A bowl of almonds and walnuts in the shell along with a nut cracker next to it was a permanent fixture on our living room coffee table when I was growing up. I had forgotten about this until recently when I went to Humaira's house and she set out a bowl of shelled walnuts. She told me her mother, Jeja had cracked them herself. The image of Jeja, sitting at home, working her way through a bag full of nuts for her children and grandchildren was heartwarming, to say the least. A labor of love, no doubt, by a woman who doesn't necessarily always know how to express her affection. The walnuts were in a different category altogether from what I might find in the bins at my local market: unblemished, with a sheen to the walnut skins, sweet, completely lacking any need for adornment.
This got me to thinking about one of my favorite Afghan rituals: hot tea with nibbles. In Afghanistan, green or black tea, gently scented with cardamom, is served practically around the clock. Little dishes of snacky things are set out to enjoy with the tea: freshly cracked nuts, dried apricots, fat golden raisins, candied almonds called noql, spicy chickpeas, and so on. The spicy chickpeas are particularly addictive and a snack that works, to my decidedly American palate, just as well with a cold drink as a cup of tea. You can make them start to finish in a matter of minutes; the key is having your ingredients ready before you begin.
Spicy Afghan Chickpeas
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. ground paprika
1 tbsp. ground chili powder
2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 lb. skinless, unsalted, dry-roasted chickpeas
Heat a wok or large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add oil, paprika, chili powder and salt and quickly stir to make a paste. Immediately add chickpeas and stir-fry for 1 minute, turning the chickpeas in the pan to coat with the spices. Pour into a colander. Shake the colander for 1 minute to eliminate extra spices. Let cool and store in a jar with a tight lid.
*You can find dry roasted chickpeas in Middle Eastern and Indian Markets
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