Thursday, April 27, 2006

Afghanistan: Tamarind Potatoes & Khatai Cookies

Country #2 on my quest to cook my way around the world is Afghanistan.

They seem to like eggplant in Afghanistan. I too like eggplant, and was pleased to see that here is a country that values the delicious fruit. But since I couldn't find a cheerful-looking eggplant to fix up (or, indeed, an edible-looking eggplant - where have all the eggplants gone?), I settled on tamarind potatoes instead.

Tamarind Potatoes from Afghanistan
Tamarind and I have spared on several occasions. It usually wins. But this recipe was soft and delicious: potatoes covered in the strange, gingery tamarind-esh-ous sauce. It was a heavy dish, reminding me of potatoes in thick homemade gravy, except for the sharp, spicy kick it gave the back of my throat as I swallowed. Food should be active. I loved it.

In addition to eggplant, they like a good pistachio in Afghanistan – the dessert recipes I found looked nut-ily delicious (nut-a-licious?), and all made good use of the mighty pistachio. (Turns out the pistachio originated in the mountains of Afghanistan).

I baked a small batch of Khatai Cookies for dessert. Apparently, many countries have a Khatai cookie - I found an Indian recipe that was based on coconut, and another based on nutmeg. The Afghan Khatai cookie is cardamom with pistachio. For such a simple cookie, I couldn't believe the punch it packed. It's been added to my Favorite Cookies list. The dough is crumbly, thick, and oily, the cardamom and pistachios make an astonishing flavor, and the overall flavor is so rich that a small one was enough to finish off a meal beautifully.

Tamarind Potatoes
Makes about 4 servings

Tamarind Potatoes from Afghanistan
1 1/2 Tbsp tamarind paste, dissolved in 1 cup warm water
8 small potatoes, boiled and skinned
1/4 cup oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 tsp ginger, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground caramom
1/2 tsp ground fennel
Salt to taste

Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until crisp and lightly browned, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. Remove the onions and add the potatoes, browning well. Remove the potatoes and add the ginger and garlic. Cook for about 1 minute, then add the red pepper, turmeric, and 2 tablespoons of water (stand back for this bit).

Mix in the onions, potatoes, tamarind liquid, another cup of water, and the rest of the spices. Simmer until the sauce has thickened - about 15 minutes.

Khatai Cookies
Makes about 40 small (~1 inch) cookies
Khatai Cookies from Afghanistan
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup corn oil
1 Tbsp crushed cardamom
1/2 - 1 cup shelled pistachios, crushed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the flour, sugar, and cardamom. Mix in the corn oil.

Drop dough by teaspoon-full onto cookie sheet (I greased mine, but in the future I'll try parchment paper - the cookies are already so rich in oil).

Bake ~7 minutes, then remove, and use a spoon to gently press ground pistachios onto the tops of the hot cookies. Return to oven and make another 7 minutes, or until the edges are golden.

(The recipe I found recommended baking the cookies, then sprinkling them with pistachios, but I wanted them embedded.)


Jennifer said...

I will be trying the cookie recipe soon

Susan G said...

Where did you find Afgani recipes? We have been trying to make the pumpkin that is served at Helmand Restaurant in Cambridge, and haven't come up with anything like it. Guess we'll have to eat tamarind potatoes for now...

Dina said...

These cookies are out of this world!!! I added the crushed pistactios before baking and baked them on the bottom shelf of the oven. It saved me a step and I am lazy :). Highly recommended.

Anonymous said...

Okay, but what the heck is "tamarind paste"?

Anonymous said...

What is tamarind paste and where do you get it?