Last week my whole family gathered at my sister’s house in Los Angeles to celebrate Thanksgiving. On my night to cook, I doubled this recipe to feed everyone. After six years of testing Afghan recipes and writing about Afghan food, I still feel nervous presenting an Afghan dish to Jeja, my mom. She’s not one to mince words when it comes to giving detailed critique of one’s cooking. To my relief the picky eaters at the table, Jeja and my daughters, loved the dish and had seconds.
In Afghan cooking we hardly ever use cheese, butter and eggs. If one can afford them, they are eaten in small portions at breakfast. However yogurt is a dietary staple. It always has a presence whether poured over, stirred into, or resting atop a cooked dish. Growing up, yogurt sprinkled with a spoonful of sugar, accompanied by a piece of nan, was one of my favorite afternoon snacks.
It should come as no surprise to you that the Afghan lasagna, lakhchak, uses yogurt instead of cheese. The pasta is layered with green onions, meat sauce and garlicky yogurt. This might seem like an Afghan twist to an American favorite but I promise you, lakhchak is an authentic dish which Jeja served all my life. In Afghanistan, she used homemade pasta.
Lakhchak means slippery in Dari, one of the two main languages of Afghanistan. You will need a spoon, instead of a fork, to scoop up the slippery pasta covered in the flavorful meat sauce and tangy yogurt sauce.
With Jeja’a seal of approval, I share this unique dish with you. It takes less than 30 minutes to make.
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
4 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
8 cloves garlic, chopped and divided
1 pound ground beef, or ground turkey can be a fine substitute
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon cumin, ground
2 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
¼ cup warm water
2 cups green onions chopped
16 ounce box of Farfalle or Fusilli pasta.
2 cups greek yogurt
2 tablespoons dried or fresh mint
Saute the yellow onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan on low heat until tender and golden. Add half of the chopped garlic and sauté another 2 minutes. Add ground beef, use a spoon to break it up as it cooks so it is loose and separated (like taco meat). Drain pan of fat. Once the beef is browned add the coriander, cumin, paprika, one teaspoon salt, pepper, water and tomato sauce. Mix well and continue to cook over low heat for about 15 minutes until the sauce thickens.
While the meat is cooking, prepare the pasta according to the package instructions. In a non-stick saute pan add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and saute the green onions on medium-high until wilted, around 8-9 minutes. Set aside.
Heat a small saute pan on medium heat, add the two teaspoons of olive oil and remaining garlic. Saute until golden. In medium bowl whisk together yogurt, sauteed garlic, and remaining salt until yogurt is creamy.
To assemble, pour half of the pasta into a deep dish serving pan, perhaps a 9x13 lasagna dish or roaster. Evenly spread half of the sauteed green onions, meat and yogurt sauce. Repeat layering in the same order. As a final touch, sprinkle with dried mint evenly before serving. Do not bake, this dish is ready to be served with a side of fresh salad.