In 2009, the Ayubi family opened Parwana Afghan Kitchen in Adelaide with the aim to share with the city the culture of their homeland, a place of rich history, revered traditions and generous hospitality, not just a country long afflicted with war.
The Afghan restaurant soon became a beloved part of the South Australian city, even gaining acclaim country-wide for their fragrant feasts, warm service and next-generation expansion.
Just over 10 years later, Durkhanai Ayubi lays the recipes of her mother Farida onto the page with her cookbook Parwana: Recipes and Stories from an Afghan Kitchen.
Intertwined with history, Afghan customs, family memories, and how food plays an important part in all these subjects, are traditional recipes for Parwana's famed mantu (dumplings), palaw (rice dishes) and gosht (grilled meats). Here are a few to try.
Kabuli palaw (rice with lamb, carrots and sultanas)
This beautiful and balanced rice is Afghanistan's national dish. In a time before the convenience of julienne slicers and shop-bought peeled and slivered nuts, kabuli palaw was time-consuming and elaborate to prepare, and was reserved primarily for ceremonial events. These days, although it takes less time to make, it still commands reverence. The delicate blend of spices and a crowning glory of glistening carrot, sultanas and nuts gives kabuli palaw pride of place among Afghan rice dishes.
For the palaw
- 125ml (½ cup) sunflower oil
- 2 medium brown onions, finely diced
- 500g coarsely diced boneless lamb leg
- 600g (3 cups) sella basmati rice, soaked for 2-3 hours
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
For the topping
- 500ml (2 cups) sunflower oil
- 2 medium carrots, trimmed, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
- 170g (1 cup) sultanas
- 1 tbsp slivered almonds
- 1 tbsp slivered pistachios
- 2 tsp white sugar
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- To prepare the palaw rice, add the oil and onion to a pressure cooker pan over high heat and fry for 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Add the lamb and stir occasionally for 5 minutes, or until the meat is browned and sealed. Add 1 litre (4 cups) hot water and 1 tablespoon salt, place the lid on the pressure cooker and bring to high pressure. Cook at high pressure for 15 minutes, then carefully release the pressure to remove the lid. Using a slotted spoon, take out the meat (which should be lovely and tender) and set aside. Reserve the stock to flavour the rice.
- Bring 2.5 litres (10 cups) water to the boil in a large saucepan. Meanwhile, drain excess water from the rice, add it to the boiling water with 1 tablespoon salt and cook for 6-8 minutes, or until the rice is parboiled and the grains look like they have doubled in length.
- Drain the rice in a colander and return to the saucepan. Pour the meat stock over the rice, then add the cumin, cardamom and 1 tablespoon salt to the mix. Using a large, flat slotted spoon, known to Afghans as a kafgeer, mix gently. With the kafgeer, create a well in the centre of the rice and place the lamb in the well. Cover the meat with rice and place the lid on the saucepan. Cook over high heat until steam escapes from under the lid, then reduce the heat to very low and cook for 20 minutes.
- For the topping, heat the oil in a frying pan over high heat until shimmering. Add the carrot and fry for 4-5 minutes, or until slightly softened. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside in a bowl. Add the sultanas to the oil and fry for 3 minutes, or until they are plump and float to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the bowl with the carrot. Add the nuts, sugar and cardamom to the bowl, and mix gently.
- Using the kafgeer, layer the rice and lamb onto a large serving platter, creating a heap. Liberally spoon over the topping and serve immediately.
Mantu is finished with a generous drizzle of garlic-yoghurt dressing, and a sprinkling of dried mint and paprika. Photo: Alicia Taylor
Mantu (steamed dumplings)
Mantu are small steamed dumplings intricately folded by hand. Because of the labour involved to make them – from rolling out the pastry to filling the dumplings and folding them into flowerbud-like bundles – they are often reserved for special occasions. It is not unusual for family and friends to gather before an event to make mantu together, which is an occasion in itself.
In many ways, mantu captures perfectly the cross-cultural pollination that flourished along the Silk Road. The dish is thought to have originated in Central Asia, in territories belonging to the Mongol Empire, from where it was carried to Turkey. As the recipe's popularity spread, the dish was adapted to create a number of cultural variations, including Turkish manti, Chinese mantou and Korean mandoo. Each of these iterations follows the same basic formula of hand-rolled dough that's usually filled with ground meat and vegetables, and served topped with a tomato-based sauce and garlic yoghurt dressing.
You will need a large steamer pot to steam the mantu. At Parwana, we use a metal steamer – these are available in various sizes from Asian grocery shops. They include a base for the water, several trays with holes that stack on top and a lid. A stacked bamboo steamer could also work.
- Dried mint and mild paprika, to serve
For the filling
- 1 carrot, coarsely chopped
- 2 brown onions, coarsely chopped
- 250g savoy cabbage, coarsely chopped
- ½ tsp coriander seeds, crushed in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle
- 1 tsp curry powder
For the dough
- 450g (3 cups) plain flour
- 1 tbsp sunflower oil
- 250ml (1 cup) warm water
Lamb kofta sauce
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil
- 1 large brown onion, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 500g minced lamb
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp curry powder
- 1 tsp coriander seeds, crushed in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle
- 2 large, ripe tomatoes, quartered
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp white vinegar
- 60g (¼ cup) chana dal (or yellow split peas)
For the garlic-yoghurt dressing
- 130g (½ cup) plain yoghurt
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- First make the filling. Process the carrot in a food processor until finely chopped, but not too slushy. Place in a medium saucepan and repeat with the onion. Add the onion to the carrot in the saucepan. Process the cabbage until a similar size to the carrot and onion and add to the pan. Stir in 250ml (1 cup) water, cover with a lid and place the saucepan over medium heat. Cook the vegetables for 15 minutes, or until softened, then drain well in a colander. Transfer to a bowl and add the coriander, curry powder, ½ tablespoon salt and ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Mix thoroughly to combine and set the filling aside to cool completely.
- For the dough, stir the flour and 2 teaspoons salt in a large bowl, then add the oil and mix well to combine. Slowly add the water, kneading to incorporate between additions. You may not need it all, but use enough water to form a firm dough. Turn out the dough onto a workbench and knead for 5 minutes, or until it is smooth and elastic. Place in a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rest for 15 minutes.
- Roll out the dough to a paper-thin rectangle about 60cm long and 40cm wide. Using a sharp knife, cut vertically into 10cm-wide strips. Stack the strips on top of each other. Cut horizontally at 10cm intervals – you should end up with about 24 x 10cm square mantu wrappers. Put a teaspoon of the cooled filling in the centre. Dampen the edges, then pick up two diagonally opposite corners. Bring together over the filling and pinch to seal. Repeat with the other two corners so you have a small, sealed square-ish parcel. Place both your middle fingers and thumbs at each end, with your index finger positioned in between. Bring the ends together around your index fingers and pinch to seal. You should end up with an almost-oval parcel with two ends pinched together and two circular openings (where your index fingers were positioned). Set the finished mantu aside on a tray brushed with oil to prevent sticking and repeat with the remaining filling and wrappers.
- To steam the mantu, fill the base of a steamer with water, place the lid on top and bring to the boil. Brush the steamer trays generously with oil to prevent sticking, then space out the mantu on the trays, without overcrowding them. Stack the trays on top of the base and cover with the lid. Steam the mantu over medium heat for about 35-40 minutes, or until the dough is translucent and completely cooked through.
- While the mantu are steaming, prepare the lamb kofta sauce. Process the tomatoes until pureed in a blender or food processor and set aside. Add the oil to a medium saucepan over medium heat. Fry the onion and garlic for 3-4 minutes, or until golden brown, then add the meat and fry for 10 minutes or so, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon and breaking it up so there are no large clumps, until the meat is browned.
- Stir in the turmeric, curry powder, coriander and 1 teaspoon salt and fry for another 5 minutes, or until the meat starts to release water. Boil the mixture for a further 5 minutes, so that some of the water reduces and the oil rises to the top. Stir in the tomato, tomato paste, vinegar and 250ml (1 cup) water. Continue to break down any remaining large clumps of meat with a wooden spoon, so it's relatively evenly minced, and bring to the boil. Cover the saucepan with a lid and simmer gently over low heat for 10 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced and thickened.
- Meanwhile, put the chana dal into a small saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to the boil and cook for 10 minutes, or until the dal is soft, but not mushy. Drain, then add to the sauce and stir through to combine.
- To make the yoghurt dressing, whisk the yoghurt, garlic powder and ½ teaspoon salt in a small bowl until smooth. Spread half the garlic-yoghurt dressing over a large platter and arrange the mantu over the top. Pour over the lamb kofta sauce, then drizzle the remaining garlic-yoghurt dressing on top.
- Sprinkle the mantu with dried mint and paprika, and serve immediately.
In Afghanistan, people usually buy shirpera from specialty sweet shops called qanadis. Photo: Alicia Taylor
Shirpera (Afghan milk fudge)
Shirpera is a nut-filled sweet with a texture that sits somewhere between a crumbly nougat and fudge. In Afghanistan, during celebrations such as Eid, people usually buy shirpera from specialty sweet shops called qanadis, which sell different types of sweets such as halwa, hard-boiled candies, chocolates and sugared almonds called noql. Shirpera requires overnight resting for the sweet to fully set. This is one of my sister Fatema's recipes.
- 440g (2 cups) caster sugar
- 2 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 tbsp rosewater
- 1 tbsp butter
- 100g) slivered almonds
- 50g coarsely chopped pistachios
- 670g (6 cups) full-cream milk powder
- 50g finely chopped pistachios
- Handful of slivered pistachios, to decorate
- Lightly grease a 30cm x 20cm baking tray and line it with baking paper overhanging at each end to help lift out the shirpera when it has set.
- Mix the sugar and 250ml (1 cup) water in a saucepan over high heat to dissolve the sugar. Bring to the boil and cook without stirring for 5 minutes, or until the syrup thickens and reaches between 110-112C on a sugar thermometer.
- Remove the pan from the heat and pour the syrup into a large bowl. Add the cardamom, rosewater, butter, almonds and coarsely chopped pistachios. Mix to combine with a wooden spoon, then add the milk powder in batches, mixing to incorporate between additions. It's important to work quickly when stirring in the milk powder because, as the mixture cools between each addition, it will become firmer and more difficult to mix. The consistency of the finished mixture should be thick and soft, but holding its form, rather than runny or very hard when poured from a spoon.
- Spread the mixture evenly in the baking tray with a metal spatula, then dampen your hands and smooth the surface. Sprinkle the finely chopped pistachios over the top, gently pushing them into the fudge. Decorate with slivered pistachios, then set aside overnight, uncovered, at room temperature to completely set and become firm.
- Traditionally, shirpera is cut into diamond shapes or squares and piled high on decorative platters to serve. It can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
This is an edited book extract with images and text from Parwana by Durkhanai Ayubi; recipes by Farida Ayubi with assistance from Fatema Ayubi. Photography by Alicia Taylor. Murdoch Books RRP $45. Buy now.