My childhood was, culinarily speaking, a limited one. At home we mostly had Mexican food, because that’s what my mother knows how to cook. Occasionally she or my sister would cook an international dish or we would go out for pizza or Chinese food. It really wasn’t until I met my husband that my culinary experience broadened. When we were dating, every weekend he introduced me to a new cuisine or dish. I absolutely loved eating all of those new foods, and also encouraging others to try them too.
Once the cooking bug bit me I wanted to attempt as many dishes from as many countries as possible. When I started blogging I knew I wanted to share those attempts with as many people as possible, just like I used to pre-blog days.
Today with great joy I am introducing a new special series that I’ve been wanting to share with you for a long time: Earth Eats, a culinary tour of our planet. As you might have already guessed, this series will showcase dishes from around the world. My goal is to cook something from as many countries possible. I won’t necessarily be going in alphabetical order, sometimes I will choose the national dish and other times just one that makes me hungry. This is a big undertaking but I’m ready for the challenge! Besides, with you along for the ride it’s going to make it very exciting.
Map courtesy of the CIA Factbook, 2007
To kick off Earth Eats, I choose the country of Afghanistan and their national dish called kabuli pulao or pilaf. The cuisine of Afghanistan is completely new to me. I didn’t know if, due to it’s location, it would be similar to or influenced by Iranian, Pakistani, Indian or even Chinese cuisine. According to Humaira of Afghan Culture Unveiled “Afghan food has influences from many places including India, other Central Asian countries, Turkey and Italy. Afghan food is neither spicy, nor bland. It is a blend of perfectly balanced ingredients, lightly seasoned to highlight the best flavors.” That’s a very enticing description.
Kabuli Pilaf (you’ll also find it spelled Kabuli Palau, Kubali Palaw, Kabuli Pulao, Qabili Pilau, Qabili Palau or Qabili Palao or Kabuli Pilaf) is not only the national dish of Afghanistan but also one reserved for special occasions. It is a rice dish made with meat, aromatic spices, carrots, and nuts. In my intensive research I learned that the recipe for this rice dish varies greatly from one cook to another. The meat can vary from lamb to beef or chicken, and the nuts used can be either pistachios or almonds. As for the spices, the measurements and types also vary greatly. The preparation requires a long cooking time, but trust me it is worth every second of it. The dish is aromatic, savoury, a tad sweet, hearty, and very satisfying.
Below is my interpretation of Kabuli Pilaf based on the general recipe I came across in my research. Though lamb was the meat I most saw on recipes it was not available to me, I used beef but if you’d like feel free to swap it back to lamb.
- 800 gm or 1 and ¾ lbs. boneless beef, cubed*
- 1 medium brown onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1-2 tbs olive or vegetable oil
- 1.5 tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp ground cardamom
- ½ tsp ground black pepper, or to taste
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- pinch of ground cloves or 3 freshly ground cloves
- fine sea salt to taste, I used around half a tablespoon
- 1.225 litres or 5 cups water
- 400g or 2 cups basmati rice
- 2 medium carrots cut into match sticks --not too thin
- pinch of fine sea salt
- 100g or 3.5 oz of raisins
- 50 gm or 1 and ¾ oz of whole almonds, crushed in mortar and pestle or use slivered if desired
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Heat the oil and once warm, fry the onion until tender and slightly browned. Remove it from the pot and set aside. Add cubed meat to same pot and brown. Next add garlic and cook 2 minutes, then add all the spices and cook for another 2 minutes or until they release their scent. Add onion back to the pot and pour in all of the water. Cover and simmer for 1 hour or until meat is tender. Drain the soft boiled meat and reserve the broth. Set the meat aside.
- Rinse the rice, then place in a large bowl with water and leave to soak. Cut the carrots into matchsticks and have the raisins and almond nearby to use. In a small pan saute the carrots with a bit of oil and a pinch of salt and black pepper, cook until they are soft. Remove from pan and add the raisins. Cook until they plump up or about 2 minutes. Remove the raisins and add the almonds, toast for a couple of minutes and remove from pan.
- Drain the rice and set aside. In the same pot you've cooked the meat add the drained rice. Next pour in 2.5 cups or 560 ml of the reserved meat broth. Over high heat bring to a boil, then cover, turn heat to medium low and simmer until nearly all of the broth has been absorbed by the rice and it is soft. If needed, add more of the reserved broth until the rice is cooked through. Next preheat the oven to 200c or 392 f and prepare baking dish large enough to fit the cooked rice. Mix the meat into the rice and half of the cooked carrots and raisins. Pour into prepared baking dish and bake in center of oven for 20 minutes.
- Remove from oven, allow to cool, and right before serving decorate serving dish with remaining carrots, raisins and almonds.
In all honesty, I was not looking forward to the raisins being cooked alongside other savoury ingredients. I am not a big fan of raisins so I feared the dish would be too sweet. But the incredible smells coming from my kitchen were almost torture knowing that it was a long wait until I could taste the pilaf. Upon the first taste I realised how perfect the raisins complimented the meat, spices, soft rice and crunchy almonds. This is a dish I would make over and over again. It would be perfect for a dinner party too.
Kabuli Pilaf is a dish everyone must make at least once in their life time! This impressive dish will awaken your kitchen and senses to the exotic scents and flavours of Afghani cuisine.