A is for Afghanistan

July 26, 2014

image courtesy of www.flags.net

image courtesy of http://www.flags.net

On our alphabetical tour around the world, our first stop is in Afghanistan. I am woefully ignorant about this country despite the notoriety due to its involvement in the vast global terror situations over the last 15 years. A dish called Kabuli Palaw is the national dish of this embroiled country, which actually is a simple and yet unique pilaf.

Although I did my best to adhere to a conglomeration of various recipes, I did make adaptations when necessary. I did not, for example, have any saffron as I am working with an average budget.

The assembly of the dish was very easy if everything is measured out ahead of time (which is always a good idea). I am an unapologetic onion worshiper, so another small change I made was that I did not discard the onions initially cooked with the chicken to make the broth. Although much of the flavor is given to the broth, I still feel that the boiled onions lend sweetness (I always cook with sweet onions) to the dish when added back into the pot and browned with the separate onions for the sauce. You can add just some of those onions or none at all; it is completely dependent upon your preference for onions. I will say that in the final product they are indistinguishable as onions and simply thicken the end result.

The boundaries for my wife and I that this dish pushed were very different. For her, adding raisins to a savory cooked meal was not something that would normally appeal to her. As well, the fried-then-baked carrot matchsticks were also outside of her comfort zone, as she tends to prefer carrots soft like in a stew but not falling apart.

Whereas it was a matter of ingredient texture and the savory/sweet dichotomy for my wife, my battle was with one simple ingredient: cumin. For most of my life, up to this day, I have long struggled with Mexican and Indian foods. I want to like them, but there is always one flavor that has put me off for years, eventually I pinpointed it to cumin. I deliberately picked a recipe to begin my task that contained my greatest spice adversary.

In the end, when balanced with the other spices and in a reasonable quantity, I had very little problem with that unique flavor effecting my opinion of this dish. Would I order it in a restaurant prepared by someone who knows the dish backward and front? Very possibly, and I certainly have a better appreciation for cumin as well as the assembly of this classic pilaf.

Arid desert and dry mountain climates get unbearably cold and this dish would certainly keep you warm with its rich earthly taste and hearty texture. Next up…Albania.

Kabuli Palaw2


Kabuli Palaw

Serves: 5

2 lbs chicken, cut up

1 large onion, sliced

sea salt, to taste

1 1/2 pints hot water

1/4 lb long grain white rice

1 medium onion, thinly sliced (for sauce)

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 tablespoon ground cardamom

1/2 tablespoon ground cumin

fresh ground black pepper, to taste

healthy pinch saffron, soaked in 1 tbs broth

1 1/2 large carrot, cut into match sticks

1/4 cup dark raisins



1. Place chicken , onions and hot water in a large pot.

2. Cover and simmer for about 1 hour.

3. Add salt to taste.

4. Remove chicken, reserving stock & discard cooked onions.

5. Preheat oven to 325°F.

6.  Cook rice via instructions to just before done (~ 8 minutes). Set aside in a pot until ready to assemble.

7. Make stock sauce:

-Brown onions in butter and remove from heat.

-Add cardamom cumin, freshly ground black pepper & saffron liquid and mash with onion to form a paste.

-Add about 3/4 pt of the chicken stock; simmer for 5 minutes and taste for seasoning.

8. Combine cooked rice, stock sauce as needed and chicken; place in a buttered casserole. Cover.

9. Fry carrot matchsticks in 1/2 tbs butter and add raisins to them at the very end.

10. Sprinkle partially cooked carrot matchsticks and raisins on top of chicken and rice and cover tightly with aluminum foil or cover.

11. Place in oven for 35-45 minutes until desired thickness is achieved.



2 Responses to “A is for Afghanistan”

  1. Looks and sounds delicious.

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