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11 Traditional Afghan Dishes To Try 

Learn more about the food in Afghanistan with these common foods.

Afghanistan’s cuisine is a rich melange of local crops and livestock. Many of us aren’t as aware of Afghan food as Mexican or Italian fare, which is a shame. Afghan recipes use wheat, fruit, yogurt, and meat to create filling, delicious meals. 

Afghan chicken skewers Kebab e Murgh close-up on paper on table

Rice is foundational to much of Afghanistan’s food. When using meat, the fare often relies on lamb.

An excellent Afghan menu borrows the best elements from various cultures, such as Indian, Chinese, Iranian, and Turkish cuisine

Garlic, onions, and yogurt feature heavily in much of Afghan cooking. You’ll also note the frequent appearance of an ingredient called ghee. Ghee is clarified butter from India; it tastes similar to the American conception of the product but nuttier. 

From dumplings to desserts, we’ve collected some of the most popular Afghan food and looked at their origins and ingredients.    

Best Afghan Foods

This article examines some of Afghanistan’s most popular dishes.


Aushak

Aushak takes considerable time, but they’re worth the effort.

The dumplings are filled with leeks and chives, and the chef determines if the dish’s tomato sauce topping has meat. A yogurt sauce and dried meat complete the aushak. 

While the meat sauce is more traditional, you can make the vegetarian version with lentils.

The basic elements of the dish are straightforward: 

  • Scallions
  • Leaks
  • Oil
  • Wanton wrappers or dough
  • Onion
  • Tomato sauce
  • Yogurt
  • Garlic 

Various spices blend to create the complex and rich flavor defining the dish. Making aushak takes anywhere from 55 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes.  


Borani Banjan

You may need some mints after enjoying Borani Banjan, but the side dish is worth the questionable breath.

A rich eggplant dish with lots of garlic flavor, Borani Banjan is stewed in tomato sauce and seasonings. A garlic yogurt sauce and fresh mint complete the dish. 

Borani Banjan is both an appetizer and a side. The dish is best served with Afghan bread to sop up the extra sauce. It takes 50 minutes to an hour to make. 

Different recipes vary the precise amounts of spices used; however, the basic ingredients are always:

  • Eggplant
  • Fresh garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • Tomato paste
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Plain yogurt
  • Dried mint
  • Seasoning

Kabuli Pulao

Called the National Dish of Afghanistan, the lamb and rice meal originated as a wedding feast for wealthy families who could afford elite ingredients. 

Kabuli pulao is not a simple dish to prepare and takes two and a half hours to cook.

The lightly fried lamb is served on a bed of rice pilaf, accented with carrots and raisins with browned pine nuts topping the dish.

The unexpected combination of raisins and lamb creates a delicious sweet and savory flavor palate. Kabuli pulau requires the following ingredients:

  • Rice
  • Onions
  • Sugar
  • Lamb
  • Raisins
  • Ghee
  • Carrots
  • Almonds
  • Spices

You can make the dish with chicken instead. However, the most authentic form of kabuli pulau requires lamb. 


Bolani

Naan lovers will adore bolani. The stuffed bread is fried and served with yogurt, mint yogurt, or green chutney.

Serve bolani as a side dish, an appetizer, or a quick snack. Afghans make the food for a wide variety of reasons.

Bolani is served at weddings, parties, and holidays but is also sold widely by street vendors.

While potatoes are the most common bolani stuffing, other potential fillings include:

  • Leeks
  • Grated pumpkin
  • Chives
  • Red lentils
  • Minced meat

Though frying is the traditional cooking method, you can also bake bolani. It takes about an hour and the following ingredients to prepare the stuffed bread:

  • Flour
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Olive Oil
  • Sumac 
  • Red pepper flakes

Gosh-e-Fil

Meaning “elephant ears,” this elephant ear-shaped pastry is popular in both Iran and Afghanistan.

They’re made of fried dough covered in powdered sugar, syrup, or pistachios.

Gosh-e-fil is breakfast food in Afghanistan. If you like donuts, you’ll love gosh-e-fil.

The tasty pastries don’t require much labor; however, the dough needs to be allowed to rise, adding some minutes to the overall preparation process.

You probably have most of the ingredients for gosh-e-fil in your pantry right now. These include:

  • Eggs
  • Flour
  • Vegetable oil
  • Baking Powder
  • Milk

Haft Mewa

Save the champagne this year and celebrate the new year the Afghan way.

Nowroz is celebrated on the vernal equinox in March and marks the start of a new year.

While there are many aspects of the celebration, the most important culinary element is haft mewa.

Haft mewa is a mix of dried fruits and nuts. The ingredients are soaked in filtered water for two to four days, creating a sweet, delicious syrup. 

Traditional haft mewa contains the following ingredients:

  • Red raisins
  • Black raisins
  • Yellow raisins
  • Senjid
  • Pistachios
  • Dried Apricots
  • Dried apples

While these are the traditional ingredients, don’t worry if you don’t have them in your pantry. Use whatever dried fruit and nuts you have on hand. 


Mastawa

If you’re looking for a hearty, one-dish meal, your search is over. Mastawa combines lamb, rice, chickpeas, and yogurt to make a delicious, filling meal.

Mastawa is a traditional Afghan dish, typically made to warm up winter nights. 

The purest version of the recipe uses lahndi, a uniquely prepared dried lamb. However, you can use other meats.

The thick, sticky stew uses a melange of spices to create its rich flavor profile. The secret weapon, however, is orange peel added in the last leg of the cooking process.

Add the following to your shopping list to whip up a batch of mastawa:

  • Lamb
  • Onions
  • Turmeric
  • An orange
  • Short grain rice
  • Yogurt
  • Garlic
  • Vegetable oil
  • Dill
  • Chickpeas

The meal cooks up relatively quickly, clocking in at about 40 minutes.


Aush

Noodle soups are universally loved, and the Afghan aush provides a delicious entry into the category.

The dish fuses Indian and Persian culinary elements to create a unique food experience.

Aush includes flat noodles and a tomato-based broth, and the soup is chock full of vegetables and topped with a yogurt sauce. 

Many traditional aush recipes include kofta, a sauce made of ground beef. However, the soup can easily be made vegetarian.

While there’s plenty of room for variation, consider the following essential ingredients as inspiration for your own aush:

  • Onion
  • Olive Oil
  • Garlic
  • Tomato sauce
  • Spaghetti 
  • Kidney beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Yogurt
  • Mint leaves

The soup is similar to curry and takes about 45 minutes to prepare. 


Sheer Khurma

You can’t celebrate Eid without sheer khurma. Eid marks the last day of Ramadan, and sheer khurma is the breakfast of choice for that holiday.

The primary ingredients are in the name: sheer means milk and khurma means dates. 

The pudding dish makes a delicious breakfast or snack. Serve sheer khurma hot or cold; it’s equally delightful both ways. 

Here’s what you’ll need if you’re planning to make your own sheer khurma:

  • Ghee
  • Cashews
  • Almonds
  • Pistachios
  • Golden raisins
  • Dates
  • Vermicelli
  • Whole milk
  • Sugar
  • Rosewater
  • Cardamom

Sheer khurma takes around 40 minutes to prepare and can be frozen. Make a large batch and thaw out as needed! 


Chopan Kabob

One of Afghanistan’s favorite street foods, chopan kabob, is a dish made of skewered lamb meat.

The mutton is richly marinated before cooking. To make chopan kabob properly, you must grill the meat on a mangal. Mangals are traditional, portable grills. 

The lamb truly is the dish’s star, so chopan kabob’s success rests in the marinade. Here’s what you need to make your own:

  • Boneless lamb
  • Red onion
  • Yogurt
  • Garlic
  • Cilantro
  • Lamb fat 

Best served with lawausha or chapati, making chopan kabob takes considerable time.

The actual cooking time is only 20 minutes, but the lamb must marinate for a full day to absorb the full range of flavors. 


Mantu

Eating mantu is tasting a bit of Afghanistan’s history. The dish traces its inception back to the Turks and Mongols.

Mantu’s popularity has only increased with time. The plate is sold on nearly every busy street at special events and large gatherings.

Mantu is steamed meat dumplings. They’re usually filled with beef, but lamb is also a viable option.

The food can be either a side dish or an entree. Often served with a garlic yogurt sauce, a wide array of toppings compliment mantu. 

If you have an hour and fifteen minutes, you can whip up your own mantu. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Beef or lamb
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Turmeric
  • Coriander
  • Vegetable oil
  • Wonton wrappers

Best Afghan Foods

  1. Aushak
  2. Borani Banjan
  3. Kabuli Pulao
  4. Bolani
  5. Gosh-e-Fil
  6. Haft Mewa
  7. Mastawa
  8. Aush
  9. Sheer Khurma
  10. Chopan Kabob
  11. Mantu

Final Thoughts

Afghan cuisine is rich and delicious. The cooking relies heavily on spices and yogurt.

Like most global fares, Afghan food uses the crops and livestock that are locally available to craft its menus and recipes. Many of the dishes are rice-based, and garlic is key for flavor. 

Food plays a significant role in Afghan culture; certain dishes are inextricably connected to particular holidays and celebrations. S

ampling their delicious and varied cuisine gives you a taste of life in Afghanistan and an appreciation for the culture that creates such warm, dimensional dishes. 

Learn about other cuisines from around the world, like German breakfast favorites or some of the most unusual foods from around the world!

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Written by Erin Elizabeth

Erin lives in East Passyunk and enjoys checking out the local restaurants in South Philly and beyond. Her favorite restaurants are those with spicy food and outdoor seating so that she can bring along her dog, Miss Piggy.