Cooking the world, which is to cook a meal from every country in the world seems like a challenging yet perfect opportunity to mix three things I enjoy doing. Travel, cooking and writing. First in the list is Afghanistan. I have always been curious to know more about the country. One of my favorite authors, Khalid Hosseini is an Afghan-born. He authored The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns and And the Mountains Echoed. I’m currently reading And the Mountains Echoed which like his other two books has a large part set in Afghanistan. The books compellingly describe the tragic Afghan history and culture before, during and after the revolutions, Soviet invasion, and the Taliban rule.
The country’s cuisine is greatly influenced by her neighboring countries Iran, India and the former Soviet Union. Chicken and Lamb seems to be liked immensely along with specialty rice dishes infused with a variety of spices. Yogurt is used as an accompaniment to almost all dishes usually flavored with herbs and greens. Nuts and dried fruit is also a huge part of their cuisine with it being the base for a lot of desserts. Yet, the cuisine is far more sophisticated than the Kebab’s and rice. The Mongolian influence brought in dumplings and noodles. A very popular dish is the Mantu pasta which is filled with herbed meat and onion, served with spiced yogurt.
I chose to cook a main dish called Qabili Palau, a simple Afghan salad and a dessert called Sheer Pira. Little did I know that Qabili means well accomplished, which indicates that it takes a skilled cook to bring a perfect balance of flavors in this dish. It is also one of the national dishes of Afghanistan. It took me almost 2 hours to cook this because the cooking requires different stages which needed to be done simultaneously. I followed the recipe to the letter and ended up with something quite tasty. I cannot say it was exceptional because I found the taste to be mild and had some friends reaching for chili to add. Maybe it’s the difference in our palate, but this may not be something I would like to attempt for the second time. As for the Sheer Pira, we just could not stop eating it. It’s a rose water and cardamom scented sweet made with milk and sugar syrup. I made a mistake in over-cooking the sugar syrup so the final dish ended up in clumps rather than the smooth and chewy texture it is supposed to have. But, it did not affect the taste. It was one of those mouthwatering dishes that you just can’t stop eating as if not taking another bite is like depriving yourself of a great pleasure that you may not have a chance of experiencing again. I would definitely make this again and again.
Surprisingly, most of the ingredients for these dishes are ingredients that we use on an everyday basis. I was reminded of Remy in ratatouille where he eats a strawberry with cheese and experiences fireworks. The magic is not always in the ingredient itself but in how well you use them together. I used alternative ingredients for the ingredients that I didn’t have in hand or was hard to find. Although my main dish was not up to expectation, I still had an enjoyable time cooking while listening to my favorite Hindi remixes in the company of a friend who equally loves food. I am looking forward to the next dish, which is Albania so stay tuned!