The “prince of rice” is a pantry staple. Aged (or “classic”) basmati rice has been matured for 1–2 years, intensifying the flavour and resulting in a lighter and fluffier chalau (steamed rice). When making pulao (or palau), many Afghan cooks favour Sella basmati rice, which has been steamed and dried. This makes the rice slightly yellow in colour and results in perfectly separate cooked grains. Rice is rarely served without a garnish, whether it be spiced carrots, nuts or fried spices.
Yoghurt (mast or maust)
Thick, natural yoghurt is used extensively in Afghan cuisine. Chakah (yoghurt drained until it becomes the texture of soft cream cheese) is the basis of sauces, dips, drinks and added to curries. It is also dried and shaped into pebble-like balls called quroot. The hard cheese is reconstituted by rubbing it back and forth with water in a special clay bowl.
Chana dal (channa dal)
Chana is a small Indian chickpea and dal is the Indian term for dried, split and hulled pulses, which include peas, beans and lentils. Sweet, nutty chana dal is an excellent source of protein and a favourite in soups, stews and curries. Rinse and soak before cooking.
Dried fruits and nuts
A wide variety of dried fruits, including mulberries and green raisins, is used for cooking, snacking and as a sweet treat after a meal. Dried plums are a popular cooking ingredient and impart a sweet and sour flavour, while sultanas make a regular appearance in rice dishes. Nuts are also used extensively for cooking, snacking and as an offering after a meal; Afghans particularly love almonds, pistachios, pine nuts and walnuts. A specialty served at New Year celebrations is haft mewa, a dish of seven dried fruits and nuts.
Dried mint and fresh coriander
Two of the most loved herbs in Afghan cooking. Fresh coriander is used so extensively – in garnishes, dishes or a salsa-like chutney – that it’s often referred to as “Afghan parsley”. Dried mint might be stirred through a range of dishes or yoghurt sauce or sprinkled liberally over steamed dumplings and fried eggplant.
Best described as a cross between a chive and a leek, with a slight onion scent. Used in fillings for steamed dumplings and as a stand-alone vegetable fried with chilli. Substitute with leeks if unavailable.
A thick cotton cover placed over a pan of just-cooked rice – or placed between pan and lid during cooking – absorbs excess steam and prevents rice from becoming gluggy. A thick folded tea towel will also do the trick.
A beehive-shaped clay oven used for baking bread. Bakers place the dough onto the sides of the tannur in the same way naan is cooked in a tandoor oven.