During my nine years of non-profit work in Afghanistan I have had the great fortune of meeting a myriad of amazing people one of whom happens to be our guest blogger, Stetson Sanders. I met Stetson in March of 2011 in the province of Ghazni and I was blown away by his dedication, hard work and respect for the Afghan people. When he returned home to Sacramento I wanted to have a dinner party for him. Instead, Stetson asked if we for a cooking session instead. As my Afghan reader know, we Afghans never allow our guests to even lift a plate let alone allow them in preparing a meal. However, I put my old fashioned hospitality behind and decided to do a cooking session just as my guest had requested.
By guest blogger: Stetson Sanders
I recently had the pleasure of spending 15 months living and working in provincial Afghanistan. Of all the adventures and excitement, the opportunity to enjoy and learn about Afghan cuisine was one of the highlights. There wasn't always a lot of variety to the food, but the fresh vegetables (cucumbers, tomatoes and assorted greens), and mouth-watering fruit (humongous and delicious watermelons) were always a treat. I found the main courses (palau and sabzi) to be filling but always fantastic and served with pride. My favorite dishes were shola a kind of a risotto dish made with meat. I had never heard of shola before Afghanistan. Mantoo is a meat dumpling mostly served at celebrations or events where were honored guests. I have tried a similar dish in Central Asia; I found Tajiks and even Russians reluctantly attribute this dish to Uzbeks.
After returning home from my assignment, I had the great fortune to join Humaira at her lovely home for a cooking session! I'm not much of a cook and probably mostly a liability in the kitchen, so she designed a pretty straightforward menu (see below) for a novice cook like me. I was joined by a friend who is much more adept in the kitchen so she did all the heavy lifting.
All of the cooking was greatly aided by Humaira's prep work and equipment (food processor, etc.), which minimized the preparation that we had to do. We started by preparing the sabzi, (braised spinach) which was pretty straightforward and turned out to be delicious! Next, we used wonton dough to make aushak. Aushak is basically a dumpling filled with sautéed green onion then boiled for a few minutes. They are delicate so we had to be very fast on our feet when it came to removing the aushak from the water. Aushak is served on a flat platter lightly coated with a garlic yogurt mixture, finished off with a generous amount of kofta a meat sauce.
The final dish was kadoo made with winter squah. I only had kadoo once or twice in Afghanistan but over there they use pumpkin which is called kadoo in Dari. To end the evening, we enjoyed falooda, a homemade rosewater-infused ice cream on a bed of crushed ice and glass noodles, topped with chopped pistachios. It might be attributable to the lack of cold storage capacity and limited electricity in rural Afghanistan, but I seldom ate desert. My local counterparts usually finished meals with an apple, banana, or orange, so this was a nice introduction to a new treat that was light, but also sweet and satisfying.
The whole evening was fun, interesting, and empowering, as I now feel that I could prepare that meal for friends or family. Thanks, Humaira-jaan, for letting us in to you home...and to both Eva and Humaira for being patient while I learned the basics in an American kitchen!
Falooda was the perfect ending to a wonderful meal
Recipes are on this blog, just follow the links
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