Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Afghan Qorma: Memories stirred by our summer trip

No, we didn't do summer vacation in Afghanistan this year. (Although when the kids were small and we were living in Asia, we spent a week there.)

Rather, on the trip north this summer, we ate at a fine Afghan restaurant, the Bamian, in Falls Church, Virginia. That reminded me, concretely, of qormas, the savory meat stews of Afghan cuisine.

Qorma -- or korma or quorma -- is a romanization from languages written in Arabic or Sandscritic scripts. Therefore the English spelling varies. The word is originally Persian, but rich-gravied meat dishes with this name range from Iran through Central Asia, to Afghanistan, to Pakistan and India.

Afghan qormas are typically made with lamb, beef being a distant second choice. Lamb not only tastes richer, but it cooks faster.

Frequently there is a vegetable cooked in with the meat and caramelized onion gravy -- green beans, cauliflower, carrots, spinach or eggplant (soak eggplant chunks in salty water 1/2 hour to get out bitterness). Qorma is traditionally served with chelow, plain white long-grain rice cooked with a little salt.

Qormas are tedious to prepare, but spectacularly tasty. They are better if prepared ahead and reheated to serve, making them a good entertainment dish.

In the real spirit of Afghan culture, no alcoholic drink would be served with qorma. Iced tea, or rosewater lemonade would be more typical. However, if you insist, beer or a light-bodied red wine can be drunk with it.

The recipe makes enough for four to six people, when served with a lot of rice. Since the cooking time is the same for a double recipe, doubling yields more meals for your efforts.

Afghan Qorma with Green Beans

2 medium-large onions, chopped coarsely
3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 pound stewing lamb, or beef (chuck preferred)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground dry ginger or 1-1/2 inches fresh ginger peeled and finely minced
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 pound green beans trimmed and cut in 1-1/2-inch lengths (or see above for other vegetables)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro, including part of the stems

Fry onions gently in oil in heavy pot, stirring frequently, until dark golden colored.

Meanwhile trim excess fat and tough parts from meat. Cut meat in 1-inch cubes. Add to caramelized onions, and fry gently, stirring often, until raw color leaves.

Add garlic, turmeric, coriander, ginger and cayenne. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally and adding a little water as needed to keep moist, until meat is tender (lamb 30-40 minutes, beef 50-60 minutes).

Add salt and tomato paste. Stir well, and simmer 5 minutes.

Add vegetable, and simmer together with meat and sauce until tender.

Taste and add salt if needed. Stir in cilantro and remove from heat.

Qorma is better if cooked in advance and reheated to serve.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed all the Afghan dishes we had that night. I am going to try to cook your recipe tomorrow night. I can't wait to see your eggplant recipe we had as well.

10:18 AM  

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