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Afghan cuisine is a pure delight! It consists of various types of meats, dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables. The staple of the Afghan cuisine is undoubtedly rice, which is consumed at least once a day in form of various savory dishes. Among the other sources of carbohydrates in the Afghan diet are the dishes made from wheat, barley and maize. Meat is eaten very frequently and the preferred one is lamb from the country’s own production. Vegetarian dishes are also available, and so is an abundance of fruit and deserts. The national fruit of Afghanistan is anar, or pomegranate which is produced in great quantities in some Afghan regions.
The Afghan cuisine reflects on the cultural and ethnic diversity of its peoples and even the most well-known dishes can slightly vary based on the geographical and ethnic region of the country. Among the most common are the following savory dishes based on rice, meat and vegetables.
Rice dishes are prepared with white rice by cooking or baking. While meat and vegetables, as well as casseroles are added to the dish, it still takes the name of the kind of rice which it consists of. Among the most important rice dishes are challow and palaw, which occupy an important role both in the cuisine as well as the culture of Afghanistan. Significant amount of time is donated to their preparation.
For example, challow consists of white or brown rice which is, after parboiling, baked in the oven. The rice thus becomes fluffy. It is served mostly with stews. Bata is a dish which is similarly served with casseroles and stews, with the only difference being the way rice is prepared: instead of baking, it is cooked in water.
Palaw dishes are different from both challow and bata in the style of preparation – palaw dishes are made by cooking meat and spices together with rice in an oven. There are quite a few different types of palaw: for example, the national Afghan dish kabuli palaw is made by cooking lamb meat with rice while topping it with fried raisings, silvered carrots and pistachios. Another very popular palaw dish is nerenj palaw, which is made by adding spiced chicken, as well as pistachios, almonds, saffron and orange peel. Rice dish served with chicken and cherries is called alou balou palaw.
Meat dishes contain lamb or chicken meet, and they can be prepared either in a form of a stew or casserole, or grilled on skewers. The most commonly prepared casserole is a dish called qormeh, which is based on onions. After these are fried, meat with vegetables and spices are added to create a rich stew.
Qormeh dishes include qormeh lawand, which is prepared by adding yogurt, turmeric and cilantro to the caramelized onions before cooking veal chops in it. Casserole of lamb and spinach is very popular as well, while another famous qormeh dish called qormeh shalgham features lamb meat over turnips, and it has a sweet and sour taste.
Kebab with naan is a dish made prepared by grilling meat on skewers and served with bread. The meat can be lamb chops, ground beef, chicken or ribs. Kebab is served after sprinkled by sumac and dried sour grapes for adding sour taste.
Another type of a meat dish which is prepared in the form of dumplings, is called khameerbob. There are several versions of this dish – dumplings filled with ground beef and onion are called manto, while those filled with chives and topped with sautéed tomatoes are called ashak. Khameerbob are often served at important life events such as marriage ceremonies. For those visitors who want to try something more exotic, there are the deep-fried bird heads called kalah gunjeshk, served either as a stew or in a form of a rich soup.
While meat is an important part of Afghan cuisine, there are plenty of other delicious dishes which are vegetarian. Among these are mash palaw, sweet and sour rice dished with beans, bulgur and apricots or qorme sabzi, a rich stew made of spinach, parsley, coriander and onions. Yet another vegetarian option is dolma, grape leaves stuffed with tomatoes, zucchini and garlic.
Afghans also prepare dishes with badenjan or eggplant, which can be cooked with potatoes and tomatoes and served as a side dish. Other side dishes are also vegetarian in nature, for example tomato and carrot salad, seasoned with cilantro, which is simply known as simply as Afghan salad. Yet another side dish as known as bonjan salad, and it consists of smoked eggplant.
Afghan cuisine has also a large variety of soups on offer: classical soup in called shorba, a hearty chicken stock seasoned with cardamom and served with pieces of lamb or chicken meat. Very thick and nutritious is the maushawa soup with beans and meat balls. Other soups noodles, just like aush sarka. All the meals are served with naan, bread baked in a clay over or cooked on a flat pan. Another thing that is never missing on a table with an Afghan meal is torshi – picked vegetables, mostly carrots and eggplants.
Fresh bread is an important part of any meal in Afghanistan. Naan Afghani, as it is called, is prepared with flour and water, sprinkled with poppy seeds, cumin and caraway. It’s baked in tandoor oven for several seconds. Besides naan, there are other types of pastry eaten in Afghanistan, such as bolani, a flat bread fill with potatoes, lentils, pumpkin or leeks. It is eaten as an appetizer or side dish, often at important occasions. It can be served with yogurt.
Desserts in Afghanistan are even more colorful and varied than the main dishes. Deep-fried khoujoor is a doughnut-like pastry while kulcha is the name of different cookie-like baked pastry. Goshe feel is fried pastry with grounded pistachios while another very popular dessert is a pudding from milk and cornstarch called feereny. In the winter, Afghans prefer hot pudding dessert called sheer khurma which contains raisins and dates. The dishes made with bata rice are sometimes the sweet ones, for example shir berenj which consists of rice and milk.