Ashak – Afghan Leek and Coriander Dumplings with Beef & Lentil Sauce and Garlic & Mint Yogurt
Week 19 – Afghanistan
A landlocked country, mountainous, hot, cold, dry and earthquake prone, Afghanistan is situated on the old Silk Road at a crossroads between Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Settled for at least 50,000 years it’s an archaeological gold mine rivalling Egypt. Many empires and kingdoms have flourished here, its people are renowned for their hospitality and fighting prowess. Famed also for the striking beauty of the woman, Alexander the Great himself married into one of the royal families from ancient Bactria, now part of Afghanistan.
SIGHTS TO SEE
The capital Kabul, dramatically located in a high valley at the foot of jagged mountains, Herat, an ancient city with its awesome citadel fortress mostly still intact, the exquisite Friday Mosque and the Minaret of Jam located in a narrow valley at the junction of two rivers, and the beautiful shrine of Hazrat Ali, a fabulous masterpiece to rival the Taj Mahal. Sweeping landscapes of wild mountains, arid upland steppes and the Band-e Amir, a series of brilliantly blue lakes.
From all the multi-ethnic influences the food of Afghanistan is a rich, varied and sophisticated fusion of Middle Eastern and South Asian cuisines. Boasting a huge range of dishes drawing on a wide variety breads, fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains. Famed for skewered and grilled meats (kebobs) , kormas (saucy stews) dumplings (mantu), pickles, soups (shorma) and a vast array of complex rice dishes (pulao).
A national dish is Kabuli Pulao rice with raisins, carrots, orange and pistachios often baked with lamb or Alou Balou Pulao featuring chicken and fresh cherries, or Shebet pulao with fresh dill. Big meat eaters, chicken, lamb, mutton and goat are most favoured. Cooking methods include a tandoor style oven for baking, grilling, pan frying and steaming, often in a sealed pot as in the ‘Dum” style of India. This method is used to produce their particularly fluffy rice (chawal).
Afghani cuisine is characterised by the surprising absence of spices and the inclusion of fresh and dried fruits and nuts in many dishes. Desserts are mainly sweetmeats, rice pudding or very sweet baklava style pastries. Popular drinks are tea (chai) and a cold yogurt drink flavoured with rose water and salt (dugh)
Afghani’s were famous for their hospitality, and visitors were honoured guests given pride of place and served the very best on offer. The traditional Afghani feast (Dastarkhan) consists of a cloth spread over the floor ( usual dining place) and covered with as many dishes as possible. Eating is by hand with breads like naan used to scoop up food.
This recipe comes the wonderful SBS food site – http://www.sbs.com.au/food/recipes/afghan-dumplings-beef-sauce-and-garlic-yoghurt-ashak
- 500gm plain flour, plus extra for kneading
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 250 ml (1 cup) water, approximately
- 100 ml vegetable oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 500gm beef mince
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- ½ red capsicum, chopped
- 400 g can diced tomatoes
- 1 long red chilli, chopped
- 2 tsp turmeric
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 250ml (½ cup) boiling water
- ½ cup chana dal (dried split chick peas) soaked, rinsed and cooked until tender
- 2-3 leeks washed and finely chopped
- 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp butter
- ½ bunch coriander, washed and chopped
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup plain natural thick (Greek style) yoghurt
- small handful fresh mint, chopped
- To make the dough place the flour, salt and oil in a large bowl and gradually add the water until a firm dough forms. (You may not need all of the water.) Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 8–10 minutes, or until dough is smooth and elastic. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
- To make the sauce heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium–high heat. Cook the onion for 6–8 minutes, or until golden. Add the mince and cook for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned and liquid is evaporated. Add all remaining ingredients, except the boiling water and chana dal. Mix well and cook for 2 minutes. Add the boiling water. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer, topping up with extra water if necessary, for 15 minutes. Add the chana dal and stir through. Reheat just before serving.
- To make the filling saute the leeks in butter until soft and tender, combine all rest of ingredients and refrigerate until needed.
- Divide the dough into eight pieces and roll each into a ball on a lightly floured work surface. Working with one ball at a time, and keeping the others covered with a cloth to prevent drying out, roll balls into 20 cm circles, then cut in half. Using a pasta machine on the widest setting, roll out dough, lightly dusting with flour when necessary to prevent sticking. Reduce setting on machine and pass through dough again, repeating until dough is about 2 mm thick. Cut into 3 cm squares. Place 1 tsp of the filling mixture in centre of a square. Moisten edges with a little water and press edges together to seal, and fold over like making tortellini or wontons. Place on a tray lined with a tea towel. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
- To make the garlic yoghurt crush the garlic and salt to form a smooth paste. Process quickly together with the yoghurt and mint. Set aside.
- Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Cook the ashak, in batches, for 3–4 minutes, or until they float to the surface and start to flip over. Drain well.
- Spread the garlic yoghurt onto a serving platter. Place ashak on top, then spoon over the meat sauce. Scatter generously with mint or coriander.
It pays to look at the video! I was in a hurry making these and didn’t check it out, so I made them like large ravioli, forgetting pasta swells up when cooking – so mine ended up enormous! and fell apart a bit. And I served the yogurt on top instead of underneath! But they tasted good, I particularly liked the addition of the lentils, an unusual touch.
The rest of the family were a bit iffy about this dish which overall scored 7/10. It was quite a bit of work this dish, with lots of different processes involved in making them, I understand now why they are usually made with large family groups in a production line! Do try them for a filling and robust dish with a twist.
When I was growing up in NZ, one of my favourite (home made of course) biscuits were Afghans – a delicious chocolate flavoured biscuit with cornflakes in them and topped with chocolate icing and half a walnut. Our Edmonds cookbook was always stained on that page! Why they were named Afghans I don’t know unless it was a nod to the use of walnuts to decorate the icing.
My recipe comes from a very tattered, prized copy of the Edmonds cookbook, dating from the time when there still was the famous Art Deco ‘Sure to Rise’ factory with it’s sun rays, standing proudly in it’s beautiful gardens on Ferry Rd, Christchurch. I, and I’m sure every New Zealander grew up learning to bake from that little recipe book, a trusty classic of home baking. In 1990 that beloved iconic building was demolished amid much controversy – in the interests of progress and cost efficiency, and what a sad loss it still is.