Earlier this week I made an Afghani inspired chicken pulao dish that was a delicious hit. Truth be told, before we moved to Washington DC in 2007, I had never eaten Afghani food. I had never met a person from Afghanistan. Like many people our only connection to the country was the on-going war.
I have a brother in law who was stationed there several times and friends of course but that was as close as it got. My first brush with Islam, was through the sordid tales emerging from Taliban Afghanistan (not a pretty picture).
Then in Washington DC we found there was a halal kebab shop around the corner from our apartment. Naturally we checked it out and were surprised to find out the owners were from Afghanistan. I can remember meeting the wife of the owner and having this realization that all I knew was so wrong.
We ate at the restaurant regularly. I feel in love with the soft tandoori breads, spicy chickpeas, and savory meat buried in flavorful rice. We drank pots full of tea and enjoyed Indian films dubbed in Pashto or Farsi. When we left DC we sought out Afghani food wherever we traveled – yes we loved it that much! I began cooking things at home and we’d always find our memory wandering back to that tiny kebab shop in Alexandria.
My kids have grown up eating food from around the world, somehow the troubles of war and the world haven’t reached deep into our little cocoon yet. They know their uncle went to war in Afghanistan, they also know the kind men and women who fed us and became our friends. I like to think, actually I pray that my children will know a person is a person no matter where in the world they are. That bad things happen not because of a dot on a map, or a religion – but simply because bad things happen because of people who have bad ideas.
I’ve always believed once you eat a meal with someone, you’ve shared a part of life that will always be remembered. Food is what brings us all together – it makes us human!
This is my favorite Afghani meal, chicken pulao. I always imagine eating it on a colorful Tajik carpet surrounded by chattering women and steaming cups of chai, and of course a few handfuls of tandoori bread.
- 2 lbs chicken breast
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 2 small potatoes
- 2 tomatoes
- 2 cups long grain rice
- 2 large onions
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp cardamom
- ½ tsp salt and pepper
- 1 tsp ginger
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 Tbsp crushed garlic
- Pinch of saffron
- 2 large carrots
- ½ cup yellow raisins
- 1 cup green peas
- 4 Tbsp butter
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
- Pistachios and/or almonds (optional)
Rinse your chicken and trim excess fat.
Cut into bite size pieces and place in a large bowl.
Toss with the following spices; salt and pepper, ginger, garlic, cumin, cinnamon, and cardamom.
Crush saffron between your fingers and add to the chicken.
Mix together to coat all of the chicken.
Wash and peel potatoes and cut into bite-size cubes.
Cut tomatoes in half and grate to remove pulp.
In a large pot (or pressure cooker), add 1 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp vegetable oil and turn heat to medium.
Add chicken and brown.
When chicken has been browned, add tomato pulp, potatoes and 1 cup of chicken broth, as well as 2 cups of water.
Cover the pot and cook for about 45 minutes until potatoes are soft and chicken is tender.
Rinse rice very well until water runs clear.
Use your favorite cooking technique (stovetop or rice cooker) to prepare. If you’re unsure how to cook the rice here's my fool proof method.
Add rice to a pot, and add 3 cups of water. Cook on low until the water is almost gone.
Turn off the heat and place a towel between the pot and the lid.
Leave the pot alone to steam.
Remove the outer skin and cut onions in half.
Cut as thin as possible.
In a frying pan add 2 Tbsp butter and 1 tsp vegetable oil.
Cook the onions on low heat until they are caramelized.
While the onions are cooking you can prepare the vegetable topping.
Peel the carrots and use your vegetable peeler to create strips of carrots. Set aside.
Shell peas (or use frozen) and set aside.
Once the onions are cooked, remove them from the pan with a fork or slotted spoon, leaving any liquid in the pan.
Add 1 Tbsp butter to the pan as well as the carrots, peas, and raisins.
Cook on low heat until tender (8-10 minutes).
If dry, add 1-2 spoons of the liquid from the chicken.
Assembling the Dish
Spread rice out on a large plate and top with chicken and potatoes as well as ½ of the liquid remaining.
Next add the cooked vegetables and raisins, and finally the caramelized onions.
Drizzle with the remaining liquid.
Sprinkle nuts on top if desired.
I use chicken breast for this recipe because it takes the least amount of time to cook but you could use any kind of chicken and just adjust the cooking time as needed.
Some tips to lighten it up the dish - opt for a brown rice or quinoa instead of white rice. But whatever you do, don't omit the butter. You could also swap white potatoes for sweet potatoes or leave them off. Any combination of vegetables work so use what you have on hand but the carrot/onion/raisin combination is really tasty.
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