We had a great dinner in Vancouver. Shahnaz made us some great afghan traditional dishes.
qurma e alobokhara (chicken with dried prunes)
Shahnaz tells me that this is a traditional dish that can be made with chicken or lamb. Even in the old days in Afghanistan this was considered a bit of a special dish for special occasions.
This dish is always served with “chalau” (steamed white long basmati rice). Last night we also had it with mash palau. Mash Palau is basmati rice stir fried with moong dahl (mong beans).
Baadnjan boranai over chaka (eggplant over a dense spiced yogurt)
The eggplant are lightly grilled. Onions are sauteed on a different pan. The onion are than poured on the eggplant with tumaric, garlic, olive oil, salt and a dash of hot water.
They are served over yogurt, which is very dense because the water has been filtered out.
Mash Awa (thick bean soup with a dash of thick yogurt)
All the beans are actually socked for a day or so. To add a bit of taste they are cooked on a chicken stock.
The trick to give it a bit of the “afghan” feel is adding lots of garlic, onion, ground fresh ginger, and pepper.
Another trick is adding a spoon of short grain rice that actually ends up adding thickness to the soup.
Risotto is an Italian classic and it can be made in what seems an infinite number of variations. Sometimes it can be difficult to get it right. If you are a fan of Top Chef you probably know that most everyone who attempts risotto gets kicked off the show.
The key to determining what is “right” for you is determining whether you like it a bit more firm or on the softer side. Tom Calicchio (judge on Top Chef) checks the consistency of risotto by spooning it on a plate and if it begins to spread right away, you’ve done the job. I like it a little more firm which gives it a a bit more texture but again, it’s up to you.
The following recipe is an easier version of risotto. When a traditional version is made, constant stirring is required and it takes about 30-45 minutes of active work. My version cuts down the cooking time to less than 20 mins where the amount of active work required is less, and it still delivers a great dish.
Essential to a good risotto is the stock. You can buy this at the store if you want to stick to keeping this recipe “easy”. However, it’s extremely easy to make it at home too. It’s fast and most importantly it’s tastes much better. Most store bought stocks (even the organic, low sodium ones) are too strong and artificial tasting.
I made a simple vegetable based one adding a variety of veggies I had in the fridge – some asparagus stems (I used the top for a different dish), bell peppers, carrots, onions, celery, and zucchini. The point is that whatever veggies you have around can be dropped right into this stock – including any bones and meat if you prefer a meat based stock. You just need to wash and roughly chop the veggies, letting it boil for 30-45 min. You choose how long to boil it but the point is that you can do this while you’re checking your emails (which is what I do!).
The Risotto. Get started with sauteing half onion in couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.
When the onion is translucent (see above) just add 2 cups of arborio rice. This will serve 4 people.
Stir the rise so that it’s properly coated with the olive oil. The idea is to let the rice “toast” slightly.
Add a couple of ounces of white wine (make sure that it’s room temperature… my trick is to warm it up in the microwave for ten seconds).
This is where my shortcuts come in. I just add several ladles of stock (about an inch above the rice) and let cook at medium heat. At this point you can just let it cook (check after 5-10mins to stir it).
After 15 mins or so the rise will be pretty much done. Below a close up of the consistency I picked today. It’s essential that you taste the rice now. You will be easily tell whether it’s done as the rice will be cooked throughout. If you are a bit short just add a laddle of extra stock and stir well.
Done with the basic steps. Your “base rice” is ready.
The reason I call this a “base rice” is because from here you can customize it in a variety of ways. You can add seafood, all sort of vegetables (for example mushrooms), etc…
In my case I kept it even easier. I added lots of fresh herbs (parsley and thyme), butter (don’t be shy), and grana cheese.
Risotto is ready to be plated. Make sure you add extra grana and a fresh ground black pepper.