Things I Like about Afghanistan…the short list

I like Afghan dogs, and I like Afghan food.  Since I posted about the dogs a few days ago, I will post about the food today.  Yum.

Today’s blog includes a recipe for Qabili Palau… which can apparently be spelled about a hundred thousand different ways.  One thing it is not:  Kabuli Palau, as in Palau from Kabul.  It’s sometimes spelled that way, but the letter Afghans use for the K sound (as in Kabul) and the Q sound (as in Qabili) are very different.  We don’t actually have an equivalent letter in English.  It’s kind of like a Q/G mix. The same way Mohammar Gaddafi is also Qaddafi.  It’s the same as the Arabic letter in his name.  Don’t you feel all confused smarty-smart now?

Here is a preview of dinner tonight.

Looks pretty good, doesn’t it?  It wasn’t.  Do you want to know why?  Because I made it with beef instead of lamb at the special request of a friend who later ditched me for dinner because there were better things to do.  Lamb makes this dish better.  That’s probably because that’s how the Afghans make it.  They don’t eat a lot of beef in Afghanistan.  Fat-tailed sheep?  Yes.  Goats?  Absolutely.  But beef?  Not too many cattle ranches in the ‘Stan.

The other problem is that I only used two cups of rice, instead of two and half (because my roommate (who also spent time in Afghanistan) doesn’t happen to love this dish and I was trying to ensure she wouldn’t have gobs of leftovers when I leave town again tomorrow… special thanks once again to the friend that ditched dinner thereby leaving a surplus of food… you know who you are).  Unfortunately, I still used the full amount of water.  That was a mistake.  The rice wound up a bit on the soggy/sticky side.  I guess I could have tried to cook it out longer, but I didn’t.  Sue me.  Actually, please don’t.  I’m contemplating a serious career move, and I’m going to need every penny.

A couple of things before I post the recipe… A friend not the aforementioned “friend” suggested using apples in this dish.  I think they would complement the other flavors quite nicely.  You could use them in addition to the raisins, or you could substitute the raisins altogether… something that would make my roommate happy(er), but probably still wouldn’t make her love the dish.  But that’s cool.  Really.  It is.  I’m not insulted that she doesn’t love this recipe as much as I (and millions of Afghans spanning generations) do.  I wonder how millions of Afghans spanning generations would feel about the addition of apples.  They’d probably like it.  They grow good apples.  Then again, they are rather resistant to change.  So they might not like it after all.  But I would.

Is it just me, or is it really difficult to find slivered almonds?  I found sliced almonds everywhere.  But slivered?  Nope.  Had to do it myself.  That was tricky.  They don’t look quite as nice as the peeled and slivered store-bought almonds.

I’ve only made this dish three times (you’ll see why when you scroll down and realize just how long it takes…spoiler alert!  it takes three hours… minimum.  you will also have a new respect for Afghan women who cook this dish for special occasions feeding hundreds of guests).

The first time was a disaster.  I cooked an entire Afghan feast for my family… nine different dishes.  I wanted them to experience all the different foods I love.  I cooked for six or eight hours, and then cleaned up for two.  It was painful.  My feet were killing me.  And by the time the Palau was ready, everyone was already full from the other courses.  Good thing, too… because I would have had my honorary Afghan citizenship revoked for messing up the national dish.

The second time, I got it spot on.  It was so delicious.  The rice was perfect.  The lamb was perfect.  The sides were perfect.

This time… well, I already told you what the problems were this time.  So… without further ado… I give you the Afghan National Dish:  Qabili Palau.

Okay, maybe a little more ado.  I know it says that cloves are optional… I don’t actually think they are.  But some people don’t like cloves.  Cardamom is also sometimes listed as an optional spice.  I guess when you look at it like that, anything is optional.  You could lose the meat and then it could qualify as a vegetarian dish (vegan even, I think).  But why would you leave out meat?!  Seriously, why?

Also, I have no idea where the recipe originates.  I have been scouring the internets for two days trying to find it again so I can properly credit the originating author.  I always make some alterations, but I think (most of) it comes from a blog a woman wrote detailing dishes her mother makes.  If you come across her blog, let me know, would you?  And give her a big thanks for me, for writing a recipe that was authentic in flavor without requiring the use of a pressure cooker (which I consider the galaxy’s scariest kitchen apparatus… hundreds die each year in Afghanistan from freak pressure cooker accidents).  There are lots of recipes out there, but this one is the closest I’ve found to replicate the flavors of the streets of Kabul and the villages of (insert Afghan province name here… any one will do; I’ve tasted the dish in several).

Buon appetito!

Qabili Palau

Serves 5-7
Prep time 3 hours
Allergy Tree Nuts
Dietary Gluten Free
Meal type Main Dish
Occasion Casual Party, Formal Party


  • 5 cups Water
  • 2 1/2 cups Basmati Rice (Jasmine or Long-grain okay)
  • 2lb Lamb - cut in 1 1/2 inch cubes (Chicken or Beef okay)
  • 2 Medium Yellow onions, roughly chopped
  • 2 Large Carrots, julienned or shoestring
  • 1/2 cup Raisins (Red or Green grapes)
  • 1/2 cup Almonds, slivered
  • 4 tablespoons Cooking oil (Canola preferred, olive okay)
  • 1 teaspoon Cinnamon, ground
  • 2 teaspoons Coriander, ground
  • 1 teaspoon Cumin, ground
  • 1 teaspoon Black Pepper, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cardamom, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cloves, ground (optional)
  • Kosher Salt


Put rice in large bowl and cover with water. Soak a minimum of two hours, overnight preferred. Rinse, drain, and reserve.
Heat 2 TB cooking oil in large pot on MED-HIGH heat. Add lamb and kosher salt to season. Let brown for 8-10 minutes. Turn lamb occasionally.
Remove browned lamb with slotted spoon and set aside.
Reduce heat to MED and add onions. Brown, stirring frequently for 12-15 minutes.
Return lamb to pot with onions and add 2 cups of water. Reduce heat to MED-LOW. Cover and let simmer until meat is cooked and tender, about 1 hour.
Remove lamb and onions with slotted spoon and transfer to plate. Set aside. Reserve liquid in pot.
Combine cinnamon, coriander, cumin, pepper, cardamom, and cloves. Divide.
Add rice to reserve liquid. Stir one half of spice mixture and add 3 cups of water. Add salt if desired. Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to MED-LOW and cover. Let simmer until liquid is just absorbed (8-10 minutes).
Heat remaining 2 TB cooking oil in a skillet on MED heat. Add carrots and salt to season. Cook, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes or until carrots are tender.
Transfer carrots to plate with a slotted spoon. Set aside.
Add raisins to skillet. Cook until plump (2-3 minutes). Remove from pan. Set aside.
Remove the cover from the rice. Add the remaining spices, lamb, carrots, and raisins. Cover and continue to cook until rice is tender (appx. 25 minutes).
Mix ingredients thoroughly and transfer to serving platter. Add slivered almonds.


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3 Responses to Things I Like about Afghanistan…the short list

  1. Melissa K says:

    Yesterday I bought four pounds of Lamb and couldn’t decide what to do with it. Then I remembered this blog post and found it by searching, stubby thumb lamb recipe. I can’t wait to try it (today) and I’ll let you know how it goes. Id love to hear about your adventures in trying this national dish. Any tidbits of info to satisfy my curiousity?

  2. Melissa K says:

    Part way through cooking this dish and it smells terrific! The lamb is a must, I sure your readers done even consider using another type of meat. I bought a four pound boneless leg at Costco and it is divine. So far. What other Afghan recipes are you keeping from is? Please share. Ok, gotta run, more later!

    • stubbs says:

      I’m so glad you made this! Did you like it?!
      I will try to get back into sharing more recipes… Afghan food is really quite delicious.

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