Afghan Food

Click for larger image!Our favorite food when we were in Afghanistan was nan. It is wonderful whole wheat bread that is baked in flat sheets sort of in the shape of showshoes. If you look carefully, you will still see this kind of bread in some of the current news stories.

Out on the desert it is baked on hot stones. In the cities, the bakeries have round fire pits with cement walls. One of the first jobs that children have is to take their dough from home to be baked in these pits. The baker rolls it out and uses a pronged instrument to make little holes in it. The holes give it more crust and keep it thin. The flattened dough is thrown up against the side of the fire pit. When it gets done, it comes loose from the side of the pit. The baker has to be on guard to grab it with a fork before it falls into the fire.

When the baker hands it to the children to carry home, it is still hot. The children often drape it over their heads. Especially in the winter, children would tuck their hands in between the loaves to keep their fingers warm. The nan is usually eaten with tea. There were not many desserts or candies and so people would put lots of sugar in their tea so as to get quick energy.

Back home in the United States, we have come fairly close to making nan by buying frozen loaves of whole wheat dough and thawing it out so that we can roll it very thin. We use a knife to cut little slits in it and then bake it on a large cookie tray in a hot oven.

Other Afghan food that is fairly easy to reproduce here is shish ka bob, which was made exactly like we make it and sold on the corners. Street peddlers also sold fresh corn on the cob roasted in the shucks.

At least when we lived there, the produce bazaars were filled with baskets of beautiful fruits and vegetables. However, we didn't dare to eat raw fruits or melons because we were afraid of getting diseases, but we loved to eat almonds and walnuts after our cook baked them with salt and butter. The Farsi name for walnuts was chahar maghs, which means four brains, so now whenever we see a walnut we think of pictures of brains.

We've read newspaper stories about the Afghans being vegetarians. It is true that Muslims do not eat pork, but all of the Afghans that we knew ate beef, mutton, chicken, and turkey. We were amused that they called turkeys fil morgh, meaning elephant chicken.

Pilau was their main food for big meals. You could have an Afghan tea simply by serving hot tea, nuts, raisins, and nan. But if you wanted to serve a real dinner, you should make pilau. It is made from rice and pieces of cooked chicken with a sauce poured over it. Here are the ingredients for sauce to cover 8 cups of cooked and salted rice.

1/4 pound of butter or margarine
2 cups of brown sugar
½ cut of water
2 cups of raisins
the peeling from one large orange (cut in fine strips)
1 carrot also cut in fine strips
1 cup of almonds

Cook all the sauce ingredients for about 45 minutes until the butter and sugar are melted and blended and the raisins and carrots have absorbed the taste of the orange peel. Then pour this mixture over the rice and chicken and serve with nan and tea.