Archive for September, 2009

Afghan Hospitality

I recently spent two weeks in Kabul, Afghanistan, working with our dedicated team on wrapping up this year and planning next year’s work.  Despite the sad situation of the country and the pressures and disappointments of the recent election, I had a wonderful time.  The Afghan people, every single one I met, were warm, welcoming and gracious.   It was a privilege to step into their life for a few days and come alongside them in their ardent desire to make things better in the future for their children. 

I was overwhelmed by their generosity, which came from all corners.  Despite the fact that it was Ramazan and everyone was fasting from food and drink during daylight hours, they all wanted to make sure I had water, tea and coffee.  When I mentioned how gorgeous the grapes hanging from arbors around our office were, a giant plate of them appeared.

A highlight of the trip was dinner with Dr. Stanekzai, our Team Leader, and his wonderful family.  His wife prepared a FEAST of Afghan food for us, and it was absolutely delicious.  We had the traditional Afghan dish, Quabuli Pilau, which the cook at our house had also made for me – rice with carrots and raisins.  It sounds unusual but it is very good!  We also had a delicious vegetable soup, goat kabobs (you may remember I adore goat), beef, garlicky potatoes, spinach, salad, and my favorites whose name I don’t remember – fried savory pancake-type breads, one stuffed with pumpkin and one stuffed with chives.  And to have on the side, wonderful fresh yogurt which I particularly liked for dunking the savory fried pancakes!


Look at this amazing spread!!!  And this does not include dessert which offered several heaping plates of fruit (grapes, bananas, melon) and candies.


Me with the fabulous chef:



I really loved the Quabuli Pilau dish so much, I wanted to make sure I got the recipe to bring home and recreate.  I love flavorful rice sides to go along with stewed meats and grilled veggies.  The cinnamon-y flavor of this rice, with the sweet cooked carrots, plump raisins and rich almonds was a perfect combination.  I asked our cook how to make it one morning, and he said he would write down the recipe for me.

There are two things I love about the following recipe.  One, is that the English is adorably imperfect, and reading it reminds me of how our cook loved that I loved this, and how eager he was to write it down for me to make at home, despite the fact that he couldn’t speak English very well.  The wording shows his kind heart.  Two, I am sure this recipe previously existed only in his head and I can see in his writing it down the similarity to how I write recipes.  When cooking familiar foods, it’s usually your intuition that guides you to a bit of this, and a bit of that, tasting and adjusting.  I have several things I routinely make that I’m hard pressed to record in a precise recipe.  The first time I attempt the written recipe, I think it usually reads something like this one – ‘oh, cook it for 5 minutes or so’.  I always have to go back through it one or two times to adjust temps, times, etc based on what I actually do, and not just how I think I’m doing it in my head!

I look forward to getting home and following these directions to recreate the wonderful Quabuli Pilau of Kabul.  I’ll tweak this to American measurements, and figure out how best to add the cinnamon and other spices that our cook used but didn’t include in the recipe.  I imagine that this will be the perfect rice side dish to some good Middle Eastern meatballs, perhaps even trying the meatballs with pine nuts from my new Molly Wizenburg cookbook (see the review here).  In fact, that sounds like a plan – as soon as I’m back home in my cozy kitchen, I think that will be the first dinner I’ll make!  Stay tuned for the retooled recipe and a report out on the meatballs…

Quabuli Pilau

  1. In one kilo rice put 1 liter water.  Cook 10 minut rice in water after that clean.
  2. That rice put in part [pot] and add 150g butter.  Cook 5 minut.
  3. First boiled 100 gr almond in water – 5 minut
  4. Cooked 300 gr caroot in oil 5 minut
  5. Cooked 200 gr risone [raisins].  mixed with almond, caroot and risone all of these cooked in 5 minut.  Add on rice after cooked.

Kabuli Pillau


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Although we don’t eat a Mediterranean style dish every night, in general I like to think that the bulk of the foods we eat at our house would fall into this category.  Our diet is heavy on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and dairy, with less frequent use of meat, and usually involving wine.  My typical rounds through the grocery store reflect this – about half my list is in the produce section, then I make often make a quick stop at the seafood counter, and on to dairy (cheese, yogurt, milk, butter, cream).  The main reason I ever stop in the internal aisles is for beans, nuts, oils, vinegars, spices or baking ingredients.  We don’t eat ‘low-fat’ necessarily, but we rarely eat processed foods.  In my mind that excuses me from having to feel guilty about cooking with a lot of butter and olive oil, and having to take vitamins.  (It’s better to get your vitamins from bio-available foods rather than a pill anyway!).

So I love to read articles like this one on the Epicurious blog that reiterates that low-fat is not the point, and that time and again the Mediterranean diet proves to have the right fats and keep people healthy longer.  If you could eat like the French, Greek and Italians, and live longer doing it, why in the world wouldn’t you??  The article links to claims that the Mediterranean diet helps lower blood pressure, staves off use of diabetes drugs, promotes bone density and may reduce risk of Alzheimers.  Pass the olive oil and a glass of red wine, please!


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A Homemade Life: Book Review

Molly Wizenburg’s A Homemade Life is a book I’ve been anxious to read for about a year now.  I first met Molly in her Bon Appetit column, where she tackles a dish a month, often french in origin, with self-effacing good humor and an appealingly relaxed manner.  The header noted she was recently married (as was I) and the author of a popular food blog, Orangette, so it was only a matter of time til I took a look at her blog and loved it immediately.  What I like about Molly is that she is very REAL.  She’s up front about the fact that many meals at her house are thrown together from what’s in the kitchen and totally unglamourous, and that sometimes she doesn’t feel like cooking.  But when she does feel like cooking, she cooks wonderful food.  It’s never too complicated, it’s usually fairly healthy, it has nice french influences from her time living in Paris, and it always seems tied to stories.

So I’d been following her blog for several months, and had made some really delicious things from her suggestions, when she announced she was coming out with a book!  Really an ideal sort of cooking book – part memoir, part recipes.  I think this is a perfect combination because to me the most interesting things about food are the stories and people that intersect with a great dish.  Cooking is an artistic expression, and like any other art form, those who practice it well put themselves and their story into their creations.  I was looking forward to having a book of Molly’s recipes on the shelf in my kitchen, as well as the stories about how she became who she is as a cook, and why she cooks what she cooks.

The book is organized into many short chapters.  Each tells the story of a memorable moment in her life.  Many deal with her family’s love of cooking and eating together when she was young, her dad’s death from cancer, her experience living in Paris post-college, and meeting her now-husband.  The short tales involve food in some way, and at the end of the chapter she gives the recipe.  I want to make almost ALL these recipes…Vanilla Bean Buttermilk Cake…Doron’s Meatballs with Pine Nuts, Cilantro and Golden Raisins…Coconut Macaroons with Chocolate Ganache…Bread Salad with Cherries, Arugula and Goat Cheese…Brandon’s Chana Masala.  I love how even the names are tied to the people!

Molly writes with good humor, and finds the right things important (a precise recipe for French Toast) and the right things unimportant (the way the dish looks, as long as it tastes good).  I love that she includes a ‘recipe’ for french snacks like chocolate and bread, or butter and radishes.  This is a woman that loves well – her family and her friends are clearly the center of her life – and the obvious delight she takes in preparing and sharing food with them is an inspiration.  That’s why I cook…that’s how cooking can be a joy, and not a chore or a means to an end.  If food and cooking is wrapped up in friendships, memories, laughs and long dinners for you too, you’ll love this book.


A Homemade Life

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Bye-bye cupcakes?

I came across this article today and thought it was so interesting…I love adorable yummy cupcakes but can see their point that the market could reach cupcake saturation and in fact may already be there.  Not to mention that of all the store-bought cupcakes I’ve tried, I’ve always found the cake part a bit dry.  Maybe that’s a side effect of baking en masse?  Nonetheless I’d be sad to see them go…I think a few cupcakes wrapped in a cute box with a bow is one of the cutest treats there is.  My friend Stephanie brought me a box of those for my birthday once and I have never forgotten how celebratory it felt to receive it!


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