Kabul: Seattle’s choice for Afghan cuisine
Zachary D. Lyons
Colors NW magazine - May 2002
...I have tried just about everything on the menu, with the glaring exception of the Pistachio Rosewater ice cream – something I kidded Khairzada I would complain about, since they were out two visits in a row. The menu is intentionally simple and small. Do a few things with excellence is the attitude here.
The fare consists of several stews, several dips and sauces, three kebabs, and distinctive soups and salads. Be sure to order appetizers. Everyone I’ve eaten with at Kabul has commented that they could easily make a meal of appetizers alone. And that’s OK, as long as you come back later for the equally impressive entrees and desserts.
Ash – a traditional soup with noodles, yogurt, kidney beans and chickpeas, seasoned with dill, turmeric and mint is delicious. So is Shornakhod, a fresh-tasting salad of chickpeas and kidney beans with a cilantro, lemon and vinegar dressing. Bolani are turnovers filled with scallions, cilantro and potato, with a garlic-yogurt dip. A guaranteed “yum!” Jan-i Amma, a dip of yogurt, minced cucumbers, onions and mint, and Burta, a dip of crushed eggplant blend with yogurt, sour cream, garlic, mint, cilantro, olive oil and lemon juice, are served with Afghan bread – a very thin flat bread you use to scoop up the dip. Both are wonderful, though quite different. And if you have any leftover Jan-i Amma or garlic-yogurt dip, use them with your main courses. Salata is a surprisingly tasty cucumber salad to me, as I am not a big cucumber fan. With tomatoes, onions, mint, and a lemon dressing, it is nicely salted and seasoned, and is free with every entrée.
The stew-based entrees are available both with and without meat. While they traditionally come with meat in Afghanistan, Kabul has adapted them to meet the needs of Seattle’s large vegetarian community. Qorma-i Sabzi is a stew of spinach, cilantro, parsley and scallions, topped with a lamb stew. Qorma-i Tarkari is a stew of cauliflower, baby carrots and potatoes with a lamb stew seasoned with dill, saffron, turmeric and cumin. Both are a lamb eater’s delight, while being excellent lamb-free as well.
Ashak is a wonderful, and unexpected, pasta dish available with or without beef. (Remember, Marco Polo brought pasta back to Italy from China via Afghanistan 700 years ago!)
Badenjan Borani is eggplant sautéed and simmered in a nice tomato sauce, served on a bed of that terrific garlic-yogurt sauce. Order it as an entrée topped with ground beef seasoned with coriander, turmeric and cayenne pepper, or without. I recommend ordering the Kebab Special, where you get the delightful vegetarian Badenjan Borani as a bonus.
As for the kebabs, choose from lamb, beef or chicken. Your choice of meat will be marinated in a savory selection of complementary seasonings, skewered and flame-roasted. All are exquisite. Personally, I find myself craving the Bara Kebab (lamb) often. Your leftover garlic-yogurt dip serves as an excellent condiment to the kebabs, as well. Most dinners are sided with what I think is the best Basmati rice in the area.
Save room for dessert! The Firni, made in house,
an eggless custard pudding seasoned with cardamom and rosewater, and
topped with ground pistachios, is delectable, while the in-house Baklava
is delicate and delicious without being overbearingly sweet or gooey.
Ice creams are made especially for Kabul, with dramatic, honest flavors
like mango, green tea, chocolate and blackberry in a perfectly creamy,
not-too-sweet base. And then there is the mythical Pistachio Rosewater
ice cream. I think Khairzada was just hiding it from me to ensure my