If you are new to this blog you can probably surmise from the photo that I, of light hair, blue eyes and freckled skin, am not the Afghan in the duo. My experience of Afghan food and culture is borrowed -- largely from Humaira and her family who have graciously allowed me to invade their kitchens and watch them work magic behind the stove.
Unlike Humaira, I don’t have decades of Afghan home life to draw upon for inspiration in my cooking. And Afghanistan isn’t exactly the sort of place to plan a culinary vacation. If I’d set my sights on the likes of Italy or Spain I would happily pack up my young brood and set out for an adventure in food. All of this makes writing about Afghan cuisine an added challenge. I’m an interloper. So when an opportunity presents itself that inspires my sensibilities, I don’t hesitate.
Such was the case recently when my neighbors Luke and Catherine were coming for dinner. Although we’ve shared many meals together, Afghan food was never on the menu. I was hesitant to get too exotic since they would be joined by their two totally delightful, but not especially adventurous (at least food-wise) young boys.
I settled on a roast chicken dinner; it was Sunday supper after all. But with a twist: traditional roasting method, non-traditional seasonings. I set out all of my favorite Afghan spices and concocted a spice rub using equal parts coriander, cumin, paprika, garlic, turmeric, and salt. After squeezing a halved Meyer lemon over the whole bird, I patted it generously with the Afghan spice rub and put it in the oven to roast.
The richly colored spice mix made for a beautifully browned bird with flavors that satisfied adults and kids alike. I served it with a big bowl of sabzi (an Afghan recipe for braised spinach topped with yogurt); pita bread brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and then warmed in the oven; a grated carrot salad flavored with coarse mustard, lemon juice and a dash of sugar; and jasmine rice steamed with bay leaf, and enriched with a knob of salted butter.
The meal came together with ease. Luke and Catherine tucked in heartily to all of the dishes. As for the boys, they didn’t seem to know or care that they were eating anything particularly interesting. As far as they were concerned, it was just chicken, and more importantly, what were we having for dessert?
Roast Chicken with Afghan Spice Rub
1 whole chicken, rinsed and patted dry
½ tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. ground paprika
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. turmeric
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. Kosher salt
1 lemon, cut in half
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Set the chicken in a roasting pan, preferably on a roasting rack. In a small bowl stir together the 4 spices, the garlic powder and the salt. Squeeze both halves of the lemon over the chicken and then stuff into the cavity of the bird. Gently pat the spice rub evenly over the entire chicken. Roast the chicken until done, 45 minutes to an hour depending on the size of the bird.
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