Welcome. Or, as they say in the Pashto language, pakheyr!
There are (approximately) 195 countries in the world, and, when placed in alphabetical order, Afghanistan comes first. I’m slightly embarrassed to report that my first guess had been Azerbaijan, which is actually the very last of the A’s. At any rate, we planned a full weekend of Afghan cooking, crafts, films, and more!
On Saturday morning, ahead of an impending blizzard, we picked up some essential ingredients for our first Afghan recipe as well as tissue paper, vellum, wooden dowels, and glue sticks for an afternoon craft project.
The people of Afghanistan are very enthusiastic about flying kites, we’d learned. On a breezy day, hundreds can fill the sky over the capital city of Kabul. Some Afghans even duel with their kites to see who can slice the other’s kite string first. We decided to make our own kites, starting with a sturdy square of translucent vellum and pasting tissue paper to the front in colorful designs. Using a hot glue gun, we attached thin dowels to the back to give the kites structural support.
With snowflakes beginning to fall, we weren’t about to head outside for a duel, but the kites still caught some sunlight while perched in the window — Derek’s on the left, Jess’s on the right. That afternoon, we also watched a short documentary from National Geographic called Lost Treasures of Afghanistan (2006) about the country’s rich past.
For our Saturday night dinner, we made bolani, a stuffed Afghan flatbread. We stuffed ours with potato, scallion and cilantro, though other fillings are also used. It’s traditionally eaten with a yoghurt and dill sauce. Here’s a link to the recipe we used.
After dinner, we watched a beautiful 2001 film called Baran about an Afghan family living in Iran.
On Sunday, we finished off some leftover bolani for lunch before heading out into the snow. Our destination was the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where we viewed a special exhibit called Sacred Pages: Conversations about the Qur’an featuring sheets of beautiful calligraphy taken from Islam’s most holy text. We then admired a blue necklace whose beads of lapis lazuli had been mined in the mountains of northern Afghanistan centuries ago. (Our theme didn’t prevent us from taking in some unrelated art, too, so we also enjoyed exhibits on impressionist painting, ceramic and bamboo sculpture, modern Japanese printmaking, and the color pink!)
That evening, we dined at The Helmand, a Cambridge restaurant owned by none other than Mahmood Karzai, brother of the Afghan president. (During our meal, a gentleman emerged from the back room to sort through a stack of papers at the table behind Jess.) Seated next to the restaurant’s wood-fired oven, we watched a baker sliding arm-length flatbreads onto the hot bricks. To give us some fresh bread, the baker simply turned around and placed a basket on our table. Our entrées soon arrived:
Jess tried one of the vegetarian specials, showla, a dish of rice, mung beans, and black-eyed peas with a spinach and cheese-filled poblano pepper. I ordered a meat dish called mantwo—homemade pastry shell filled with onions and beef, served on yogurt and topped with carrots, yellow split peas and beef sauce. We sipped on cardamom-infused black tea as we ate. After finishing our entrées, we shared a slice of cardamom and pineapple cake, served with figs, pomegranate sauce, and ice cream.
Monday being Presidents’ Day, our Afghan weekend wasn’t over. For brunch we made khagina, Afghan/Pakistani-style scrambled eggs with onion, cumin, tomato and cilantro, and roti, flatbread.
In the afternoon, we watched a lively documentary called Afghan Star (2009) about the eponymous television talent show that has united Afghans from every cultural and tribal background through a love for competition and song.
To wrap up our Afghan weekend, we tried out one more traditional recipe: a rice and lentil dish called qaubili pilau, served with chopped carrots and raisins.
We hadn’t been sure that we could find three days’ worth of Afghan-themed activities to do, but we did! From the smell of cardamom to the sound of Afghan music, we hope that much of what we discovered will stay with us in the future. Kha sehat walary! Cheers!