The Afghan Grill

Serves: 5



Of all the countries I wanted to visit, but couldn’t because of political turmoil, Afghanistan was my biggest disappointment. This landlocked, mountainous nation of 15 million lies at one of the great crossroads of the barbecue trail and at the confluence of four great civilizations: the Middle East, Central Asia, Eastern Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. Afghan grilling weaves culinary influences from all four regions into a cuisine that’s uniquely its own.

This truth was brought home to me on my first meal at an Afghanistani restaurant, the Khyber Pass, in New York’s East Village. The moment I stepped into the storefront dining room, with its soft lights, kilim carpets, Afghan tapestries, and hand-hammered copperware, I felt I was a million miles away from Manhattan. The house specialties-grilled lamb chops flavored with onion water, fire-charred game hens, and chicken marinated in yogurt and spices and cooked to fall-off-the-bone-tenderness-were exotic, but immediately accessible. I was won over by the way the side dishes of piquant chatni (chutneys-tangy table sauces, which in Aftganistan are made from vinegar, herbs-most often cilantro-and ground nuts, not the fruits we are more familiar with) and bracingly tart torshi (vegetable pickles) counterpointed the richness of the grilled meats.

"Afghanistan lies at the crossroads of Asia," explained the restaurant’s manager, Mohamed Noor. Noor reminded me that Alexander the Great conquered the region in the fourth century b.c. on his way from Greece to India. In the thirteenth century a.d., Genghis Khan subdued the area while on his march to Turkey and Eastern Europe. He was followed in the sixteenth century by King Babur, founder of India’s Mogul Empire. (Indeed, King Babur is buried outside the capital city of Kabul.) Each of the conquerors and their armies left a mark on Afghan food.

Thus, olive oil, cinnamon, dill, fenugreek, and kalonji (nigella seeds, also known as black cumin or black onion seeds) are as popular in Afghanistan as they are in Middle and Near Eastern cooking. From India, Afghans acquired a taste for garam masala (a spice blend whose ingredients include cumin, cinnamon, cloves, and black cardamom seeds) and chatnis. As throughout northern India and Central Asia, meats are marinated before grilling in tenderizing pastes of yogurt and spices. The Persian Empire provided the torshis and lavash (flat bread) that are indispensable companions to Afghan barbecue.

The focal point of the Afghan kitchen is the grill. Afghanis use simple seasonings to make some of the best grilled food in the world. Marinades run to yogurt (or yogurt cheese) flavored with onion, garlic, chiles, hot red pepper flakes, cumin, and sometimes olive oil. It’s not uncommon for meats to be marinated for 48 hours, which makes them extraordinarily juicy and tender.

The accompaniments are simple: thin chewy Afghan bread, nutty rice pilaf, tangy pickles, and coriander sauce.

There are recipes throughout the book for Afghan quail, chicken, and lamb dishes, plus such traditional accompaniments as doh (yogurt drink) and chatni. There is also a short list of Afghan restaurants where you can sample some of this extraordinary grilling in exotic settings, but without leaving the United States.

This The Afghan Grill recipe is from the The Barbecue Bible Cookbook. Download this Cookbook today.

More Recipes from the The Barbecue Bible Cookbook:
A Day with Najmieh Batmanglij: The Persian Grill
A Few Shark and Bake Tips
A Griller's Guide to the World's Chiles
A Marinating Tip
A New French Paradox
A Special Word About Ground Meat, Burgers, and Sausages
A Traditional Barbacoa
Aleppo Pepper
Approximate Times for Rotisserie Cooking
Barbecue Alley: The Mexican Grill
Barbecue Countdown
Barbecue from the Land of Morning Calm:
Basmati Rice Five Ways
Beef Grilling Chart *
Black Gold
Bombay Tikka "Taco"
Butterflying a Flank Steak
Cleaning and Oiling the Grill
Cooking Hamburgers
Cooking With a Blowtorch
Cooking with Wood
Fish Grilling Chart*
From Hamburg to Hoboken: A Brief History of the Hambuger
Grate Expectations: Some Tips on Grilling Vegetables
Grating Citrus Peel
Grilled Rujak
Grilling Indoors
Grinding It Out
Ground Meats Grilling Chart
Hawkers' Center
How to Butterfly Pork or Beef
How to Butterfly Short Ribs for Korean-Style Grilling
How to Cut Up a Chicken
How to Dry Fennel Stalks
How to Grill Perfect Chicken
How to Grill Perfect Chicken Halves and Quarters
How to Grill Perfect Fish Fillets
How to Grill Perfect Vegetables Every Time
How to Grill a Whole Grilled Fish
How to Grill the Perfect Fish
How to Grill the Perfect Whole Chiken
How to Grill the Perfect Whole Fish
How to Make Scallion Brushes
How to Peel and Devein Shrimp
How to Skin and Bone Fish Fillets
How to Spatchcock a Chicken or Game Hen
How to Stuff Sausages Like a Pro
How to Unskewer Shish Kebabs
How to grill a perfect steak
How to grill with out a grate
How to make ricw powder
How to prepare fresh coconut
How to rinse and dry Cilantro
How to rinse salad greens
How to toast seeds, nuts, and breadcrumbs
In pursuit of the best Tuscan Steak
Jerk: The Jamaican Barbecue
Lamb Grilling Chart
Larding the Beef
Making crosshatch grill marks
Matambre: A hunger-killer from South America
Mesclun Mix
Of Koftas, Lyulas, and Seekh
On trimming fat from meat
Pit Cooking
Pork Grilling Chart
Pork the Italian Way
Poultry Grilling Chart*
Shellfish Grilling Chart*
Stalking the Elusive Grilled Snail
Stuck on Sate: The Indonesian Grill
The Afghan Grill
The Argentinian Grill
The Birth of the Kettle
The Brazilian Grill
The Four Styles of American Barbecue
The Indian Grill
The Japanese Grill
The Macanese Grill
The Moroccan Grill
The Most Famous Fish House in Indonesia
The Splendid Resaurant Karim
The Tale of Three Barbecues: The Thai Grill
The Ten Commandments of Perfect Grilling
The Turkish Grill
The Vietnamese Grill
To Render Chicken Fat
Types of Charcoal
Uruguay's Mercado Del Puerto
Vegetable Grilling Chart*
What to look for in a Grill
When You’re Feeling Less Than Brave
When to cover the Grill
When to use a Drip Pan
Whole Fish, Tikin Xik Style

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