Heart-warming Afghan recipes by Parwana

These three colourful dinners from the Afghan-Aussie restaurant's new cookbook are good for the soul

The second there’s even a hint of an autumnal chill in the air, it’s out with the salads and in with hearty dishes that warm our bellies and boost our moods. 

And if you’re looking for soothing recipes to add to your repertoire, why not give Afghan cooking a go? Spices aside, it's a slow, careful process that expresses the hospitality and generosity essential to Afghan culture – and bringing this ethos to life is popular Adelaide restaurant, Parwana.

The Afghan Kitchen is overseen by Farida Ayubi who, along with her husband Zelmai, fled Afghanistan in 1987 and settled in the Australian city with their children. Parwana’s bright blue doors were flung open to visitors in 2009 and the family has been serving soulful Afghan food to hungry Aussies ever since. 

Channelling the restaurant’s mantra that “even loss and suffering can forge beauty and generosity”, Parwana’s latest recipe book, Parwana: Recipes and Stories from an Afghan Kitchen is a collection of heart-warming recipes – just what we need for this rather different autumn.  

So, what’s on the menu? Parwana has shared three recipes for some of its most popular dishes: gently spiced aubergine with a tangy yoghurt dressing, fragrant lamb kebabs with split pea sauce and moon-shaped kofta served alongside cardamom-infused rice.

They’re rich, warming and made with love – think meditative cooking at its very best. 

Banjaan borani

One of Parwana’s signature dishes, made of soft, melt-in-the-mouth aubergine, a slightly acidic tomato base and topped with a tangy, cooling yoghurt dressing. It’s best served with challaw (see recipe below) or another rice dish.

INGREDIENTS
Serves 4

For the aubergine:
Sunflower oil for deep-frying, plus 125ml (½ cup) extra
2 aubergines, peeled and sliced into 4 lengthways
1 large brown onion, sliced into semi-circles
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 fresh long red chillies, thinly sliced
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp white sugar
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
½ tbsp white vinegar
5 large tomatoes, sliced
125ml (½ cup) boiling water
Mint leaves and chilli powder, to serve

For the yoghurt dressing:
520g (2 cups) Greek-style yoghurt
1 garlic clove, crushed

METHOD

  1. In a large saucepan, heat enough oil for deep frying to 170°C (325°F) on an oil thermometer. Gently add the aubergine without overcrowding and fry, flipping the pieces over occasionally, until they are golden on both sides and soft all the way through. Set aside in a colander placed over a bowl to catch the excess oil and repeat with the remaining aubergine.
  2. Heat the extra oil in a large frying pan over high heat and fry the onion, garlic and fresh chilli, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Reduce the heat to low and add the coriander, sugar, turmeric, chilli powder, vinegar and 1 tbsp salt, stirring for 2 minutes to combine the flavours.
  3. Arrange the tomato over this base until it’s covered, then add the boiling water. Gently layer the aubergine on top with tongs and increase the heat to high. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid and simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, to make the yoghurt dressing, mix the yoghurt, garlic and ½ tsp salt in a bowl and mix well.
  5. Spread half the yoghurt dressing over a large serving platter then, using a flat spoon, gently lift the aubergine and arrange it over the yoghurt, without overlapping. Spoon the onion and tomato sauce over the aubergine and decoratively dollop or spread the remaining yoghurt dressing on top. Garnish with mint and chilli powder to taste. Serve hot.
Kofta challaw

The kofta, or meatballs, in this dish are made using a combination of lamb and beef. They’re not the round balls usually associated with kofta, but a slightly flat patty shape, which is common in Afghan cuisine. They are cooked in a tomato and onion sauce and traditionally served with challaw rice (recipe below).

INGREDIENTS
Serves 6

For the kofta:
1 large brown onion, coarsely chopped
1 long fresh red chilli, coarsely chopped
Fresh coriander, leaves and stems, coarsely chopped, plus extra leaves to serve
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
250g (9 oz) fatty minced lamb
250g (9 oz) lean minced beef
1 tsp coriander seeds, ground in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle

For the sauce:
4 large ripe tomatoes, quartered
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
125ml (½ cup) sunflower oil
1 large brown onion, finely diced
1 tsp white sugar
1 tsp curry powder
2 tbsp white vinegar
1 tbsp tomato paste

For the challaw:
370g (2 cups) sella basmati rice, soaked for 2–3 hours
1 tsp bruised green cardamom pods
1 tsp cumin seeds
125ml (½ cup) sunflower oil
375ml (1½ cups) hot water

METHOD

To make the kofta:

  1. Finely blend the onion, chilli, coriander and garlic in a food processor. Add 60ml (¼ cup) water and blend again to form a fine paste.
  2. Place the lamb and beef in a large bowl, add the blended paste with the ground coriander and 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper. Mix to combine well with your hands for 5 minutes, or until the ingredients are fully incorporated and the mixture is slightly sticky.
  3. Divide the meat mixture into 12 equal portions and shape into 7.5 cm (3 in) patties. Place the patties on a tray lined with baking paper and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to become slightly firm.

To make the sauce:

  1. Finely blend the tomato and garlic in a food processor. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over high heat and fry the onion, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Add the blended tomato and garlic, and fry with the onion for 2 minutes, or until fragrant.
  2. Next, stir in the sugar, curry powder, vinegar and 2 tsp salt (or to taste) and cook for another minute. Add the tomato paste and mix well to combine. Finally, add 750ml (3 cups) water, bring the sauce to the boil, then reduce the heat to medium.
  3. Add the kofta to the sauce, shaking the pan gently from side to side to make sure they are submerged. Increase the heat to high, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to medium. Cover with a lid and simmer for 20–25 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced and thickened, and is rich in colour. Serve the kofta garnished with coriander leaves over freshly cooked challaw.

To make the challaw:

  1. Bring 2 litres (8 cups) of water to the boil in a large saucepan. Drain any excess water from the pre-soaked rice, rinse under cold running water until the water runs clear, then add to the boiling water with 1 tbsp salt. Boil the rice for 5–6 minutes, or until parboiled and the grains seem to have doubled in length.
  2. Drain the rice in a colander, discarding the water, and return the rice to the saucepan. Add the cumin, cardamom and 1 tbsp salt, and mix gently to combine with a kafgeer or large, flat slotted spoon.
  3. Add the oil and hot water and stir gently to coat the rice grains. Cover with a lid and cook over high heat for 5–6 minutes, or until steam escapes from beneath the lid; this is a critical step in preparing the rice to avoid it overcooking and becoming gluggy. Once you see the steam, reduce the heat to low and cook for another 20 minutes.
Gosfand lawang

This lamb kebab dish is called a lawing because of the yoghurt sauce in which it develops its mouth-watering flavours. You’ll need to soak the split peas for a couple of hours before you start cooking.

INGREDIENTS
Serves 4

110g (½ cup) yellow split peas
250ml (1 cup) sunflower oil
1 large brown onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, grated
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
3 fresh long red chillies, thinly sliced, plus extra, halved lengthways, to serve
130g (½ cup) plain yoghurt
2 tsp ground turmeric
1kg (2 lb 4 oz) lamb shoulder, bone in, diced
2 large ripe tomatoes, finely diced
1 lime or lemon, thinly sliced
½ red onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp fresh coriander leaves
 
METHOD

  1. Cover the split peas with water in a bowl and set aside to soak for 2 hours. Drain the water from the split peas and parboil them in 500ml (2 cups) fresh water in a saucepan over high heat for 8–10 minutes, or until just tender. Drain and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a large wok over high heat and fry the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli for 2 minutes, or until tender and fragrant. Stir in the yoghurt, turmeric, 1 tbsp salt (or to taste) and 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper and combine.
  3. Reduce the heat to low-medium then add the lamb and split peas to the wok and cook for 30 minutes, or until the lamb is cooked through and tender when pierced, the split peas are soft and the sauce has thickened. Stir in the tomato to combine and cook for a further 2–3 minutes, or until the tomato softens.
  4. Serve straight from the wok, with the lime or lemon slices, red onion, coriander and extra chilli alongside.

Parwana: Recipes and Stories from an Afghan Kitchen by Durkhanai Ayubi is out 1st October (Murdoch Books, £20). All photography by Alicia Taylor.