Monday, October 4, 2010


Afghan cuisine is diverse, as is the culture, but there are some things that are close to universal. Flatbread and yogurt seem to be consumed all over the country. Lamb is common, when meat is available. Common seasonings include onions, garlic, and mint. Meals are typically consumed communally, with each person dipping into a big bowl of stew or similar food.

My first exposure to Afghan food was at Friends Kebab in Vienna, VA, from which my department ordered lunch on my first day at my company. Meat on a stick, rice, tomatoes, bread..what's not to love? Months later, I finally tried the lentil soup, and was totally blown away. I decided that when I made Afghan food, that soup was going to be the first thing I did. While I was looking at recipes, a former coworker who's now on his way to becoming an Afghanistan subject matter expert told me I had to make these dumplings called Mantus. I also planned to make some fried kebabs.

Unfortunately, I got busy. I was going to be eating alone, and cooking around a lot of other activities in a packed day. The kebabs didn't make it. I couldn't find ground lamb. I bought bread instead of making it (although it was good). I left the garlic out of the yogurt sauce for the Mantus because I was going dancing, and I just spread the beef-and-yogurt mixture over a piece of bread and ate it like a pizza on the run instead of really sitting down and enjoying it. The dumplings were fine, but only that. Overall, the meal was not a success. Fortunately, the lentil soup I had for lunch was excellent, although not the same as Friends Kebab. I want this blog to be a mixture of meals that take hours to prepare and meals I could just make for dinner after work (and eat before 9!), but I guess I need to put a little more thought into how to do that.

Afghan Lentil Soup

2 tbsp oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
2-3 cloves crushed garlic
2 cups water
1 cup red lentils, rinsed
1/2 tsp turmeric
salt and pepper to taste (don't be shy with the salt. Seriously.)
5 or 6 dried sour plums, chopped (Note: these are available in Asian shops. Also, they have pits, so I found it easiest to pry them off the pits before chopping rather than trying to slice the fruit off the pits)

Saute the onion in the oil until golden brown. Add garlic. Add other ingredients together and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add more water if necessary, but it's supposed to be a thick soup.

Mantus (dumplings)
1 lb ground beef
salt to taste (I used a little over a teaspoon)
1 tbsp pepper
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
2 large onions, finely chopped
1 package wonton wrappers
2 tbsp tomato paste
6 tbsp oil
3/4 cup plain greek yogurt
1 tsp dried mint
2 cloves of garlic, mashed

To make the filling, combine beef, onions, and seasonings with 1 cup water in a skillet. Stir and cook over medium heat until water is absorbed, about 30 minutes. Let cool.

Dip your finger in a bowl of cold water and run it around the edges of a wonton wrapper. Place a spoonful of filing on the bottom half. Fold into a triangle shape and press the edges together to seal. Bring opposite corners together and seal to make a bow shape. Repeat until wrappers are gone or you have enough dumplings. Spray the inside of the steamer basket with oil and steam for 40 minutes.

Cook the rest of the filling with the tomato paste for ten minutes. Mix the yogurt with garlic, mint, and a little water. Spread a layer of yogurt on a plate. Cover with dumplings. Spread another layer of yogurt on top, and cover with the leftover beef. Sprinkle some mint on top.

This is what the filling looked like while it was cooking.

Dumplings in the steamer.



  1. The food looks delicious, Kate! One of the things I remember well from my 2 years in Afghanistan is just how good the local food was, especially the rice. I'm not sure how they prepared it (I'm not exactly a culinary expert) but it was by far the best rice I've ever had. Each valley and village seemed to have there own twist to it as well. I'm glad there's a small chain here in Maryland called Maiwand Kabob that allows me to get my occasional fix of Afghan food.

  2. Thanks, Doug! My Persian landlords make pretty amazing rice too. I'm hoping to convince them to help me cook for Iran!