Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Olivia's World of Food: Afghanistan

Olivia is a very logical kid. And after deciding she wanted to cook a recipe from each country in the world, where else would she start than with "A"? And that means...


These days the country is well-known as a place of conflict; but it also has a rich cultural and culinary history.

Afghan food is a melting pot, with influences from the three major ethnic groups (Pashtuns, Tajiks and Uzbeks), as well as India.

Olivia chose a dish that hints at the Indian influence for tonight's dinner: Chicken Kabuli Pulao, a.k.a. Afghanistan's national dish.

One warning about this recipe: It's not well-written. The instructions are a bit confusing at times. But use your best judgment (and a little common sense) and you can figure it out.


  • 2 lbs chicken, cut up
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • sea salt, to taste
  • 1.5 pints hot water
  • 1/4 lb white basmati rice (though we used a bit more)
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
  • fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • healthy pinch of saffron, soaked in 1 tbs broth
  • 1 large carrot, cut into match sticks
  • 1/4 cup dark raisins (we used California Raisins. That's what we had on hand)
  • 1/8 cup chopped pistachios, toasted in a dry frying pan
  • 1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds, toasted in a dry frying pan (we skipped the blanching)

Here's Olivia cutting the chicken (not her favorite job)...

She wanted to be sure that you know there's "strange gooey stuff on the poulty that looks like snot!"

Olivia seems to be fascinated with comparing food to bodily fluids, as witnessed by her recent post about Paneer Saag.


Place chicken piece, onions and hot water in a large pot. Cover and simmer for about 1 hour. Add salt to taste. Remove chicken, reserving stock and discard the cooked onions.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Heat 2 tbs of butter over medium high heat and fry chicken pieces, salting as needed.

Cook the rice, according to directions with sea salt, for exactly 8 minutes. Set aside in a pot until ready to assemble.

To make stock sauce: brown sliced onions in butter and remove from heat. Add cardamom, cumin, freshly ground black pepper and saffron liquid. Mash with onion to form a paste. (note: ours didn't get very "pasty"). Add about 1/2 pt of the reserved chicken stock; simmer for 5 minutes and taste for seasoning.

Combine cooked rice and chicken in a buttered casserole dish. Add stock sauce if it looks like it needs more moisture. Fry carrot matchsticks in 1/2 tbs butter and add raisins to them at the very end. Sprinkle partially cooked carrots and raisins on top of chicken and rice and cover dish tightly with aluminum foil. Place in over for 35 minutes.

Chopped toasted pistachios or slivered almonds may be added over the dish just before serving.

We served Naan as an accompaniment.

Note: There will probably be leftover stock. Use it for a soup base later in the week.


Chef Olivia -- It's really good! I like the spices. They aren't too spicy. I think a kid would really like this and probably want a 2nd helping. I did.

Jason -- I like it. The spices are interesting. I was surprised to hear there wasn't cinnamon in it because it tasted kind of cinnamony (is that a word?!?). I'd definitely eat it again.

Tanya -- I liked it too. Great flavor... agree on the hints of cinnamon. Where does that come from (saffron? cardamom? cumin?)? It was a bit dry. Probably should have added more of the broth. And the recipe uses more butter than I'd like. When we make it again we'll try cutting that down or perhaps substituting a cooking oil.

Hannah -- It was really good. I'm surprised I liked something from Afghanistan. (note: she didn't really eat much of it, but hey ... she tried!)

Miranda -- I'd like to give you a really long, descriptive review but I'm trying to finish up the stupid science project my teacher assigned and I have a group that doesn't do anything to contribute so I'm having to build an ukulele and write the lyrics for a song about the color spectrum and yes I procrastinated, but whatever; and I could say the dinner was good, but really I only ate the naan, which is my favorite part, and a little bit of chicken. But yeah, say I said it was good. (yes, that truly was said all in one long run-on sentence on just one breath).

For the record, here's a pic of Miranda and Jason making the ukulele...

And the finished product...

Talk about a multi-purpose room... our kitchen was a dinner-cooking, math-homework-doing, ukulele-building beehive of activity this afternoon.

What it wasn't was a perfectly orderly location to spread a table, known as a dastarkhan or sofrah in Afghanistan. Regardless of economic status, Afghan families place a high value on creating an adequate dastarkhan, especially for guests. A large cloth is spread over a traditional rug on the floor or a formal dining table. Each guest is presented with a basin of water to wash their hands. The table is then spread with breads, relishes, appetizers, salads, rices, fruits, and main dishes. It looks like this...

Now that's impressive!

Us?!? We huddled on the couch, watching American Idol. And Tanya may have even used a newly washed and folded (but not yet put away) washcloth as a napkin. Just sayin'...


  1. I am so excited to see all the recipes to follow this one! When I first read your lofty cooking goal, I thought the recipes would be too complicated for me. But now I see! They are user-friendly! And not to mention, humorous! I love the comment by Olivia about the gooey chicken and also Miranda's hilarious review! PS The ukulele looks great! My four year old takes ukulele lessons. She would totally approve of your model. Life is fun at your house!Thanks for sharing the fun with us!

  2. Hi Hands Free...

    Thanks for checking up on us! We agreed from the get-go that we'd try to do simpler recipes that don't require really exotic ingredients that are hard to get. I think the most exotic thing in this one was the saffron. We couldn't find it at Publix (where I've bought it before), but there's a great indian grocery store a few blocks from the GAlleria (called Spice World) and they had it.

    Here's the bad news -- Olivia got the stomach flu last night. I'm sure it wasn't the dinner b/c none of the rest of us are sick and she did come home from school yesterday saying she didn't "feel quite right". Poor baby was up all night puking.

    So our "fun house" has been a little less fun since 2 a.m. But the ukulele works (sorta!) ... so that's good.

    How'd your little one decide ukulele was her thing?

  3. Poor Olivia! Hope she is feeling better soon and the rest of you escape. I love her enthusiasm and Miranda's run-on sentence was LOL entertaining!! Really enjoy your blog!! Can't wait to see what Hannah comes up with next on the desert category ; ) Connie

  4. Connie,

    Thanks! Olivia missed two days of school, but was fully mended by Saturday. Thankfully, none of the rest of us got it!

    After much debate, Olivia's decided her country/food for this week's installment in the series. We're "traveling" to Belgium for Moules Marinieres and Frites (which is to say Mariner's Mussels and French Fries).




  5. Thanks a lot for this recipe. It turned out great.delicious dear...You have made this perfectly..Will surely give it a try..
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