What You Need to Prepare Afghan Food at Home

While Afghanistan’s rich and flavorful cuisine is gradually becoming better known outside the country’s borders, it may still be some time before everyone is fortunate enough to have a delicious Afghan restaurant right around the corner from their home. However, if you’re a gourmand who doesn’t want to wait, don’t worry: many of Afghanistan’s tastiest dishes can be made at home with just a few extra additions to your regular shopping list. Read on for an overview of everything you’ll need to try your hand at making Afghan food at home.

  1. Herbs, spices, and flavorings

mintThe complex flavors of Afghan cuisine come from the liberal use of herbs, spices, and flavorings. These seasonings are often used in dishes that need to be cooked for long periods of time, allowing the flavors to blend and deepen. Some of the most important seasonings to have in your pantry include:

  • Cardamom—A relative of the ginger family, cardamom is available in green, brown, or black pods. Cardamom adds a distinctive flavor to rice and curries. If you don’t have a way to grind spices yourself at home, you can also find ground cardamom in the spice section of your grocery store.
  • Turmeric—Another member of the ginger family, turmeric is characterized by its deep, rich yellow color. Turmeric brings an earthy, peppery flavor to curry-style dishes.
  • Mint—One of the most popular herbs in Afghan cooking, dried mint is often added during cooking or sprinkled over the top of finished dishes as a garnish.
  • Rosewater—Distilled from rose petals, rosewater is commonly used to flavor many Middle Eastern dishes, especially desserts.

Other important herbs and spices that you probably already have on hand include cumin, cinnamon, pepper, ginger, and chilies.

  1. Pantry staples

  • Rice—The centerpiece of almost every Afghan meal is rice. Afghan cooks are very particular about the type of rice that should be used depending on the dish being prepared. Fragrant and delicately flavored basmati rice, which is probably the least processed variety you can find, is an absolute must-have for your pantry. If you have the space, you’ll also want an additional long-grain variety, as well as a short-grain type.
  • Legumes—Dried legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, and split peas are a very popular and versatile ingredient in Afghan cooking. They are often used to “fill out” meat dishes, as they are less expensive than fresh meat. In addition, they can be served fried and salted, as well as coated with sugar as a sweet accompaniment for tea.
  • Ghee—One of the most commonly used cooking fats in Afghan cuisine is ghee, or clarified butter. You can buy commercial ghee or you can make it yourself by simply melting a pound of unsalted butter over low heat in a saucepan and skimming away the milk solids as they separate. To ensure the ghee is as clear as possible, strain it through a cheesecloth before storing in a clean jar.
  • Besan—Also known as “gram flour,” it is made from ground chana dal, a type of small chickpea. It is often used to make traditional Afghan bread.
  1. Fresh ingredients

  • onionOnions—Some form of onion can be found in just about every savory Afghan dish. Most dishes rely on a cooked onion mixture known as piaz e surkh kada, in which onions are finely minced and then cooked in plenty of oil until they are a deep golden brown color. Some Afghan cooks make up big batches of piaz e surkh kada in advance so it’s ready to use whenever the cook needs it. Many recipes also call for leeks, scallions, or a type of onion called “gandana” that looks similar to a leek and can be found in specialty markets.
  • Yogurt—Afghan cuisine makes extensive use of thick, natural-style yogurt as a thickener for curries and stews, as a base for sauces and dips, and even as a drink. Plain-flavored Greek-style yogurt is a handy option to keep in your fridge.
  • Cilantro—Fresh cilantro—or coriander, as it’s also known—is used extensively in Afghan cooking, not only in cooked dishes, but also as a garnish or as a kind of chutney. It’s often referred to as “Afghan parsley”.
  1. Equipment

  • Sutak—Since rice is such an essential part of Afghan cuisine, it’s important to ensure that it’s properly cooked. A sutak is a thick cotton cover that’s placed either over a pot of just-cooked rice or between the pot and the lid during cooking. This helps to absorb excess steam and prevents the rice from sticking together or becoming gluey. One thick folded tea towel will work well as a substitute.
  • Seekh—Kebabs, a beloved Afghan dish often made with chunks of lamb, are cooked over a charcoal grill using seekhs—long flat skewers made of stainless steel.

 

How IFAD Is Helping Boost Agriculture in Afghanistan

In the 1970s, a series of food crises focused global attention and concern on the rapidly growing problems of food insecurity and famine. In response to these challenges, the first World Food Conference was held in 1974. One of the major outcomes of the conference was the establishment of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialized United Nations agency, in 1977. Since that time, IFAD has been deeply involved in financing agricultural and food production development projects worldwide, with the goal of ultimately eradicating rural poverty in developing countries.

Although Afghanistan was one of the first countries to join IFAD, development programs that were originally approved for the country in 1979 were not able to be implemented for many years due to conflict and instability in the region. Recently, however, IFAD has been able to support a number of both small- and large-scale efforts to reduce poverty and boost agricultural development in Afghanistan.

Community Livestock and Agriculture Project

Launched in selected districts of three Afghan provinces—Kabul, Parwan, and Logar—the goal of this project was to help close to 170,000 rural households increase their agricultural and livestock productivity, and consequently improve their food security. Targeting small-scale farmers and livestock-keepers, the project aimed to provide support to some of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable populations, including landless households and resettled and nomadic Kuchi people.

Three mutually reinforcing components formed the basis of this project. The first element was community development, focusing on improving infrastructure and helping local organizations and institutions build internal capacity. The second element was livestock and agriculture development, with a strong emphasis on providing marginalized communities and families with critical skills and knowledge to make the most of their assets. This element also aimed to strengthen weak areas of the value chain and reinforce smallholders’ market connections. Finally, project management and policy support made up the third project element, notably in the form of a young professionals program designed to attract and motivate qualified young staff to support the project.

Rural Microfinance and Livestock Support Program

Launched in Afghanistan’s relatively secure and stable northern region in 2009, the Rural Microfinance and Livestock Support program aimed to improve the livelihoods of smallholders and livestock owners living in poverty. Working in partnership with the government of Afghanistan and the Microfinance Investment Support Facility for Afghanistan (MISFA), IFAD initiated this program to address the dual objectives of meeting demand for rural finance and improving the livestock sector.

shepherd

On the finance side, the program aimed to help consolidate recent gains made by the microfinance sector and to connect hundreds of thousands of Afghans with their first opportunity to access credit. Through specific measures like the development of a broader range of financial products and services designed to meet the unique needs of smallholders, or the reduction of lending costs in order to combat high interest rates, the program worked to ensure that even the poorest rural people could have access to microfinance services. Some of the program’s particular innovations included creating public-private partnership models for the delivery of livestock extension and veterinary services, and implementing measures to ensure that even landless people, such as the nomadic Kuchis, could access dairy development initiatives.

The livestock improvement side of the program sought to address the sharp decrease in the number of livestock that had resulted from drought and disrupted grazing routes. With small poultry flocks on the brink of disappearance, poor families having lost their few cattle, and conflicts arising over users’ rights and overgrazed rangeland, the agro-livestock owners and nomadic and semi-nomadic people that relied on the livestock sector as their major source of cash income were at risk of losing their livelihoods altogether. The IFAD program aimed to boost the livestock sector and generate greater income for poor rural households by supporting a number of initiatives, including small-scale dairy activities like milk and fodder production; better livestock nutrition and health services in northern Afghanistan; and activities focused on backyard poultry raising and dairy goat raising.

Other Partnerships and Opportunities

As a relative newcomer to Afghanistan’s development landscape, IFAD is working to establish critical dialogue and alliances with many other organizations on the ground, including government agencies, international donors, research institutions, and NGOs.

In particular, IFAD is aiming to enhance its presence and the scope of its activities in Afghanistan by forming country-level collaborations with the World Bank, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Food Programme. IFAD also liaises with the Asian Development Bank to examine opportunities for co-financing and parallel financing arrangements, and connects with bilateral donors to learn from and build on their experiences of working in Afghanistan. Other organizations that have been instrumental in helping IFAD launch its projects include the Aga Khan Foundation, the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, and Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC).

10 Things to Know about Skateistan on Its 10th Birthday

It’s been 10 years since Skateistan, the award-winning international charitable organization that empowers young people through a surprising combination of skateboarding and education, was first launched in Kabul. In celebration of this milestone birthday, here are 10 things to know about this unique non-profit.

  1. Its founder didn’t set out to establish a charity.

skateistan

Image by we_free | Flickr

When Skateistan’s founder, Australian skateboarder Oliver Percovich, came to Kabul in early 2007, he wasn’t specifically interested in charitable or humanitarian work. His main objectives at the time were to stay connected with his then-girlfriend, who had a job in Kabul, and to continue his own work as a research scientist. But as soon as he started taking to the city’s streets on the skateboards he had brought with him, Percovich saw the great potential that skateboarding could have to build confidence and connections among Afghanistan’s large youth population. At the time, nearly half of Afghanistan’s entire population was under the age of 15.

  1. The first Skateistan sessions were very informal.

For the first year or two of Skateistan’s existence, its “programming” mainly consisted of Percovich holding informal skateboard sessions with street kids in Kabul. This early version of Skateistan had a basic website, and relied on a few small overseas donations to support its efforts. It was during these early days that Percovich realized how much the children would benefit from better access to education. Skateistan’s mission of connecting young people with educational opportunities via skateboarding was thus born.

  1. Skateistan has developed its own “Theory of Change.”

The connection that Percovich saw between skateboarding and education was later developed into Skateistan’s formal “Theory of Change,” an operating philosophy that was created over the course of one year using collaborative input from stakeholders, students, and staff. In essence, the theory is that if Skateistan provides fun, quality programs and safe places to experience them, then youth will be motivated to attend regularly and will consequently make new friends and take on leadership roles. As a result, they will have a stronger social support system, more life skills, and a greater level of engagement with the society around them. This theory is echoed in Skateistan’s slogan: “Youth come for skateboarding and stay for education.”

  1. One of skateboarding’s main benefits is that it is free of stigma.

One of the main reasons why skateboarding has proved so successful among Afghan youth is that, because it was virtually unknown as a sport until recently, it didn’t carry the stigma that often surrounds participation in other activities. In Afghanistan, there are often societal pressures around who can participate in sports such as football or bike riding, but because those don’t exist for skateboarding, the sport is widely accessible to all youth.

  1. Skateistan operates three different programs.

At present, Skateistan’s activities are centered on three main programs. “Skate and Create” combines an hour each of skateboarding instruction and education in the arts. “Back to School” is an accelerated learning program for youth not currently in school; in this program, kids attend daily educational tutoring sessions on national curriculum subjects, and are enrolled in a public school after completing the program. Finally, “Youth Leadership” is a way for promising Skateistan students to take their involvement to the next level. As Youth Leaders, students assist Skateistan educators, plan local events, and build their skill sets through taking ownership and responsibility.

  1. Skateistan’s facilities are an important part of its work.

Not only does Skateistan offer the programs described above, the organization has also been instrumental in bringing new skateboarding and educational infrastructure to Afghanistan. In Kabul, a skatepark with classrooms attached was built with the support of international donors and the Afghanistan Olympic Committee. Later, a facility three times that size was constructed in the northern Afghanistan city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

  1. Youth with disabilities are big participants in Skateistan.

Skateistan is committed to supporting underserved youth with its programming, and children with disabilities are a main focus group for the organization. A great advantage of skateboarding is that it can be practiced in some form or other by almost everyone, regardless of ability level, making it an ideal activity for youth with different physical capabilities.

  1. Skateboard art has played a big role in supporting Skateistan.

To provide financial support for Skateistan’s activities, Charles-Antoine Bodson (of the social enterprise The Skateroom) came up with the idea of creating and selling skateboard art. To date, some of the biggest names in street and contemporary art have participated, including the Belgian street artist ROA and Los Angeles-based Paul McCarthy.

  1. Skateistan now operates beyond Afghanistan.

In addition to facilities in Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif, Skateistan also offers programs and operates facilities in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville in Cambodia, and Johannesburg in South Africa.

  1. Thousands of youth have been supported by Skateistan.

More than 1,600 youth between ages 5 to 17 are attending one of Skateistan’s global programs.

What You Need to Know about Babur’s Gardens in the Heart of Kabul

Although Central Kabul may not be the first place where you would expect to see hundreds of springtime roses in bloom, that’s exactly what you’ll find at Bagh-e Babur, also known as Babur’s Gardens. The largest public green space in Kabul—with a history that stretches back more than five centuries—Babur’s Gardens are not only a beautiful and peaceful oasis, but one of the finest living examples of Afghanistan’s commitment to renewing and restoring its cultural heritage. Read on to learn more about this beloved Kabul landmark.

History

Babur History

Image courtesy Wikipedia

Babur, the founder of the eponymous gardens, was born in 1483. A descendent of Genghis Khan and the nomadic leader and conqueror Tamerlaine, Babur became the first Mughal emperor and the head of a dynasty that ruled much of South Asia for two centuries. The Mughal empire consolidated Islam and advanced the reach of Persian arts and culture in the region.

In 1504, Babur captured Kabul, which served as his capital for two decades. An avid gardener and nature enthusiast with a passion for flowers and landscape, Babur was personally involved in the design and creation of at least 10 gardens in the city during his time there. The site now known as Bagh-e Babur—one of the oldest surviving Mughal gardens—was previously the location of a monumental building dating back to the third century BC.

Babur died in 1530 in the Indian city of Agra. Prior to his death, he expressed a wish to be buried in Kabul. Around 1544, his widow finally transferred his body to that city, where he was interred in Babur’s Gardens. Historians and archaeologists speculate that the presence of remains of older tombs in the building on which these gardens were constructed may have inspired Babur’s decision to be buried there rather than at one of his many other gardens. As the home of Babur’s tomb, Bagh-e Babur became a symbolic and venerated site during the reign of the Mughals.

Spaces for physical and spiritual refreshment

Gardens hold a special place in Islamic culture. Echoing the ancient concept of paradise as a garden, Islamic gardens are designed as spaces for physical and spiritual refreshment. Key elements of such gardens include flowing water, shade, lush foliage, and perimeter walls. In addition, Islamic gardens follow specific principles in layout, design, and function.

Like other Islamic gardens, the 11-hectare Bagh-e Babur was originally laid out in the charbagh—or “four garden”—pattern: a classical arrangement that divides the enclosed space of the garden into clearly defined quarters through a series of rising terraces intersected by a central watercourse. The prominent central axis of the garden provided a multi-directional vista, and the trees, herbs, and flowers were all carefully chosen.

Decline and restoration

Gardens of Babur

Image by Wikipedia

After the Mughal dynasty lost control of Kabul, Babur’s Gardens fell into disrepair. Repeated alterations were carried out on the site. One of the largest and most disruptive building programs was implemented by Amir Abdur Rahman in the late 19th century. His structural interventions, which included new buildings and landscaping, significantly changed the visual concept and feel of the garden. However, the alterations did not last long, as King Nadir Shah removed the structures in the early 1930s. During this period, the gardens were open to the public complete with European-style teahouses and restaurants. It was this version of the gardens—which sustained heavy damage as a result of looting and vandalism during the long years of civil conflict—that was preserved until the early 2000s.

In 2002, with the support of the Aga Khan Development Network, a comprehensive restoration of Babur’s Gardens was launched. Over the next five years, the majority of the physical work was completed. Improvements included re-establishing the character of the water channels, planted terraces, and pavilions; creating a swimming pool and caravanserai complex; and replanting local species of trees and plants favored by the reigning Mughals when the garden was first built. The plants ranged from roses and pistachios to the distinctive purple-flowered Judas trees.

The future of the gardens

Today, Babur’s Gardens provide a safe, secure, and peaceful urban green space for Kabul’s residents. Since it reopened to visitors in 2008, Babur’s Gardens have attracted more than 3 million visitors who come to enjoy the gardens and the ticketed events and performances that take place there, such as festivals of Pashtun dancing and even Shakespeare performances. At present, the gardens are managed by the Bagh-e Babur Trust with participation from Afghanistan’s Ministry of Information and Culture, the Kabul Municipality, and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. The idea is that the revenue from admissions to Babur’s Gardens will help the Bagh-e Babur Trust to achieve long-term financial stability and maintain the garden’s landscaping and monuments.

A Look at the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University

The home of one of the world’s largest collections of material on Afghan history and society, the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University (ACKU) is dedicated to the process of helping to rebuild Afghanistan through the sharing of information and ideas. Read on to learn more about the amazing story of ACKU.

What is ACKU?

ACKU is an active, working archive comprised of over 100,000 items—including books, newspapers, magazines, CDs, posters, and films—on Afghanistan’s history and culture. Nearly half of this extensive collection is in two of the country’s main languages, Dari and Pashto. The rest are in English and other European languages. The archive is used by local and international students, journalists, development planners, researchers, and policy makers.

What is ACKU’s mission?

The broad mission of ACKU is to provide a place and platform where information and ideas about Afghanistan can be shared with Afghans and the wider world. Through research, educational initiatives, and public programs, ACKU aims to ensure access to critical knowledge and resources that can help to rebuild and enrich the social, political, economic, and cultural fabric of Afghanistan.

How did ACKU start?

Originally a semi-independent affiliate of the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR), the early version of ACKU was created in 1989 to serve as a central depository of information on Afghanistan with the goal of facilitating the coordination of humanitarian aid to Afghan refugees. Located outside the country for many years due to civil conflict, the center was brought home to Afghanistan in 2005, when it was transferred to the main library of Kabul University and renamed ACKU. In 2006, Kabul University allocated space for ACKU to build a new facility, and in 2013, the current ACKU premises were inaugurated. Today, the permanent home of ACKU consists of the archived collection, a reading room, a lecture hall, gallery space, and administrative space for ACKU’s mobile library outreach program, all centered around a main courtyard as a reflection of traditional Afghan architectural sensibilities.

ACKU was founded by two internationally recognized experts on Afghan history, art, and archaeology: Nancy Hatch Dupree and her husband, professor Louis Dupree. Having arrived in Kabul in 1962, Louis Dupree and his wife travelled extensively throughout Afghanistan conducting archaeological excavations and studying the country’s culture and society. Over the course of the next 50 years, Ms. Dupree would become one of the world’s premier authorities on Afghanistan’s cultural and artistic heritage. She has written five guidebooks about Afghanistan, as well as more than 1,000 articles, reviews, and book chapters on a wide variety of Afghan subjects.

Determined to help the people of Afghanistan preserve their vital cultural legacy, Ms. Dupree was the force behind the founding of ACBAR, the early iteration of ACKU, which she directed with her husband. In 2006, she took on the role of director of the renamed ACKU, where she served until 2011. The Louis and Nancy Hatch Dupree Foundation was established in 2007 to help ensure the long-term sustainability of ACKU and to support other awareness-building initiatives surrounding Afghan heritage and culture.

What’s going on at ACKU?

Currently, activities at ACKU include:

  • Acquisitions—One of ACKU’s most important activities is to continue to find, collect, and catalogue relevant documents and information. At present, many contemporary items come from sources such as the NGO community, government departments, the UN agency system, and private individuals. ACKU’s acquisitions officer is responsible for ensuring that pertinent material is gathered and housed appropriately in the center’s archives.
  • Digitization—Like other libraries around the world, ACKU is working to digitize its collection of physical documents in order to preserve data and expand its distribution reach. To date, over 12,000 titles—or more than 1 million pages of text and images—have been converted to PDF format and preserved on CD ROMs and DVDs.
  • Library training—A key part of ACKU’s mission is to help strengthen libraries and similar institutions throughout Kabul and across Afghanistan. Providing training programs for librarians without any formal professional education in the field is one strategy that ACKU is using to accomplish this mission. Two training programs have been conducted so far, for librarians with the support of the American Embassy and the Canadian Program Support Unit. Participants in the training sessions, which covered 72 hours of instruction, were introduced to a variety of subjects, including general library science, cataloguing, acquisitions, analytic cataloguing, and reference.
  • Research capacity building—With the goal of building analytical and research capacity in Afghanistan—and combatting the “brain drain” that the country experienced during its conflict years—ACKU is helping students and teachers alike to learn how to learn. The center offers induction courses for post-secondary students and faculty on the fundamentals of academic research, including the use of Internet search engines and databases. Concepts such as topic selection, plagiarism and ethics, and formatting and citations are also covered.