Friday, 12 September 2014

A Taste of the Hindu Kush: Bolani with Cauliflower and Cilantro

First food, then religion.

As this ancient Afghan proverb attests, Afghans take their food seriously. Very seriously.

The crops of the valleys nestled in the mighty Hindu Kush mountains offer an incredible array of flavours, textures, colours and aromas, giving birth to a cuisine that has delighted tastebuds over many thousands of years.

One the most amazing things about my travels is that I've brought home the world to my own kitchen. Afghan food, with its fresh wholsomeness that fuels but doesn't overwhelm, has become a permanent part of my cooking repertoire.

As the hot August days fade into cooler September evenings, bolani is the perfect meal. Freshly baked dough with squishy warm fillings, variations of bolani are found across Central Asia. It's kind of like the pirozhki of Russia, Ukraine and even Poland, but bigger. And different.

Traditionally, the staple filling of Afghan bolani is a tiny, thin Asian leek called gandana. This makes a perfectly light filling for hot summer days, but an autumn meal calls for potato. Potato is the staple bolani filling in our house. Because potatoes are awesome. I just boiled some up, like this:

While the potatoes were boiling, I took the dough (made with organic wheat flour) out of the breadmaker and shaped it into small, round balls roughly the size of my fist. Ok, well maybe they're a bit bigger than my fist, but they fit nicely into the palm of my hand. Afghan women would make the dough from scratch for a truly authentic meal, but there are a few areas where I just have to take a shortcut.

Oh wait, I forgot smething important. You need to heat the BBQ up as hot as it will go. Ours goes up to 700F, but the consistent temperature - taking into account all of the lid openings and closings - is around 550F.

With the dough ready, it was time to focus on the fabulous filling. I mashed the potatoes, as you normally would, with a small amount of butter (I prefer olive oil) and milk. And don't be skimpy on the salt. Canadians are terrified of salt, but you need it to bring out the rich flavours of the other ingredients. If you use a high quality pink Himalayan salt, you don't need to worry about whatever health risks you're worried about. Throw in some fresh cracked pepper, too.

This time I experimented - in a futile attempt at reducing our carb intake - and replaced half of the normal potato quantity with steamed cauliflower. Mash that all up into a gorgeous, fluffy, gooey mess.

Spring onions. There is no bolani without this magical ingredient.

Cilantro (corriander). It's not Afghan food if there is no fresh cilantro. Be generous. It's only 99cents a bunch.

Mix it all together. Then spread a thick, luscious layer on the dough.

Fold the dough over and shape into a crescent moon. Then toss that baby on the barby.

Stack them up to keep warm while the others are cooking. I use a clay pizza stone on our BBQ and only three bolani fit on it at a time. So, either everyone is eating at a different time, or you stack them up, cover them with a tea towel and let the steam inside soften the dough.

These are made with fresh, wholesome ingredients, so I think it's ok to be a little naughty and spread a tiny dollop of butter on them, to melt right into the dough. I mean, you don't have to. But why sacrifice perfection?

Top with a thick plain yoghurt of the all natural, full-bacteria variety. Then dig into that pile of pure goodness like there is no tomorrow.
Watch this space as I experiment with the rich flavours of autumn and adjust my bolani recipe. Pumpkin and butternut squash, with hints of cinnamon. The possibilities are endless!


  1. This looks so incredible I am going home to make it tonight... thank you for this wonderful food idea!!!!!! I think this the most lovely way to touch with others everyday... the more I eat these tasty delights the more I have an incredible taste for learning who they are. If their food is that wonderful, they must be that wonderful too!!!! If this is their taste for life, what are we missing? Thank you for the awesome introduction!! Bring on the Blogs!!! I can hardly wait to get home.....

  2. This is amazing ! You cooked it so well :) congrats
    I can't live without Bolani :)