A Little History…
What better way to start our adventure than with the 1st country on the list (alphabetically). Afghanistan is a country located in central Asia near Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and even a bit of Northern China. Over 99% of the county’s inhabitants are Muslim, and the language spoken by the majority of Afghani’s is either Pashto or Persian, depending on the ethnic group and region (It is important to point out that many people are bilingual). Afghanistan is one of the least developed nations on Earth, with over 80 percent of its population living in rural areas, many of which without running water, roads or electricity. Over 30 years of war have made Afghanistan the worlds most volatile and dangerous country.
But all is not doom and gloom for Afghani’s, who have some of the most unusual and interesting customs I have encountered. One of them…a sport known as Buzkashi…is played by men on horseback during festive occasions. The idea of the game is to pick up a dead, headless goat. In some forms of the game, the riders will actually throw the goat into a scoring circle…in others, simply possessing the goat will do.
Another interesting Afghan tradition most likely arose because of the lack of a traditional nightlife culture (mostly because there is no alcohol consumption by the majority of the people). Men and women of all ages will gather at a local place to listen to and read poetry. Poetry is a very ancient form of expression in Afghan culture, and is also interesting in that it is one of the only areas of life where men and women are seen as equals.
The Recipe… Afghani Palao
So…on to the food….
For our first dish we decided it was only proper that we make the Afghan national dish, otherwise known as Qabili or Afghani Palao. Palao comes in many forms in Afghanistan, but this particular one is most often served with meat, and topped with carrots and raisins. Beware, however, that this dish is not for those of you with cholesterol problems, as it uses an inordinate amount of oil.
Here is what you will need.
Afghani Palao: Serves about 4
1 Whole Chicken (1 Kg/2.2 lbs)2 Cups Basmati Rice
5 Cups Water + 1 Cup Water (both hot)
1 Large Carrot (Grated into Matchsticks)
1 Onion (Chopped)
1/4 Cup Raisins (Sultanas will do if you don’t have raisins)
1 Cup & 3 Tbsp Oil (I used vegetable oil)
1/2 Tbsp Ground Cumin
5 Cardamom Pods
1 Tbsp Salt
1/2 Tbsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Homade Afghani Naan Bread (Optional): Makes 6 medium-size pieces
2 1/4 tsp Active Dry Yeast1 Cup Warm Water
1/4 Cup Sugar
1 Egg (beaten)
3 Tbsp Milk
4 1/2 Cups Bread Flour
2 tsp Salt
*1/4 Cup Melted Butter (for frying in the pan)
Method: (Takes about 2 Hours total to cook both)
If you are cooking the Naan bread along with the palao….then you can follow along exactly. If you have taken the easy road and have gone and gotten store bought Naan bread, or if you are cooking this without the bread at all, then I will try to separate the palao and bread instructions as much as possible so you can skip over the bread stuff. All of the Naan Bread instructions will be in green. I promise that if you follow these instructions the timing will work out just about perfectly. (ok so I don’t promise anything but hopefully that will be the case)
The First thing that needs to be done is to mix the Naan bread ingredients. The very first thing you should do is to measure out 1 cup of warm water into a large mixing bowl and stir in the yeast until it is dissolved. You are going to let that sit out on the counter for about 10 minutes. (This helps activate the yeast).
After the 10 minutes is up, combine the rest of the ingredients in the bowl with the water/yeast mixture. Stir until it forms a nice dough mixture, and then pour out onto a floured surface to knead for about 5-6 minutes, or until nice and elastic. (no pressure, just knead for a few minutes). Once kneaded, place back into the bowl, cover with a towel and set in a warm, dry place (like your counter top) to let rise for 1 hour.
Once that is done, measure out the 2 cups of basmati rice into a large bowl and cover with tap water. Leave this to soak for about 30 minutes. You can take that 30 minutes to read the history section above that you skipped when you first got to this blog post 🙂
So at this point you have the bread dough rising, and the rice has been soaking for about 30 minutes. Now it’s time to prepare the ingredients for the palao. (Don’t worry about the rice it will be fine soaking in the water, and if you are uber-paranoid you can go ahead and drain the rice and leave it aside). The first thing that needs to be prepared is the chicken.
You are going to want to cut the chicken up into manageable pieces. If you have never cut up a whole chicken like me, then you should probably refer to this epic YouTube video of a redneck showing you how to cut up a chicken….trust me it’s good for a laugh and for instruction…Once that’s done, put the pieces in a bowl and set in the refrigerator until its time to cook them.
Now its time to cut up the onion, grate the carrot and get your spice mixture ready in a bowl.
At this point, your Naan dough should be risen to about double its normal side. Take it out of the bowl and punch it down with your fists. Then cut it into 6 pieces and form those into balls. Place those six on a baking tray and cover with a towel. Let these sit for about 30 more minutes to rise once again.
Once this is done go ahead and get out a large pot, and fill it with 5 cups of hot water. Add some salt to taste and then add the drained basmati rice to the water. You don’t need to wait for it to boil, because if you followed the instructions properly then you added hot water to the pot and it will boil fairly soon anyways. You are going to want to boil the rice until it is about half-cooked. This took me roughly 8 minutes, but it may differ depending on your stove, pot etc. The easy test that i read about online is to put the rice inbetween your fingers. Press your fingers together and if the rice breaks in two then it is about half-cooked. Otherwise just taste it like I did and use your best guesstimate.
Drain the rice and set it aside.At this point you can either use the same pot which i did or a second large pot (which i didn’t have). If you are using the same pot, make sure you have rinsed the rice out of it and dried it off properly. (If you have 2 pots it will come in handy later because you have to add the rice and onion/oil mixture together later.)
Next, add the cup of oil you have measured out to the pot and let it heat up for a couple of minutes. Then add the chopped onion to the oil and cook until the onions are dark brown.
Remove the onions from the oil and set aside, and then add the chicken pieces to the same pot/same oil. At this point you can also add the spice mixture with the cardamom pods, cumin, salt and pepper.
Fry the chicken for a few minutes until it is brown on all sides, and then add one cup of hot water to the chicken/oil mixture to boil the chicken. Let this boil for a few minutes and then add in just a bit of the onions which will flavor and color the chicken pieces.
Once the chicken is cooked, remove the pieces of chicken from the oil mixture and add the rest of the onions to the mixture. Let that cook for about a minute.
While this is cooking, melt the 1/4 cup of butter for the Naans in the microwave about 30-40 seconds, and get out a pan for frying the bread. You can go ahead and preheat this pan on the stove while the butter is cooking.
If you are using the 1 pot method, at this point you should pour out the oil mixture into a bowl or measuring cup, and then add about half of the rice to the empty pot. Put the cooked chicken pieces on top of that rice and then pour the oil/onion mixture around the sides of the pot. then cover the chicken with the other half of the basmati rice. Cover this pot tightly and simmer on low for 15 minutes.
While this is cooking, your Naan bread should be done with its second rise. Take the balls and one by one flatten them out. (you can do this all at once or 1 at a time). Next coat the pan with a bit of butter and place 1 naan on the pan to fry. If you have ever cooked pancakes on the stove before this is the same principle. Once the bottom is browning and the naan is rising a bit, brush butter on the top and then flip over to fry the other side. Repeat this with all six pieces.
At the same time as you are frying your Naan bread you can be making your carrot/raisin mixture. Put the carrots and raisins in a small pot with 3 tbsp of cooking oil. fry the mixture for a couple of minutes and then set aside.
Once your rice has been steaming for about 15 minutes, check it to see if it is cooked, and then remove from heat. Put the raisins and carrots into the pot and cover it back up until you are ready to serve. (if you aren’t finished with the Naans like I was, you can cover it for a couple more minutes while you finish frying the bread).
Finally, stir everything up in the pot until it is well-mixed, and then serve onto a plate with the bread and enjoy!
What better way to fully immerse yourself in the culture and the total experience than by getting to know a bit more about the country you are currently enjoying. And Sara (my wife) and I did just that. While i was cooking Sara was researching some interesting Afghan dance and music.
Here are some of the links she sent me…
Eastern Artists.com has a great bit of information of Afghan Dance
Ballet Afsaneh is seen on this YouTube video performing a traditional Afghan dance.
Also, while we were eating, we decided to watch a BBC documentary about Afghanistan. I have included that documentary as a video below.
FURTHER READING & CREDITS…
If you are interested in more information about Afghan cuisine….there is a great wiki article here.
Also, it is important to point out the information I used to make this recipe.
THE NAAN BREAD RECIPE was taken directly from Food.com