Afghanistan has been in the news here for the past 20 years, but never more so than the past couple of weeks. The Afghan people are facing – and have faced – challenges of the sort that most of us couldn’t even imagine. It’s a small gesture, but my wife and I wanted to show our support of the Afghan people and the Afghan owners of a terrific little restaurant by dining there this week: Afghan Kitchen.
Afghan Kitchen owner Wali Arshad Salem and his wife Mariam lived in Kabul until 2014 when, over concerns about their security and safety, they moved to Utah. They say that they “knew it was time to leave.” Ultimately, Wali partnered with Naeem Amel who would become executive chef and open Afghan Kitchen. Remarkably – given an ongoing pandemic and other challenges – a second Afghan Kitchen location opened recently, located on State Street. As far as I can discern, the menu is pretty much identical at both the State Street and the original Main Street location that we visited.
While in Afghanistan, Wali worked for a foundation called Turquoise Mountain, which was founded in 2006 by Prince Charles. The foundation is “focused on reviving Afghan traditional crafts, architecture, culture, and restoring historic areas destroyed by the Taliban or during the war in Afghanistan.”
Warm smiles always greet Afghan Kitchen guests – usually from Mariam and Wali themselves. This is a hands-on, family operated business. Perusing the Afghan Kitchen menu you’ll see an array of kebabs, rice dishes, vegetarian offerings, appetizers and more.
There are a couple of Afghan-style soups that I like to begin an Afghan Kitchen meal with. One is called Shorwa E Murgh, a street food found in Kabul of chicken soup with corn, chickpeas, turmeric and cilantro. My favorite, however, is Aush – a scrumptious bowl of chicken broth, spaghetti-style noodles, chickpeas, vegetables and a sprinkling of dried mint and dill.
There are lots of tempting appetizers to share at Afghan Kitchen, including Pakawra – potato fritters made with a unique chickpea batter. There’s also Bolani Kachalo, which is flat bread stuffed with spiced potatoes and leeks. I especially love the handmade dumplings, however. There are a couple of options. Aushak is a plate of steamed dumplings – sort of Afghan potstickers – filled with leeks and spring onions, topped with garlic-yogurt sauce and kidney beans. There is also Beef Mantu, which are dumplings stuffed with tender, nicely seasoned ground beef, topped with that garlicky yogurt sauce, steamed split peas and dried mint.
Of course, no meal at Afghan Kitchen is complete without an order of Naan. There is standard Afghan Naan – a very large portion – as well as Garlic Naan. Both are cooked in the restaurant’s traditional tandoor.
Main courses include lamb, beef, chicken or seasoned ground beef Kebabs where skewered meat is first marinated in Afghan Kitchen’s “secret sauce” then grilled over charcoal and served with a side of basmati rice and house salad called Salata. There’s also Qorma E Murgh which is chicken thighs cooked in a curry-style sauce of tomatoes, onions, ginger and garlic. Guests can choose either boneless or bone-in chicken.
Personally, I like to opt for the falling-off-the-bone tender Lamb Qurma, which is a lamb shank braised in a wonderful sauce of garlic, onions, tomatoes, ginger and spices, served with perfectly cooked basmati rice. It’s not unlike Indian korma or kurma, although less spicy.
For my wife’s entree, she opted for a delicious dish called Burani Kado. This was roasted pumpkin cooked in a tomato-based sauce with garlic and onion and then topped with Afghan Kitchen’s signature yogurt-garlic sauce and served with basmati rice.
I didn’t want to visit Afghan Kitchen without enjoying their kebabs, so we placed an order of Mixed Kebabs – one chicken and one beef, which came with salata and rice, to take home. Other kebob options include Shami, which is seasoned ground beef, as well as succulent lamb kebobs charbroiled to perfection.
The hospitality at Afghan Kitchen is some of the warmest you’re ever likely to experience and the food is delicious and inexpensive. I suspect that the kind and hospitable owners – Wali and Mariam – are looking forward to a day when perhaps Afghanistan is not in the news.
Photos by Ted Scheffler and courtesy of Afghan Kitchen
Culinary quote of the week:
“Where you eat is sacred.” — Mel Brooks
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.