl and place it in that reserved hole Optional: heat up 2 tbsp of olive oil in a pan and pour it onto the yogurt sauce for extra flavor Distribute the meatballs all around on top of the sticky rice Optional: for spice add some chili powder Garnish with dried mint
Shola is a dish that is rather less time consuming to make and is more of a day-today meal. It can also be prepared without the kofta (meatballs) and served with only the yogurt sauce (kichiri quroot), but the combination makes it a more delicious and elaborate meal. “Shola yakh kada?”, is a frequently used saying and translates to: “Is your shola getting cold?”, meaning: Why are you in such a hurry? Shola typically stays very hot when it has been cooked and takes a while to cool down since the sticky rice is prepared in a pressure cooker. Therefore, when someone is in a hurry they are asked if their shola is getting cold. It’s a sarcastic way of saying: “Relax, don’t stress out.” Traditionally, when a woman gave birth to a child, after ten days her mother would come to her house and send her daughter to a hammam (Turkish bath) with her best friends as a form of relaxation. The steam helped to relieve tension and also served as a way to cleanse the body. After that she would be served shola because it has the quality of staying hot for a long time and this heat would be soothing for any abdominal discomfort. The yogurt sauce is also beneficial for the breastfeeding of the child, as it is said to increase breast milk production.
Portions: 4 2 eggplants
½ tsp black pepper
1 can tomato paste (400g)
1 tbsp dried mint
2 chopped onions
1 bell pepper (any color)
2 tsp salt 1 garlic clove ½ tsp turmeric 1 tsp coriander powder
Yogurt sauce: 500 g low-fat curd cheese 1 tsp salt 2 garlic cloves
Method: Wash and peel eggplants Slice the eggplants with a thickness of about 1.5 cm Heat oil in a frying pan and roast eggplants over medium heat until golden-brown When done leave on a plate on the side Sauté onions with 1 pressed garlic clove, add tomato paste and stir for about 2 minutes Add salt, black pepper, coriander powder and turmeric Slice bell pepper into circles and add them to the sauce Add the roasted eggplants and stir until the sauce is mixed with the eggplants Close the lid and let it simmer for 5-6 minutes
Yogurt sauce While the eggplants are cooking add the curd cheese to a bowl, mix with ½ tsp salt, 3-4 tsp water and 1 pressed garlic clove Keep mixing with a spoon until you get a fluffy texture that is not too fluid and not too solid
Evenly spread yogurt sauce on the dish (ghoori) and lay out the eggplant mixture on top Layer more yogurt sauce over the eggplants Add dried mint all over the dish and serve hot
My mother nostalgically tells me how much she loved going to the big parks in Kabul, where they sold dishes like pakaura, sambosa, bolani and shor nakhod at little stands. She would go there with her friends and buy one of these dishes to eat as a snack. Shor nakhod was her favorite with a little chutney on the side. She remembers how much better it would taste out in the park together with her friends. She loved it so much that would even secretly buy some on her way home from school and then get in trouble at home for not finishing the food on her dinner plate.
Paghman Gardens, Kabul 1960â€™s
Portions: 4 3 large peeled potatoes
½ tsp coriander powder
100 g all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
100 ml water
½ tsp red chili powder
100 ml oil
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp garlic powder
Method: Wash the potatoes and slice them (leave slices in a bowl filled with water to prevent from turning brown) In a large bowl: add flour, salt, turmeric, coriander powder, red chili powder, baking powder and garlic powder Then add ½ cup (100ml) water and mix well (the batter shouldn’t be too thick but not too runny either) Dip the potato slices into the batter and fry them in 100ml of oil over medium heat
Serve on a dish with chutney on the side Optional: Garnish with fresh cilantro, parsley and bell pepper
Portions: 2-3 500 g potatoes
1 tsp salt
250 g chickpeas (soaked in water before)
1 tsp baking powder
Method: Wash and then boil the potatoes for about 10 minutes over medium heat (knife method) Once they’re boiled, separate them from the water, peel them and let them cool down on a plate While the potatoes cool down, cook the soaked chickpeas in a pressure cooker for 10 minutes over medium heat with about 1 liter of water, add 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp baking powder Thinly slice the potatoes Once the chickpeas are cooked, separate them from the water as well and serve them in a bowl with the potatoes on the side
Goes perfectly with chutney and some salt & pepper
STORY Shor nakhod means “salty chickpeas” and it serves as a snack that can be eaten at any time of the day. It is especially enjoyed at outdoor picnics. When my mother lived in Kabul, shor nakhod was sold on the streets during the day and there were men with mobile food carts, who would walk through the neighborhoods and sell it to young and old, similar to the ice cream truck in some countries.
Portions: 6-8 2 packs of puff pastry (42x26 cm - 640g) 500 g potatoes 1 can green peas (200g) 200 g peeled carrots 400 g ground beef
1 tsp coriander powder 1 beaten egg yolk 200 g chopped green onions or leek 1 small bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
1 big chopped onion 1 garlic clove 1 tsp black pepper 2 tsp salt 1 cup of water
Method: Filling Heat oil and sauté onion over medium heat in a pressure cooker, add 1 pressed garlic clove Add ground beef with ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp black pepper, 1 cup of water and let it cook for 8-10 minutes over medium heat (when it’s cooked there shouldn’t be any water left) Leave the cooked ground beef in a bowl Boil the potatoes and carrots for about 10 minutes over medium heat Once they’re boiled, separate them from the water, peel the potatoes and cut everything into small cubes Rinse green peas and add in a big bowl with potatoes, carrots, green onions cilantro Now add the spices (salt, black pepper and coriander powder) and mix everything carefully
Cut the puff pastry into squares Put 1 tbsp of filling in the center and fold two opposite corners together, forming a triangle Press the edges together tightly to prevent the filling from falling out
Preheat the oven to 180 °C Place the sambosas on a baking tray covered with a parchment paper With a pastry brush glaze the filled sambosas with the beaten egg yolk Bake for 10-15 minutes and take out of the oven when they’re golden brown
Lay out on a ghoori with a bowal of chutney or yogurt in the center Serve warm or cold
800 g leek
1 kg potatoes
800 g flour
2 tbsp oil
2 chopped onions
1 tbsp oil
2 tsp salt
2 garlic cloves
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp salt
1 pack yeast (7g)
Â˝ tsp red pepper
1 tsp black pepper
400 ml lukewarm water
Â˝ tsp red pepper 5 tbsp oil
Method: Dough and Folding In a bowl mix lukewarm water with yeast, add flour, salt and oil Mix and knead until dough is formed Leave in a bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel and let it rise for 15-20 minutes (prepare filling in the meantime) Form small balls out of the dough (size of a golf ball) and cover them with a clean kitchen towel to prevent them from drying Dust some flour onto your surface and roll out the dough into a round shape If available, pass the dough through a pasta machine 2-3 times, decreasing the roller setting each time and adding flour to prevent stickiness, until you get a thin smooth layer Shape dough to a circle and cover one half with a layer of filling and flatten that out (leave 1cm border around the rim) Fold in half over the filling and press the edges together tightly to prevent them from opening Repeat for the remaining dough
Potato filling Boil potatoes for 10-15 minutes, then peel and mash them in a bowl Heat oil and sautĂŠ onions with 2 pressed garlic cloves until golden brown and add to the mashed potatoes Add salt, black pepper, red pepper and coriander powder to the mixture Mix and squish everything with your hands until the ingredients are evenly distributed
Leek filling Wash leek and chop into small pieces Add salt, black pepper, red pepper, coriander powder and oil Mix and squish with your hands and make sure the leek absorbs some oil
Cooking Heat oil in a frying pan over medium-low heat Fry 2 bolanis at a time until golden brown
Serving Serve with yogurt and chutney
Portions: 6-8 1 kg okra
50 ml water
1 can tomato paste (400g)
30 ml oil
2 garlic cloves
Â˝ tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp coriander powder
Method: Wash the okra and cut off the two head and tail part, then cut them in half Heat about 30ml oil in a sauce pan over high temperature Add okra and 2 pressed garlic cloves, cook for 3 minutes Pour in tomato paste and add spices (salt, coriander powder and black pepper), let it cook for anoter 2 minutes Add 50ml of water and cover the lid to let it simmer for 5 minutes over medium-low heat
Serving Serve hot as a stew/side dish Goes well with Qabli or any rice dish
Portions: 3 1 big red onion
1 small bunch of fresh cilantro
Âź of a large cucumber
1 tsp dried mint
Â˝ tsp salt
Method: Dice onion, tomatoes, cucumber and add in a bowl Chop cilantro and add to the bowl as well Squeeze the lemon over the ingredients Add salt and dried mint Mix well and make sure the ingredients are distributed evenly
Serve hot as a stew/side dish Goes well with Qabli or any rice dish
The interest in salad is not as big among Afghans as it is in European countries. Nevertheless, this is a type of salad that you eat on the side with your meal, and is not served as separate course, as it is typically done here in Switzerland. This explains why it needs to be cut into very small pieces. It goes very well with rice and meat dishes. In our household, we do not eat salata on a day to day basis, since it can be very time consuming and requires a lot of patience to finely chop all the ingredients. Therefore, we usually prepare salad the European way, unless there is a special event or when we have guests of course.
2 big bunches of fresh cilantro 1 whole garlic
1 avocado 1 ½ tsp salt 2 cups of vinegar
500 g green chili
Method: Thoroughly wash the cilantro and put into the blender (if it doesn’t all fit in one go you can blend the rest in a second run) Add vinegar, salt, black pepper, garlic, avocado, green chili (extract the seeds) and mix well until a textured paste is achieved Pour the chutney into clean jars and store them in the refrigerator before serving to let it “marinate”
Chutney is a staple at the dinner table and it is used to spice up any dish. It allows you to spice up your meal to your own preference. Chutney also has a very appetizing property and Afghans eat it with almost every dish. My mother usually makes a big amount of chutney at once in order to store the rest up as a supply because we eat chutney with every meal. I personally just recently started adding it to my food since I used to not be very tolerant with spicy food, but I’m starting to like it more and more.
If you know me, you know that I have a sweet tooth. I always crave sweets and if I do not eat desert after dinner, I will not be able to sleep. Sweets are very popular in Afghanistan and cannot go missing after the main course, especially at weddings or parties the dessert section is designed extravagantly. Afghans love to drink their tea with something sweet on the side. Afghan cuisine consists of a great variety in desserts in form of pastries and puddings, but also fruits are an important component, as well as dried fruits. Many dishes have traditional meaning and accompany ceremonies or events from childbirth to weddings up to death.
Makes: 2 big “cakes“
900 g wheat flour 450 g sugar 2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cardamom
2 tbsp white poppy seeds 7 g dried yeast
250 ml milk
250 ml oil 2 tbsp black cumin
Method: Dough In a bowl add all dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, cardamom and yeast) and mix with a spoon In a separate bowl mix oil, milk and eggs with a hand mixer Now add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well for 10-15 minutes with your hands until dough is formed (the dough will feel a little sticky) Leave the dough in a bowl, cover it with a kitchen towel and let it rest overnight
Baking Preheat the oven to 200 °C (for max. 10 minutes) Divide the dough into 2 pieces and leave them on parchment paper Form a big, round pizza shape with a thickness of about 1,5cm and transfer the dough onto a baking tray by holding onto the baking paper With a fork prick all over the surface of the dough Sprinkle the black cumin and white poppy seeds all over the dough Bake for about 10 minutes and meanwhile do the same procedure for the other half
Cut the Rhot into triangles and serve with tea Make sure to store the Rhot in a sealed container or plastic bag to prevent drying
TRADITION My mom makes the best rhot in the family. Everyone asks for her recipe but complain that theirs never turns out like my mothers. There is a simple explanation for this: You have to get a feeling for it, just as you get a feeling for a language, and this can only be achieved through practice. Some ovens work differently at various temperatures and the kneading takes patience, finding the right balance for all cooking components will help to develop this feeling. This applies for almost every recipe. I have tried to recreate her recipe but so far, my rhot has never been comparable to my motherâ€™s. In Afghanistan, when a child was born the family would bake rhot in a big round shape, then cut a large hole in the middle of it it and pass the baby through that hole. This should bring good luck to the child and its family. The idea goes back to the religious and symbolic meaning of wheat, which stands for life, wealth and fertility. Today wheat still has great meaning and importance in Afghan culture, at times it is even seen as holy, as it is a staple food. I was taught that it is sinful to throw away bread and that if I found bread on the ground I should pick it up, kiss it and put it aside.
Portions: 3 200 g all-purpose flour 100 g sugar 250 ml water 1 tsp ground cardamom
50 g split, blanched pistachios 1 tsp rose water 100 ml oil 50 g split almonds
Method: Heat 100ml oil in a pan over medium-high heat Add flour and fry for about 5 minutes and keep stirring until the flour takes up a brownish color Add water and sugar, keep stirring for another 5 minutes Turn down heat to low-medium and add cardamom Cover the pan and let cook for another 10 minutes
Serve in a dish and garnish with spilt pistachios and almonds
STORY “Nazer”: During the funeral service , on the fortieth day following the death of a Muslim, and also on the first anniversary of death, halwa is cooked by the family of the deceased and offered to visitors and neighbors. This is called “nazer”, which in Arabic means “an offering”. Many mourners lose appetite due to grief, which can result in lower blood sugar levels, so the consumption of halwa provides the necessary sugar content for the body. This flour-based dessert is also made at other religious ceremonies like on the day of the dead or prophet Mohammed’s birthday. Eating halwa has “sawab”, which in Islamic belief means gaining spiritual merit. After the performance of prayers and rituals, the halwa has gained the “sawab” and is usually served with flat bread. Halwa translates to: “sweet” “Ba halwa goftan dahan shirin namishawad.” Meaning: The mouth cannot taste sweet just by speaking sweetly.
Makes: 30 pieces
1 pack puff pastry (275 g)
1 tsp cardamom
100 g powdered sugar
200 g whipped cream 100 g finely minced pistachios
Method: Spread the puffy pastry on parchment paper Cut strips of 2cm width Oil the surface of the cream roll tubes Roll each strip around a cream roll tube starting at the top and gradually bringing it downwards by overlaying part of the strip Preheat the oven to 200 °C 10 minutes before inserting them Bake for about 10 minutes (take them out before golden) Let them cool down, then dip the rolls in powdered sugar, so that they’re covered in white
Filling Cream In a bowl add whipped cream, sugar and cardamom, whip with a hand mixer until fluffy Pour into an icing syringe and fill the rolls carefully by injecting the cream filling from one end
In a bowl add whipped cream, sugar and cardamom, whip with a hand mixer until fluffy Pour into an icing syringe and fill the rolls carefully by injecting the cream filling from one end
Shirnee khoori: Engagement party Literal translation: Eating sweets The ceremony of getting engaged is celebrated by eating sweets. It is believed that the sweetening of their mouth will sweeten the couple’s engagement and eventually their marriage. When a girl gets engaged, she receives a variety of sweets and pastries, like the kolche abe-dandaan (mouthwatering cookies) from the fiancés family on New Year or Eid.
450 g wheat flour
1 tsp ground cardamom
200 g powdered sugar
250 ml rapeseed oil
1 tsp baking powder
100 g finely minced pistachios
In a bowl add flour, powdered sugar, baking powder, cardamom and at last the oil, mix well with your hands for about 15 minutes until dough is formed
300 g sugar
7 tbsp cornstarch
½ tsp ground cardamom
1 ½ L milk
30 g pistachio powder
2 tbsp rose water
50 g sliced blanched almonds
Method: Boil 1 liter of milk in a pot over medium heat
Prepare a baking tray with parchment paper
In a bowl pour the remaining ½ liter cold milk and mix well with the cornstarch, then add it to the boiling milk
Preheat the oven to 180 °C 10 minutes before inserting them
Add rose water, cardamom and sugar
Form midsize balls with your hands and put them on the tray
Slowly keep stirring until the mixture starts to solidify a little and takes up the consistency of pudding
With your thumb press in the middle of the balls to create a dent Bake for 5-10 minutes, check on them frequently and take out of the oven before they turn brown
Pour into a dish and garnish with pistachio powder and sliced almonds Leave the pudding in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours before serving
After letting the cookies cool down add finely minced pistachios in the dent Serve chilled as a dessert
1.5 L boiled water
½ tsp ground cardamom
2 bags/2 tsp oolong tea or 2 bags/2 tsp black tea
Method: In a (vacuum insulated) tea pot add tea and cardamom Pour in the boiled water Let the tea brew a couple minutes before serving Tea is essential in Afghan culture and is served with sweets or dried fruits. The first thing you are asked when you arrive at an Afghan’s house is whether you prefer to drink black or green tea and from that moment on your cup will be refilled nonstop without asking. Sharing a cup of tea is a form of exchanging stories and catching up on each other’s life. Afghans drink tea anywhere and anytime, regardless of the weather. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that they drink more tea than water. My father used to even bring his cup of tea to the car and drink it while driving, which would make us laugh because he truly could not resist his cup of tea. I do not drink as much tea as my parents do, but I do enjoy a cup of tea, especially during the colder days. My dad would ask me: Are you even Afghan if you do not drink tea five times a day?
Portions: 3-4 500 g plain yogurt
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp dried mint
500 ml cold water
1/3 of a cucumber, finely chopped
Ice cubes, fresh mint leaves (optional)
Alternative: Use Turkish Ayran to replace yogurt, water and salt
In a jug or bowl add the yogurt and water and stir well with a spoon or a whisk until the yoghurt is diluted Add the cucumber, dried mint and salt, stir until everything is evenly distributed
For hot summer days: add some ice cubes to the drink, pour into cups and garnish with fresh mint leaves
My grandmother told me that dogh was used to help people suffering from sleeplessness, because it lowers blood pressure and therefore makes you feel tired.
Stories are based on my own experiences and from conversations with my parents or other relatives
Images All images, including the cover, were shot by me unless listed here: https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/71yxUapqJ4L._SL1000_.jpg / 25.11.2017 https://cdn.foodtolive.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Black-Pepper-502x480. png / 25.11.2017 http://edengourmet.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/cilantro_garden_of_eden. png / 25.11.2017 http://d9hhrg4mnvzow.cloudfront.net/www.organifi.com/turmeric-m1s1/62324f83-sg-turmeric-transparent_0ie0a30ie0a3000000.png / 26.11.2017 https://www.flaticon.com/free-icons/tomato_942 / 26.11.2017 http://www.rawa.org/temp/runews/2013/03/15/ravages-of-war-afghanistan-s-paghman-gardens-before-and-after.html / 03.12.2017 https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d1/Flag_map_of_ Afghanistan.svg/2000px-Flag_map_of_Afghanistan.svg.png / 03.12.2017 https://www.delcarmenfruits.com/images/products/vegetables/red-onion-organicsupplier-usa.png / 01.12.2017 https://www.delcarmenfruits.com/images/products/fruits/cucumber-frozen-USA. png / 01.12.2017
Books My great-uncleâ€™s cookbook in Dari: Afghanzadeh, Abdullah. Traditional Afghan Dishes. Kabul, Afghanistan 1974.
Links https://goodlucksymbols.com/rice/ / 23.10.2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afghan_cuisine / 04.11.2017 http://www.afghan-web.com/culture/cooking/ / 12.11.2017 http://www.afghancultureunveiled.com/humaira-ghilzai/afghancooking/2013/10/ tea-and-hospitality-in-afghanistan.html / 14.11.2017 http://outlookafghanistan.net/topics.php?post_id=11298 / 14.11.2017 http://afghanland.com/culture/hospitality.html / 14.11.2017 http://afghanwife.blogspot.ch/2011/07/hospitality-hosting-guests-afghan-way.html / 18.11.2017 https://www.sbs.com.au/food/article/2013/02/14/about-afghan-food /20.11.2017 http://watanafghanistan.tumblr.com/post/8788086352/table-manners-from-afghanistan / 26.11.2017 https://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-mamas/hand-food-why-eating-with_b_12100382.html / 28.11.2017
https://maptia.com/stevemccurry/stories/colors-of-afghanistan / 01.12.2017 https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/vincent_schiavelli_307266 / 03.12.2017 https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/wolfgang_puck_502353 / 03.12.2017 https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/gail_simmons_489238 / 03.12.2017
I would like to thank my beloved mother, who patiently worked through these recipes with me and without whom I would not have been able to realize this project. I would also like to thank all my friends who inspired me in many different ways and helped me with technical difficulties. And lastly, but most importantly, I would like to express special thanks to my supervisor, Seraina Lustgarten, who guided me through the making of this book and gave me helpful advice.