I was first introduced to this saying through Miry’s List, a local non profit committed to supporting recent refugee families as they face the tremendous challenge of starting over in a new country.
And it was at a Miry’s List New Arrival Supper Club event, where I first met Aqila Asghary and tasted Afghan cuisine. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to introduce Aqila to our community of cooks and eaters, friends and neighbors. So this week, with Aqila’s guidance and cooking contributions, we bring you some amazing Afghan meals in the making. And it just so happens that this Monday is the Afghan Nowruz, the celebration of the new year and spring equinox.
The centerpiece of the menu is Aqila’s kabuli palaw, the national dish of Afghanistan. To call it a pilaf seems too pedestrian. This gorgeous rice dish is often reserved for ceremonial events, but we’re treating it as the call for celebration. Traditionally, the rice is cooked with lamb until they are one. But Aqila is making us a vegetarian version that you can serve with (or without) your choice of meat. The rice is still aged, browned with caramelized onions, cooked in a fragrant broth, studded with raisins and crowned with glistening strips of carrots. And we have a new crop of Santa Barbara pistachio kernels to sprinkle on top, another traditional component of this elaborate dish.
To heat and serve with your kabuli palaw, we have an Afghan style chicken korma. This tomato based chicken curry also works over plain rice, potatoes or frozen for another time. You could also serve the kabuli palaw with kabobs, so we have grass fed ground beef and local ground lamb to make kofta, as well as free range boneless, skinless chicken breasts and boneless beef short ribs to cut and skewer. (We’ll provide recipes.)
To sauce your kofta or kabobs, Aqila is making her red and green chutneys, ubiquitous table condiments in Afghanistan. They’re bright and fresh and delicious on grilled meat (or just about anything.) Layer them with our garlic-yogurt sauce made with kashk, an Afghan soured dairy product that adds a traditional tang for a tasty topping.
For a vegetable dish to have alongside your kabuli palaw, chicken korma or kabobs, we bring you sabzi, spinach cooked down in a flavorful broth of olive oil and herbs. Sabzi, which comes from the Persian word for green, is also symbolic of spring, hope and growth.
While researching Afghan food, images of Ashak dumplings kept teasing and tempting me. So I convinced Max Lesser, our friend and fearless chef, to make hundreds of dumplings, and Mel to make the rest of the components, so we could recreate this stunning dish at home. Ashak are traditionally filled with gandana, a member of the allium family, but ours have a mixture of all the spring alliums in season at the moment: leeks, scallions, spring onions, green garlic and garlic chives. Serve them the traditional way: layer the hot dumplings on a platter, spoon our spiced ground lamb sauce into the folds and crannies, drizzle garlic yogurt sauce on top, and finish it with some fresh mint from the produce box. If you want a vegetarian version, we still have green lentils available and will provide a recipe for a lentil sauce.
PIck up some of our favorite plain yogurt from Aris Natural Foods, to marinate the kabobs, make your own garlic sauce, or dollop on top of the sabzi. And we can’t resist getting their sweet fig and lemon yogurts as well.
We’re also restocking K&K Ranch’s dried fruit and nut mix. We love this trail mix all year round, but are excited to bring it back this week since dried fruit and nuts are essential Afghan symbols of luck and prosperity.
To finish off your meal, Aqila is making classic milk pudding with a whisper of cardamom, that is delicious as is or can be topped with crushed pistachios.
The Taliban does not recognize Nowruz, since it doesn’t have Islamic origins. So celebrating Nowruz has become an act of resistance, and a testament to the persistent beauty and vitality of a culture long overshadowed by war and violence. We will be pouring hot cups of Afghan tea next Wednesday at pick up. While planning the menu, Aqila’s husband Wahid described the moment he discovered their favorite Afghan tea on the shelves of Glassell Park’s Super King. It has been said, where there is tea, there is hope. Come share a cup with us.