Thursday, November 18, 2010

Afghan Spinach with Coriander--or the Other Way Around

Until last year I was seeing my Afghan friend every week. We got together on Fridays at the stables, where our sons had therapeutic horseback riding classes. But she recently moved out and she stopped coming to the stables because of the heavy traffic. I miss her very much. We used to have very interesting and passionate conversations about our lives, kids, fashion, and cuisine, while our sons enjoyed the horseback riding and our younger children were also having great time playing together. Sometimes, especially on the traditional Muslim holidays, she cooked one of her national dishes and I was getting a portion of it to try with a detailed instruction on how to serve it. This way I have become acquainted with Afghan cooking.

Afghan cuisine is similar to the traditional Polish cuisine in that they are both very seasonal, probably because of harsh winters and limited access to fresh vegetables. Among my favorite Afghan dishes are leek dumplings and orange rice with carrot, and I would like to post them one day. What I like about Afghan cuisine is the spices it uses, like coriander, mint, or turmeric.

Last week for the first time I cooked an Afghan spinach dish, based on the recipe I got from my friend. According to this recipe, spinach can be combined with meat (beef, veal, or lamb) or can be prepared as a vegetarian dish, and this is the way I made it. The ample use of coriander makes this dish truly special. I love coriander, and always add it generously when a recipe calls for it, but using two bunches of coriander makes me think that perhaps coriander, rather than spinach, is this dish's primary ingredient.

Coriander and spinach are nowadays available all year round, but somehow this recipe seems very autumnal to me. Both vegetables need to be cooked slowly in a generous amount of oil until they turn dark green, almost brown, like autumn leaves.

Afghan Spinach with Coriander

2 bags spinach, chopped,
2 bunches fresh coriander, chopped,
3 bundles spring onion--green parts only, chopped,
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves crushed garlic,
1 chili pepper,
1 tsp dry ground coriander,
1 tsp turmeric,
1/4 cup canola oil,
salt and pepper.

1. In a heavy duty pot heat oil and fry onion and garlic.
2. When onion becomes transparent add the dry ground coriander and turmeric. Mix well and cook for about 2-3 minutes together.
3. Add to the pot chopped spinach, mix with the spices, and cook until all the water evaporates and the spinach becomes soft.
4. Add to the spinach spring onion, fresh coriander, chili pepper, salt and pepper, and some extra oil, if spinach is too dry.
5. Simmer all the greens on a low heat for about 40 minutes. Serve with rice.

If you wish to put meat in that dish, it should be added to the mix of onion and dry spices. Cooking spinach with meat takes 1.5-2 hours, and it should be cooked on a very low heat.

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