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.

What Is the World Food Programme Doing in Afghanistan?

With an engaged government and population, strong international support, and an increasingly stable social and political climate, Afghanistan has the potential to make significant progress toward the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These are the 17 goals that were adopted by all UN member states in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

However, some SDGs are proving more challenging to address than others. These include SDG 2, which concerns Zero Hunger and improved nutrition. Despite recent advances, food insecurity is on the rise in Afghanistan. It has been exacerbated by the fact that more than half the country’s population lives below the poverty line.

Roughly 12.5 million people in Afghanistan have been identified as severely food insecure. Additionally, undernutrition is disproportionately affecting a number of groups including children, women, displaced people, and people with disabilities.

One of the many organizations working to improve food security in Afghanistan is the World Food Programme (WFP). Present in Afghanistan since 1963, WFP works across a broad range of focus areas to address hunger in Afghanistan and the underlying issues that contribute to it. Read on to learn more about the World Food Programme and its work and activities in Afghanistan.

What is the World Food Programme?

World Food Programme

WFP is the world’s leading humanitarian organization working to save and change lives through food assistance and nutrition improvement. It was established in 1961 at the behest of then-US president Dwight Eisenhower and enshrined as a fully-fledged UN programme in 1965.

WFP has a particular focus on emergency assistance, relief and rehabilitation efforts, development aid, and special operations. It distributes more than 15 billion food rations every year. In addition, it conducts two-thirds of its work in conflict-affected countries. The organization has an international staff of over 17,000 people and is funded entirely by voluntary donations.

To achieve its objectives, WFP works closely with its two sister organizations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. It also partners with over 1,000 local and international NGOs. WFP’s work in Afghanistan spans the following key focus areas:

Emergency response

Every year in Afghanistan, roughly 250,000 people are affected by natural disasters such as floods, droughts, landslides, and earthquakes. In some years, this figure is much higher. In 2018, for example, Afghanistan experienced its worst drought in over a decade, which affected some 3 million people around the country.

children in afghanistan
Image by United Nations Photo | Flickr

WFP helps to mitigate the impact of these disasters by providing unconditional, fortified, and nutritionally-balanced food assistance to those most in need. Similar food assistance is also provided to people displaced by conflict as well as refugees and people affected by food insecurity on a seasonal basis.

Resilience building

Resilient communities and populations have a stronger ability to reduce their risk of disasters and to mitigate the impact of any disasters that do occur. This is an important foundation for achieving food security. WFP helps Afghan communities build resilience by contributing to projects such as road and canal construction or rehabilitation, reforestation, the construction of flood protection walls, and vocational training.

Nutrition

Proper nutrition means different things for different groups of people, particularly babies and children. WFP works to address the critical problems of undernutrition and stunting in young Afghan children by providing nutritional support that is specially tailored for different ages, genders, and vulnerabilities.

In 2018, for example, WFP helped prevent or treat close to 500,000 cases of malnutrition in children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers. WFP also works closely with UNICEF and the World Health Organization to address the lifelong consequences that poor nutrition can have on developing children.

Food systems

A strong and robust national food system can help Afghanistan distribute food more efficiently and address the geographic imbalances that exacerbate food security. In cooperation with the government of Afghanistan and various commercial partners, WFP supports smallholder farmers, builds local milling and fortification capacity, and strengthens value chains and food safety measures around the country. This helps all Afghans access nutritious food at affordable prices.

cereals, grains

Advocacy for Zero Hunger

Efforts to address hunger and food insecurity happen on the ground with the people most affected. However, they also need to happen nationally at the policy level if significant progress is to be made.

WFP plays an important role in helping Afghan government officials and their partners to focus on Zero Hunger as a development priority, and to create and implement a coherent Zero Hunger policy that includes capacity strengthening, advocacy, public awareness, and research efforts. Local ownership and buy-in is furthered by the creation of Food Security and Nutrition committees at the province level.

Capacity strengthening

WFP is committed to efforts that enhance the ability of both the government of Afghanistan and the broader humanitarian and development community to effectively respond to the needs of affected populations. Specific actions in this focus area include providing assistance with things like information and communication technology, facilities and information management, and supply chain oversight and management.

5 Charities Seeking to Improve Lives in Afghanistan

Of the numerous charitable organizations working in Afghanistan, many are helping to support a broad range of large-scale initiatives and development goals. Other charities are taking a different approach. Rather than offering wide-ranging development support, these organizations are focusing their efforts on tackling and solving highly targeted problems: issues that may not seem as big or as impressive as reforming the educational system or improving access to health care, but which are still vital to a functional and prosperous Afghan society. Read on to learn about five international organizations that are helping Afghanistan to deal with very specific challenges:

1. Dutch Committee for Afghanistan Livestock Programs

Specific mission: Improving the health and production of Afghan livestock.

The livestock programs of the Dutch Committee for Afghanistan (DCA-VET) are intended to support the roughly 24 million Afghans who live in the countryside and depend on livestock and agriculture for their livelihood. Most rural families keep at least some livestock—cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys, and poultry are the most common animals—but local farmers are often prevented from making the most of their livestock due to rampant animal diseases, an insufficient knowledge of animal husbandry and nutrition, and a lack of good market opportunities for their livestock products. DCA helps farmers to overcome these issues by developing quality veterinary services throughout rural Afghanistan, offering comprehensive extension and outreach programs on animal health, and creating value chains for livestock product processing and trading.

Livestock

2. The HALO Trust

Specific mission: Landmine clearance and mine risk education.

Afghanistan is one of the most mined countries in the world. An estimated 640,000 land mines have been laid out in Afghanistan since 1979, and the country is littered with unexploded ordnance. As a result, the subsistence of rural communities is threatened in areas where there is a risk of landmine contamination because land cannot be safely used to grow crops or graze animals. In order to address this deadly issue, The HALO Trust has been working in Afghanistan since 1988 on landmine clearance and mine risk education programs. Over the course of the last 30 years, the organization, which employs 2,500 Afghans, has destroyed close to 700,000 emplaced and stockpiled mines, and has helped to clear almost 80% of recorded mine and unexploded ordnance land in Afghanistan.

3. Group for the Environment, Renewable Energy and Solidarity (GERES)

Specific mission: Disseminating energy-efficient techniques.

As a development NGO specializing in sustainable energy and environmental protection, GERES has been working internationally to improve community living conditions while preserving natural resources for more than four decades. In Afghanistan, GERES’ work focuses on facilitating the adoption of energy-efficient techniques in public buildings and income-generating agricultural activities. A large portion of Afghanistan’s population is affected by energy poverty. Only about 6% of Afghans have access to electricity, even intermittently. Consequently, schools are closed for much of the year due to a lack of heating, and hospitals are hampered in their operations by high energy costs. Introducing energy-efficient techniques to these institutions is therefore an important first step in helping them to make the most of the energy that they can access.

4. Terra Institute

Specific mission: Securing equitable access to land.

Based in the United States, Terra Institute is a nonprofit focused on issues related to land tenure, land administration and management, and land policy reform. Throughout its four decades of work all around the world, the organization has strived to help people improve their lives by empowering them to deal with land issues. Such issues are prevalent in Afghanistan, given its large rural population and heavy economic reliance on land-intensive activities such as agriculture and livestock. As part of its work in Afghanistan, Terra Institute has collaborated with a number of partners to design and pilot a community-based method for achieving community consensus around the legitimate users of rangeland and appropriately documenting them.

Sheep grazing

5. PARSA

Specific mission: Supporting Afghan community leaders.

PARSA believes that it takes dedicated and passionate Afghan community leaders to create a better Afghan society. This is why PARSA is still operating as a grassroots organization after working for more than 20 years in Afghanistan. Unlike many other development organizations, PARSA is directly engaged with the communities that it supports, and it takes cues from community leaders as to what interventions and resources will work best for each community. These inspired leaders then leverage PARSA’s support and guidance to implement programs that will spark positive change for their families and neighbors, and that can evolve organically over time as community needs change. Since PARSA itself receives support from a wide community of small donors, it is able to be highly creative and flexible in its program development without being hampered by the rigid limitations that are often attached to large-scale government and institutional funding.