9 of the Best Afghan Dishes

With its delicate flavor combinations, bold colors, and Persian, Chinese, Indian, and Mediterranean influences, Afghan cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. Read on to learn more about some of Afghanistan’s most celebrated dishes.

1. Ashak

Ashak is a type of dumpling stuffed with leeks and served with a meat, yogurt, or garlic-mint sauce. However, each region, and often family, has its own variation of the dish, leading to a huge variety of types.

Typically served for family gatherings and holidays or on a Friday to mark the end of the week, ashak is regarded as a celebratory dish.

ashak
Image by jypsygen | Flickr

2. Jalebi

This sweet snack, popular throughout South Asia and the Middle East, is made from a batter of maida flour, which is fashioned in circular or pretzel shapes before being deep-fried and then soaked in sugar syrup.

Jalebi has a chewy consistency, with a crystallized sugar coating. Lime juice, citric acid, or rosewater are sometimes added for flavor.

3. Shorwa

This hearty dish translates from Persian to English simply as “soup.” A humble, slow-cooked dish, shorwa is perfect for a winter’s night. Its main ingredients are potatoes, beans, and meat, such as lamb, chicken, or beef.

Shorwa is a traditional dish that is eaten throughout Afghanistan. It is often flavored with tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and turmeric, and it is usually served with bread.

Shorwa
Image by Jeff Kubina | Flickr

4. Qabili palau

A great deal of thought and effort goes into Afghanistan’s national dish, qabili palau. Its origins lie in the upper echelons of Kabul society, since it was accessible only to those families that could afford nuts, raisins, and carrots to flavor their rice. Over time, more people in Afghanistan became wealthier, and the dish became mainstream.

Known as the crown of Afghan cuisine, qabili palau is a meat and rice dish made with lamb, chicken, or beef. Chefs flavor the dish with a fusion of spices, including cinnamon, cloves, cumin, cardamom, and turmeric.

The word qabili comes from the Dari word qabil, meaning “well accomplished.” The inference is that only a skilled chef can make a good qabili palau, as one must carefully balance the ingredients to create the perfect blend of delicate flavors.

5. Bolani

Bolani is an Afghan flatbread stuffed with a vegetable filling, then baked or fried.

Bolani can incorporate a variety of fillings, including potatoes, pumpkin, lentils, and leeks. Accompaniments include plain or mint-flavored yogurt.

Bolani is popular on special occasions in Afghanistan, and it is commonly served in kebab restaurants throughout America today.

6. Mantu

Mantu is a type of meat dumpling that is incredibly popular in Afghanistan. It is usually made with lamb or beef and cooked in a multilayer steamer.

Afghans cook mantu on special occasions, but it is also sold by vendors in busy streets and markets. It can be an accompaniment or a main meal.

The dish dates back to the Mongols of Central Asia. Historians believe Mongol horsemen carried frozen mantu with them as they traveled during the cold winters, boiling them over campfires to eat for supper.

Mantu
Image by Lance Nishihira | Flickr

7. Qormah          

An onion- and tomato-based casserole or stew, qormah is often the main dish at gatherings.

To prepare the dish, first the onions are fried, and tomatoes are added later. Depending on the recipe, a variety of vegetables, fruits, and spices may be included, followed by the main ingredient, usually meat. It is usually served with chalau rice.

There are more than 100 variations of qormah, including Qormah e Sabzi, featuring lamb, spinach, and greens; Qormah e Alou-Bokhara wa Dalnakhod, which includes veal or chicken, onions, sour plums, lentils, and cardamom; and Qormah e Shalgham, featuring lamb, onions, turnip, and sugar.

8. Sheer khurma

Sheer khurma is a rich vermicelli pudding made from milk, dates, nuts, and sugar. The literal translation into English is “milk with dates.” It is popular during the Islamic festival of Eid across Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent.

Made with whole milk, the dessert dish is rich and creamy. It comprises a variety of dried nuts and fruits, including dates, raisins, almonds, cashews, and pistachios.

Sheer Khurma is delicately flavored with cardamom and rosewater. It can be enjoyed either hot or cold. Khoya, or dried milk solids, is optional but recommended, as it gives the dish a richer flavor.

9. Kofta

Kofta is a type of meatball that is popular in Afghanistan. It is also served across the Indian subcontinent, and forms an important part of Middle Eastern, Balkan, South Caucasian, and Central Asian cuisines.

Afghan koftas are usually made from beef or lamb, as well as onion, seasoning, and delicate spices. It is a versatile dish that is often adapted to incorporate regional ingredients and suit seasonal constraints. The dish has a rich history across the Middle East and Persia, where it is regarded as the ultimate comfort food.

5 Fascinating Facts about Afghanistan’s Official Languages

Did you know that Afghanistan has not one but two official languages? After coexisting on an informal basis for centuries, both Pashto and Dari (the Afghan term for the language which is also known as Farsi or Persian) were recognized in Afghanistan’s 2004 constitution as the two official languages of the state.

Read on for a look at some fascinating facts about the history, usage, and relationship between these two different but equally important tongues.

The proportional balance between Dari and Pashto speakers is fairly close.

According to recent estimates, roughly 50 percent of all Afghans speak some version of Dari, while over 40 percent speak Pashto.

Dari—the first language of ethnic groups such as the Tajiks, Hazaras, and Aimaqs—is generally viewed as the lingua franca in Afghanistan and has long been used for business and government transactions. Pashto, on the other hand, is the first language of the Pashtuns, who comprise Afghanistan’s largest ethnic minority. It’s also interesting to note that bilingualism and multilingualism are fairly common across the country. For example, many Pashtuns in urban areas also speak Dari, while Dari-speaking Afghans with higher levels of education often have a good command of Pashto as well.

Dari and Pashto are both written using the Arabic alphabet.

Although Arabic is linguistically quite different from Afghanistan’s official languages, it is the Arabic alphabet that is primarily used for both Dari and Pashto, with a few modifications. For example, the modern Dari alphabet includes three extra characters that represent sounds that do not occur in traditional Arabic. Pashto goes even further, using all the Arabic letters, the additional Dari letters, and a number of other special Pashto letters for sounds that are not found in either of the other two languages (in total, the Pashto alphabet has 44 letters, while standard Arabic has 28).

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Not everyone is in favor of the term Dari.

Although Dari is the official Afghan word for the Persian language, not everyone agrees on using it. Some Persian-speaking Afghans object to the use of the word on the grounds that it makes the language seem like a separate dialect (that is, the Afghan dialect of Farsi), when in fact, Farsi and Dari are simply two different words for the same language. (This is certainly not to say that there are not distinct accents and variations when it comes to vocabulary and usage, as indeed there are throughout the country, only that these are not enough to constitute a completely different dialect.)

Other Persian speakers believe that calling their language Dari makes them feel too separated from the cultural, linguistic, and historical ties that they share with the rest of the Persian-speaking world, including countries such as Iran and Tajikistan. As a compromise, some linguistic activists in Afghanistan refer to the Persian language as Farsi-Dari.

Some of Afghanistan’s best-known poetry is written in Dari.

Over the course of the last two millennia, during which a series of Persian dynasties spread Farsi throughout significant areas of Central Asia, the language developed a deep, rich, textual presence. Today, scholars can draw on a wealth of historical Persian volumes on philosophy, science, and statecraft to trace the evolution of the Persian language over the course of centuries. Part of this extensive literature includes many works of poetry, including those by Afghanistan’s best-known and most beloved poet Rumi.

A 13th-century poet and theologian, Rumi was known for mixing sensual and religious themes and imagery together in his work. His most famous work, known as the Mathanvi or the Masnavi, is a six-book spiritual epic that attempts to teach Sufi Muslims how to become one with God. Originally written in Dari, Rumi’s poetry has been translated into many different languages and is widely read all over the world.

Unlike Dari, Pashto was a primarily spoken language.

Although the last few centuries have seen an important expansion in the body of writing and literature in Pashto, this language, in contrast to Dari, was long a primarily spoken language. (This is partly to do with the relatively restricted location of Pashto speakers, who have been largely isolated in the mountains of the Hindu Kush.)

As a result, the richness of the Pashto oral tradition is remarkable. For example, in addition to long-form oral poetry and stories, a special genre of short Pashto folk poems called landays has developed. Composed by women and typically sung aloud to the beat of a drum, these poems describe the everyday trials, tribulations, and joys of life for Afghan women. Today, alongside this oral tradition, Pashto writing and literature are more widely recognized due in part to the acclaim given to poets such as Khushal Khan Khattak, a 17th-century warrior and poet whose works touch on subjects such as unity, honor, war, and love.

Everything You Need to Know About Kids 4 Afghan Kids

Improving the education sector and expanding opportunities for young children in Afghanistan is the primary concern of numerous nonprofit organizations around the world. These include the Bayat Foundation, Sahar Education, Afghan Institute of Learning, Creating Hope International, and Development and Relief of Medical for Afghan Nation.

One organization working to address educational needs in the country is Kids 4 Afghan Kids. Based in the United States, the nonprofit is supported by American students, among other charitable partners, and also works to enhance cultural understanding between students in the two countries.

It was created by an American teacher and her sixth-grade class.

Kids 4 Afghan Kids was founded in 1998 by a group of Grade 6 students in Northville, Michigan. Along with the support of their teacher Khris Nedham, they wanted to provide humanitarian assistance to kids in Afghanistan who lacked the resources they had.

Targeting the Wonkhai Valley, a rural mountainous region southwest of Kabul, students raised $100,000 in three years to support the construction of a six-room school, medical clinic, guest house, bakery, and a community well. The school opened with six teachers and 465 students from Grade 1 to 6 and now has nearly 1,200 students and 16 teachers.

Students at the Northville school continue to raise money for the development of schools and other resources in the Wonkhai Valley. They achieve this via bake sales, silent auctions, and selling bracelets and Afghan products at craft fairs and other events like the Alternate Christmas Fair and Northville Victorian Festival.

Kids 4 Afghan Kids was recently added to Global Giving’s list of permanent organizations. Nedham, who still serves as its US director, earned a Citizen Diplomacy award in 2007 and addressed the Sarasota World Affairs Council in 2014.

It has helped build four schools in Afghanistan.

Since the completion of its first school in March 2001, Kids 4 Afghan Kids has raised money to support the build of an additional three schools. The first school had six classrooms. Kids 4 Afghan Kids has since built high schools. Its next goal is to build a community college for graduating students; 165 students graduated from its schools in 2014 alone.

It has supported clinic and orphanage construction.

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During the construction of the first school in Afghanistan, Kids 4 Afghan Kids thought a lot about health care and the importance of maintaining a healthy student body. They wanted all students to be able to make the most of this new educational opportunity. The nonprofit raised money to construct a clinic across the street from the school with the purpose of providing maternity care and vaccinations for polio and MMR.

Staffed by a physician, nurse, pharmacist, nurse-midwife, and registration clerk, the clinic saw more than 200 patients per day upon opening and vaccinated roughly 98 percent of children in Wonkhai Valley. Students at the Northville school have also regularly donated eyeglasses to be used by Afghan students.

In 2002, Kids 4 Afghan Kids took notice of a significant need for an orphanage in the area. At the time, more than 30 boys were living at the school. These boys, with the help of adults in the village, dug out space for the basement of an orphanage.

During this time, students at the Northville school agreed to raise money to support the construction of the building. The orphanage now provides shelter to approximately 50 boys.

It works with a variety of partner organizations.

Since Kids 4 Afghan Kids was launched in 1998, its fund-raising avenues have expanded to include Global Giving and AmazonSmile. AmazonSmile donates 0.5 percent of the purchase price on eligible products to the nonprofit of the user’s choice.

It is considered one of the most reliable humanitarian organizations.

Following the construction of its first school, Kids 4 Afghan Kids earned recognition as one of the Center for International Disaster Information’s most reliable humanitarian organizations. Education is a valuable and in-demand resource among children in remote regions in Afghanistan. As a result, constructing schools is significantly less problematic than other charitable acts.

“For 15 years I have been answering inquiries from schools regarding how they can best respond to international emergencies,” noted CIDI Director Suzanne H. Brooks. “There have been canned food drives, used clothing or toy collections and other activities which, while they are well intended, are often problematic for the relief agencies in terms of transportation, warehousing and distribution and inappropriate or potentially harmful for disaster victims in terms of cultural, religious, and dietary needs.”