This photo might be the most “liked” of my photos in the last year or two on both Facebook and Instagram. It clearly struck a chord – but then, bread and soup tend to, no? I have this vaguely formed idea of exploring, one country at a time, what amounts to the national bread, preferably something stuffed or flavored, or even more empanada-like, and soup, or at least the most popular, if it’s not been officially recognized in any way. Whether or not this goes on, we shall see. But we do like our soups, so it seems like a fun, cooking for ourselves at home project.
So, Afghanistan comes up first on the alphabetical list. While several soups seem to vie for popularity, the one that sounded most interesting was Ash Soup (there are also numerous listings for Aush Soup, which initially I thought might be the same thing, just spelled differently due to transliteration, but seems to actually be a different soup in its constituent parts). Now, I’m guessing there are at least several thousand grandmothers out there teaching people to make traditional Ash Soup, and between webpages and youtube videos, I checked out around two dozen different versions to get some sort of handle on it. So, this is the version I’ve “boiled it down to”, pun intended.
I sauteed a chopped yellow onion until lightly browned, added a couple of minced garlic cloves and a half kilo of ground beef, and cooked those until the beef was starting to brown. Added in a couple of chopped red chilies (ají limos), a good dose of black pepper and ground coriander, a chopped tomato, and salt to taste, and cooked it about another 7-8 minutes until most of the liquid had evaporated. Set aside.
In the soup pot, sauteed another chopped onion, another couple of cloves of garlic, and another couple of chilies until lightly colored. Added black pepper, turmeric, and salt and cooked another couple of minutes, and then a good dollop of tomato sauce, and another couple of minutes of cooking to meld the flavors. Filled the pot with good beef stock, and a couple of drained cans of chickpeas. Brought to a boil, added half a package of spaghetti, and cooked until the noodles were done.
Ladled the soup into bowls, topped with a good serving spoonful of the beef mixture, a couple of spoonfuls of thick yogurt, and dusted it all with dried mint.
On to the bread, Boulani. Again, more recipes than I began to want to sort through – I can see this project is going to take some researching, country by country. The common denominators – a simple bread dough – most recipes called for unleavened, but several used yeast and/or baking powder. Baked, fried, or most commonly griddled, sometimes without oil, sometimes with. The two most common fillings seemed to be either spiced crushed potatoes, or some sort of “chive” filling, which, given what was being shown, was referring to the wide, flat, garlic chives that we tend to see in chinatown here. But some used green onions, and a few used leeks, and one used plain white onions. I decided I’d lean towards the potato filling, but some sort of combo. Tomatoes – some yes, some no, more seemed to favor no. Spicing – coriander and black pepper seem to be the hallmarks of much of Afghani cooking, so those were definite. Chilies of some sort, yes, generally dried flakes. Cilantro, definitely.
I went with the simplest dough – two cups of flour, a teaspoon of salt, and just enough warm water to bring it all together into a soft, just slightly tacky, but not really sticky, dough. Kneaded for a few minutes and then set aside for an hour to rest.
Boiled up some potatoes pre-cut into quarters. I left the skins on, which none of the recipes did, but we like our potato skins, so make it our own twist on the dish. Drained, crushed, but left somewhat chunky. Mixed in lots of chopped green onion (I’d have used garlic chives if we had them handy), cilantro, salt, black pepper, coriander, and chili flakes.
Sauce – sour cream (or yogurt) with finely chopped green chilies (serranos) and garlic, and salt to taste.
Split the dough in two and rolled it out thinly, to about a 16″/40cm diameter. Spread half the filling on one side of each of the rolled out rounds, folded it over, pressed the edges together, and then pressed the whole flatbread out to get it nice and even.
I decided to griddle it without oil, on a well seasoned griddle – if you’re using one that isn’t well seasoned you might need to brush on just a hint of oil to keep it from sticking. Browned one side, flipped it over, browned the other side, did the same with the second one, cut them in wedges, topped each with a dollop of the sour cream sauce, and served them up with the soup.
We finished off the entire pot of soup and both breads – far more food than we should have, but it was that good!
Next country on the list… Albania. Hmmm….