Everyone feels creatively blocked every now and again. Whether it be in art, writing, sewing, or, in my case: cooking. I love spending my free time in the kitchen being creative, but when you have to get food on the table day in and day out I often find creativity the first thing to be left by the wayside. So one day I decided that the best way to force myself out of my rut was to take the list of countries of the world and cook a representative meal from one every week. My first country: Afghanistan. Exotic, right? Well, that’s the point.
Afghan food holds as staples rice, barley, and other major crops cultivated in the region. It is a cuisine heavily influenced by halal Islamic dietary laws, and as one might expect, heavily spiced with things like cardamom and coriander. We chose a popular rice preparation called Challow and Kofta with Korma, aka meatballs and sauce.
As rice is a popular staple both in Afghanistan and our home I decided this would make a fitting carb for the meal. While we often make rice in our home I was surprised by the process for making this rice. While we normally steam ours, Challow is boiled and then baked. It was a little laborious but fluffy and delicious. It also called for a tremendous amount of freshly ground cardamom, which seemed overpowering until combined with the main dish.
To go with the rice we chose Kofta and Korma. These words might ring a bell for those of you familiar with Indian food, however the spice combination for these was unique and a perfect companion to the exotically spiced Challow. The intense tomato and paprika flavors really set the dish apart.
This first experiment was a tremendous success overall! When you mix the Challow (rice) with the Korma (sauce) from the Kofta (meatballs), the balance works really well and the cardamom in the rice isn’t so overpowering. I might reduce the cardamom just a smidge on the rice (the recipe included below has been adjusted down some), and the extra work of boiling and baking the rice as opposed to steaming was probably unnecessary taste and texture-wise. Nonetheless, I would use this recipe for meatballs any day of the week. The plan forced me outside my comfort zone, and that was just what I was looking to do! I actually now regularly add whole cumin seeds to my long grain rice now thanks to trying it out with the Challow recipe.
Kofta and Korma
1lb ground beef
1 medium onion, minced
2 cloves pressed garlic
1T coriander, ground
3tsp chicken broth powder
(this eliminates the need for salt)
ground black pepper to taste
In a bowl, combine all of the ingredients. It is important to mix everything well so that the meatballs will be tender. Form into meatballs about golf ball sized. Next, set the meat aside while you make the Korma sauce.
EVOO to fill the bottom of a skillet
1 large onion chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp of chicken flavor bouillon powder in place of salt
1T sweet paprika
1T ground cumin
1T ground coriander
For the Korma sauce heat the oil in a large pan (the meatballs should touch each other as little as possible in the pan). Caramelize the onions. In a separate bowl add 2 cups of water and tomato paste to mixing to dissolve then add spices. Add this to the onions, stir till mixed. Add the meatballs, making sure they do not touch, and then add more water until the meatballs are more than half covered.
Set the pan to medium high and cover with a lid. Let cook for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and carefully flip meatballs. Stir gently and cover again leaving it slightly open so the steam can escape. Cook for 25 minutes more. Stir occasionally. Uncover and reduce until the sauce thickens.
Total cook time is about one hour, you will know when the sauce has thickened; turn the meatballs as needed to prevent burning. Serve with white rice (Challow).
2 1/2 cups of Basmati rice
1T whole cumin seeds
1T ground cardamom
6 cups of water
About 30 minutes before you want to start, place Basmati in a bowl and cover with water. Wash rice and drain the water off, repeating 3 times or until the water is no longer cloudy. Once rinsed, fill the bowl with water, completely covering rice, and let it sit for at least 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350F
In a large ovenproof pan with a good lid (we used our cast iron, add a good bit of water and sprinkle with salt. Bring the water to a strong boil, and drain the soaking water from the rice and then add the rice to the boiling water. Stir in well and then let it boil again for about 6 minutes – until the rice is more or less soft when you bite on a piece.
Drain the rice in a colander or strainer, reserving 1/4 of a cup of hot water and dissolving 3 teaspoons of salt into the water. Add 1/4 of EVOO to the hot water mixing well. Add this to the rice until the top of the rice is just covered. Next add in the spices. With a bid spoon mix this into the rice by making little mounds of the rice and shaking the pan. Repeat until the whole pan of rice is mixed and covered with oil and the spices are well mixed with the rice.
Pile the rice into a mound in the middle and with the back of the spoon, in a circle pattern make 5 “holes” for ventilation in the mound (four around and one in the middle). Place the top on the skillet and place it in the oven for about a half hour. After 30 minutes turn the oven off and let it set for 20-30 minutes more to let the rice finish cooking. When you serve the rice first fluff it by taking a forkful and shaking it back into the pan, repeat until most of the grains of rice are separated.