Zel's Vegan NutGourmet

Zel Allen Goes Nuts for Good Health

NUT TRADITIONS IN AFGHANISTAN

Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on February 25, 2009

Over the years while I’ve been teaching vegetarian cooking classes, I’ve developed recipes for a number of different international cuisines. Recently, I was asked if I could teach an Afghan cooking class at the Valencia County Library in Valencia, California. Naturally, I said I could. A little research turned up some delightful recipes I adapted to the vegetarian palate. The class was well attended with enthusiastic students feasting on Afghanistan’s charismatic cuisine featuring two delicious nut dishes I’m happy to share.

Afghanistan, I discovered, was along the silk route and adopted many of the spices from China and India as camel caravans crossed the Afghan desert. Spices like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, pepper fenugreek, turmeric, cumin, and coriander added exotic flavor to their cuisine, while their native almonds, walnuts, and pistachios contributed pleasing texture and heartiness.
almond3
Of special interest to me was that almonds, walnuts, and pistachios were native to Afghanistan and became a traditional ingredient in savory dishes as well as desserts. In both recipes below, Afghani Stuffed Peppers and Carrot Halwah, chopped pistachios and almonds are sprinkled on top as garnishes, adding appealing texture, and healthful dining.

Afghan Nut Customs
Serving tea and white sugared almonds is a familiar custom during Afghan festivals. Eid-e-Qorban is celebrated at the end of the Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, when families and friends come visiting each other to drink a cup of tea together and share some nuts, sweets, and sugared almonds called noql.

Long before Islam arrived, Afghans began celebrating the New Year on the vernal equinox, March 21. A variety of nutty desserts awaited the visiting celebrants. One treat, a unique nut and fruit compote called Miwa Naurozee is an favorite sweet prepared by soaking dried fruits and nuts for two days. The nuts are blanched and combined with the soaked fruits, along with their soaking juices, then served in bowls or cups. Other nut treats, like the nut brittle Halwa-e-Swanak, made with walnuts and pistachios, and Sheer Payra, a walnut and pistachio confection, may be offered to guests during the New Year celebration. These holiday traditions are still practiced today.
walnut3
Many versions of halwa, a pudding-like sweet that includes either walnuts, almonds, or pistachios or any combination of them, is customarily offered as thanksgiving, called Nazer, to recognize a number of meaningful occasions like returning from a journey, visiting a holy shrine, or recovering from an illness. People offering Nazer give their neighbors, passersby, and the poor with a dish of halwa or other sweet.

Almonds have a very special role in the typical Afghan wedding, which takes place in two stages. The religious ceremony is first and is not attended by the bride. During the celebration portion the bride and groom are brought together and seated on a raised platform. After serving the newlyweds a fruit drink called sharbat and a wedding sweet called molida, sugared almonds and other confections are showered over them as a symbol of fruitfulness and prosperity.

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This exotic recipe originated as a ground lamb-stuffed chicken dish, but with lots of tweaking, the result is an extreme makeover. This tasty adaptation is now a wholesome vegan entrée with good looks, irresistible aromas, and hearty dining. I served the meal with a big tossed salad and a delicious grain called farro. However, more typical of Afghan cuisine would have been some Basmati rice garnished with chopped pistachios and minced parsley.
afghanpepper
AFGHANI STUFFED PEPPERS

Yield: 6 servings

1 green bell pepper, cut in half lengthwise and cored
1 red bell pepper, cut in half lengthwise and cored
1 yellow bell pepper, cut in half lengthwise and cored

Filling
1 small onion, diced
1 small carrot, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons water

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup pistachios

1 pound extra firm tofu, crumbled
Zest of 1 small orange
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
Freshly ground black pepper

Tomato Sauce Topping
3 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Salt and pepper

1/4 cup unsweetened soy yogurt

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, place the prepared peppers into a 7 x 9-inch baking dish, and set aside.
2. TO PREPARE THE FILLING, combine the onion, carrot, garlic, water, and extra virgin olive oil in a large, deep skillet and sauté about 10 to 12 minutes, or until the onions and carrots become lightly browned and are beginning to caramelize. Add more water to the pan as needed to prevent burning the onions.
3. Add the raisins, almonds, and pistachios and cook 1 minute. Add the tofu, orange zest, lemon juice, salt, cardamom, dill weed, and pepper and mix well. Adjust the seasonings, if needed and stuff the mixture into the prepared peppers, packing the mixture firmly. Set aside and prepare the sauce.
4. TO PREPARE THE TOMATO SAUCE TOPPING, place the tomatoes and onions into the food processor and process until they are coarsely pureed.
5. Transfer the tomatoes to a 2-quart saucepan and add the cumin, coriander, and chili powder. Cook over medium high heat for 4 to 6 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened slightly, and season with salt and pepper.
6. Add the yogurt to the tomato sauce and stir well. Spoon a generous quantity of the sauce over the stuffed peppers. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil, shiny side down, and bake for 1 hour.

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While milk and ghee (clarified butter) are traditional ingredients in Afghan cooking, they have been replaced with alternative choices in this vegan version of a classic dessert served in Afghanistan and throughout many parts of the Middle East, including India. Still, the result is a tasty, brightly colored carrot pudding dotted with nuts and raisins and a hint of exotic spice. Serve the pudding warmed, room temperature, or chilled.
halwah

HALWAH-E-ZARDAK

(Carrot Halwah)

Yield: 4 to 5 servings

4 tablespoons dairy-free margarine (like Earth Balance)
3 tablespoons raw pistachios, coarsely ground
2 rounded tablespoons golden raisins

4 cups coarsely grated carrots (about 1 pound)
1 1/2 cups almond, soy, or rice milk
1/2 cup organic sugar

1 teaspoon rosewater
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 tablespoon slivered almonds

1. Place 2 tablespoons of the margarine into a deep 10 to 12-inch skillet and add 2 tablespoons of the pistachios and all of the raisins. Cook over high heat for about 1 minute, stirring constantly, to brown the pistachios lightly and plump the raisins. Remove to a small bowl and set aside.
2. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of margarine in the skillet. Add the carrots and cook for about 5 minutes, or until they just begin to brown.
3. Add the almond milk and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer gently for about 1 hour, stirring frequently, until all the liquid has been absorbed. The carrots will have cooked to a nearly pudding-like consistency.
4. Add the cooked pistachios and raisins, the rosewater, lemon juice, and cardamom and mix well. Spoon into 4 or 5 small dessert bowls or teacups and garnish with the remaining 1 tablespoon coarsely ground pistachios and a few slivered almonds.

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16 Responses to “NUT TRADITIONS IN AFGHANISTAN”

  1. Where can I buy almonds from Afghanistan?

    • nutgourmet said

      Hi Kim,
      After doing a thorough search, I am finding that even the nut and fruit trading companies who regularly do business with other countries are not currently ordering almonds or other fruits from Afghanistan. Possibly wait about 6 months and do an internet search–you might have luck down the line when the country is a bit more stable.

  2. jane said

    i adore afghanistan

  3. alan branigan said

    In an afghani restaurant I had chunks of carrots cooked with a few chick peas. They were in a sauce that was almost like a slightly sweet, thick soup.

    I tried to get the recipe, but the cook didn’t speak English.

    I’d like to get the recipe

    • nutgourmet said

      Hi Alan,

      Sounds like this recipe is quite unique. I have two Afghani cookbooks and neither one came up with anything remotely like what you enjoyed. I also did an internet search and was not successful. There are many recipes that contain these ingredients but they also have meat of some sort and are not sweet. See if the restaurant will part with the recipe. Then share it with others. I would love to have that recipe, too!

      Zel

      • alan branigan said

        Zel

        We’ve been going to the restaurant for years. I call the owner this morning and he translated the cook’s directions. A problem is that I do not have proportions. The owner said the cook simply adds ingredients in amounts that look right to her at the time.
        Afghani Carrots

        Soak walnuts in warm water for at least one hour to get rid of their bitter aftertaste and put aside.

        Brown onions in oil.

        Add carrot chunks, water, garlic, salt, & pepper and boil gently until carrots soften somewhat.

        Add Masala spice, chick peas and brown sugar and cook until chick peas and carrots are to taste.

        Let cool a bit and add walnuts before serving.

        Masala spices are a blend that come as a paste and can be can be purchased at Penzey’s. There are many types (like curry powder). The cook that gave me this recipe uses a Kashmiri Masala

        The carrots are served with separately cooked lamb and basmati rice.

        I’m going out-of-town in the morning, but will try the recipe in due course and give you some feedback on amounts I used. In the meanwhile, you might do the same.

        Al

      • nutgourmet said

        Hey Alan,

        This sounds great and very easy. As far as proportions, I think it would be good to start with a quantity of carrots and garbanzos that seems reasonable for your famiily meal. Then play with seasonings until you reach that taste you remember in the restaurant dish. Write down all your measurements so you can easily make adjustments the next time you make the dish. Did the restaurant have a name for this dish?

        Zel

  4. alan branigan said

    Zel:

    The menue said “carrots”.

    Alan

  5. alan branigan said

    Zel:

    Here is my recipe. VERY tasty and very close to what I had at my favorite Afghani restaurant,

    Afghani Carrots

    For 8-10 servings:

    Soak ¾ cup walnut pieces in 1 ¼ cups warm water for at least one hour to get rid of their bitter aftertaste. Drain and put nuts aside.

    Brown 2 or 3 medium, quite-coarsely diced onions in oil.

    Add: 1 lb. carrot chunks about the size of the end of your index finger,
    1 1/4 cup water, 6-8 medium, pressed, fresh garlic cloves, 1 tsp. salt, & ¼ tsp. ground pepper. Boil gently until carrots soften somewhat (about 20 min on medium heat.)

    Add: 2 rounded tsp. Masala spices*, ¾ cup drained chick peas (reserve liquid) and 2 Tbsp. brown sugar. Cook on medium heat until chick peas and carrots are soft (about 10 min.) Add the reserved chick-pea liquid in ¼ cup increments to keep the carrot-mixture soft.

    Let cool a bit; add walnuts; and, fatush before serving.

    *Masala spices are a blend that sometimes come as a paste and can be can be purchased at Penzey’s. As with curry powder, there are many types of Masala spice. The cook that gave me this recipe uses a Kashmiri Masala. I used Penzey’s Punjabi-style, Garam Masala (coriander, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, charmushka, caraway, cloves, ginger & nutmeg.)

  6. alan branigan said

    ZEL

    Fatush is to mix-up (as opposed to sprinkling on top)

    When I was a boy my friend’s mother would put ingredients in a bowl and the children would get to “help” by “fatushing” whatever it was that had to be mixed up in the bowl. Maybe it’s an ethnic thing She was Cornish (Celtic.) but it’s a common term in my family.

    Speaking of Cornish. I’ve got a bunch of Cornish “Pasty” recipes for Apple-turnover-type whole meals that the Cornish miners used to take down into the mines. I buy pre-made pie crusts at the supermarket; pile on meat, potatoes, rutabegas, onions and stuff; fold em over and bake em. They are still common fare in areas of the U.S. that were settled by Cornish miners (e.g. upper Michigan and Colorado.) I mention it because I’m going to add lamb chunks to my Afghani carrots and bake them as a “Pasty.” Alan

    Alan

    • nutgourmet said

      Alan,

      Thanks for explaining your connection to the word “fatush.” My experience with the word has been quite different. My Lebanese friend would make a fatoush salad by breaking pieces of Arabic bread into a tossed salad that contained generous amounts of chopped mint. The oil and vinegar dressing moistened the bread and made the salad rather exceptional. The bread was similar to pita and the accent was on the second sylable– “fa TOUSH.” One word–two cultures–vastly different meanings–fascinating!

      Many years ago my husband and I traveled to the UK and experienced pasties of various sorts. These days we follow a vegan regimen so ingredients like beef and lamb morph into nuts, tofu, tempeh, beans, lentils, and split peas along with a blast of whole grains, fruits, and veggies. I’ll bet pasties would be delicious with a vegan touch.

      Zel

  7. alan branigan said

    I’m sure I have some Vegan pasty recipes. Interested?
    An older brother, a vegan, ran a vegan B & B on the coast of Maine until he recently retired to VIrginia where I live.

    Alan

  8. […] as a thickener for sauces and soups, a healthy alternative to cream. We found this fabulous blog, NutGourmet. We are sure we will be revisiting this bog many times as we make our way around the world. What a […]

    • nutgourmet said

      What a wonderful site Globalfoodies is! How nice to have a visit from those who appreciate exceptional cuisines of the world. I welcome all to the delicious and health promoting world of nuts.

      Zel

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