Thursday, August 7, 2014

Recipes from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, Pakistan

So last week, we took off for the coast on Wednesday morning. I had my blog all lined up and ready to post on Friday night, and then we got home on Friday night and I ... forgot. In fact, I forgot all the way up until Tuesday, and by then I was like, I might as well just skip the week and post it on Thursday. So that's what I'm doing. :)

Anyway, I have a new arch nemesis. Before, it was fufu. Before that, it was shrimp paste, but shrimp paste and I have developed an understanding. I don't look at it directly or inhale in its presence, and it can be in my food in small quantities. As for fufu, well, I'm just not going to make it anymore because you can't develop an understanding with something you don't understand.

This week I've met a new rival, and its name is Seekh Kebab. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with the flavor of Seekh Kebab, it's the implementation. I'm fairly sure this recipe was designed just to make people crazy.

Seekh Kebab is a favorite food of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA in Pakistan. FATA stands for "Federally Administered Tribal Areas" and is one of those places where they will stone women to death for heinous crimes like possessing cellphones. Abbottabad is in Khyber Paktunkhwa, which you may know as the town that sheltered Osama bin Laden until he was killed in a US operation in 2011. So I think it's fair to say it's not really a very friendly place, hence recipes like Seekh Kebab.

No one goes to these places, and no one takes photographs.
This shot of Ilyassi Mosque in Abbottabad was the best I could find.
Photo by Shahzada Hatim.

I really don't know what to say about either one of these places, because while I hate to criticize entire regions Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA have really got some problems. Now, I know that plenty of good people are born in bad places, so I don't mean to toss a blanket insult at anyone, but when you're talking about a place where women are legally permitted to vote but are threatened with violence if they do, well, what more can you add really. Besides all that stuff about stoning.

So I chose three recipes this week and just about put myself off of blogging in the process. Here they are:

Seekh Kebab
(from BBC food)
  • 1/2 lb ground lamb
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 green chilli, seeded and chopped
  • 1 cardamom pod, seeds only
  • 1/2 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 large handful fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Besan (chickpea flour) as needed
Kabali Pulao
(from Hala Pakistan)
  • 2 1/2 cups basmati rice
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 lbs ground beef
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and julienned
  • 2 tbsp raisins
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1/8 tsp saffron
(from The Afghan Forum, which I know isn't Pakistani, but I believe it is the same recipe)
  • 3 cups flour 
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 3 large potatoes*
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper
  • 2 tbsp oil (more if needed)
* 3 large potatoes was way too much for the amount of dough this made. Try three small to medium sized potatoes instead.

OK let's start with the Seekh Kebab and get that over with.

First, soak eight wooden skewers in cold water for about 10 minutes. Now put all the ingredients except the besan into a food processor and pulse until combined. I have a feeling this is really where I went wrong. When you put ground lamb into a food processor you get mush.

This is what happens when you put ground lamb in a food processor.

Here's what I think you should do instead: put everything but the lamb meat and the besan in the food processor and pulse until you get a paste. Then transfer to a bowl with the lamb and mix with your hands. Add besan as needed to help bind the ingredients together.

Now shape the meat into cylinders around the skewers. Grill the kebabs 3 to 4 minutes on all sides until done.

Anyway, here's what happened to me: my mixture came out of the food processor a liquified mess. I could not have shaped the stuff into anything but a wet splat, let alone made them actually stay on a skewer long enough to cook. So I dumped a ton of besan into my mixture (which was not actually an ingredient in the BBC recipe, I only found out it was an option while desperately trying to save what I'd already done to my ingredients). In the end I got something I could shape, but there was no way I was going to get it to stick to a skewer. So I made meatballs out of mine and cooked them under the broiler. It worked, but it wasn't exactly kebabs.

I had better luck with the rice: first rinse the rice until the water runs clear, then soak in fresh water for 30 minutes or more.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Fry the onions in 1 tbsp of the oil until brown. Remove and place in a blender. Grind to a paste and set aside.

Now add the beef (I actually used ground lamb in mine, which was overkill with the kebabs but I was having a bad day and I really didn't want to have to defrost hamburger). Anyway brown the meat and then pour in a cup of water and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer until tender.

Remove the meat from the broth and set aside. Put the onion paste into the broth and mix well.

Now heat another tablespoon of oil in a small pan and add the carrots. Saute until lightly browned, then add the raisins. Remove from the oil when the raisins start to swell.

Boil the water with the salt. Drain the rice and add to the boiling water. Parboil for three minutes, then drain and transfer to a casserole dish. Sprinkle with the garam masala and saffron.

Pour 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp of the beef broth and onion mixture over the rice. Now put the meat on one side of the casserole and the carrots and raisins on the other. 
Pour the rest of the cooking oil over and bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes.

When done, remove the beef and carrot/raisin mixture. Fluff the rice and transfer to a platter. Top with the meat and garnish with the carrots and raisins.

Now on to the burrani. First mix the flour, water yeast and salt together and let rise for an hour. Roll the dough into small balls (they should fit in your palm) and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest for 10 or 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, boil the potatoes and fry the onions in oil until lightly browned. Mix the onions and potatoes together and add the coriander, salt and pepper and red pepper to taste.

Flatten the dough balls and roll to about the thickness of a tortilla. Spread the potato mixture over half the circle and fold over like a calzone. 

Heat the oil over a medium flame in a frying pan and fry the bread on both sides until golden.

OK so here's what we thought. The kebabs tasted like kebabs that had too much flour in them, because they were, you know, kebabs with too much flour in them. Definitely do not put this mixture in a food processor, it is a very bad idea. Not sure what the authors of the original recipe were thinking, unless they weren't starting with ground lamb. Once all that flour had been added the texture was really pasty and not very nice, but the flavor was good. Really good, in fact. But the experience of making them was so negative that I'm not sure I would personally go back and try it again, even though I'm pretty sure I know what went wrong.

If the name Kabali Pulao sounds familiar to you, it's because I made a version of it waaay back in Afghanistan, in the very early days of this blog. This version is really similar to the one I made back then, with slightly different ingredients and a different technique. In my defense, I tried to find a rice dish that was wholly Pakistani but I was running out of time, as I always seem to be doing these days. Anyway this was good, and after eating it I decided once and for all to never again boil basmati rice because the oven method results in infinitely better texture.

The bread was, of course, my kids' favorite part of the meal, which surprised me a little because although they are fiends for bread they aren't that crazy about mashed potatoes, especially when they have spices in them. But fried bread, you know, you really can't go wrong. This is something I would make again, if I can block the whole kebab experience out of my head.

Next week: North Korea


  1. I dare you to try making nihari, haleem and sindhi biryani :)

  2. Oh dear, you dare me? Now I have to! :D

  3. women are stoned for possesing a cellphone? have u ACTUALLY set foot there or u blog based upon fox news? i think u have khyber Pakhtunkhwa confused with Afghanistan.

  4. @Zenith: Nope, I've never actually "set foot there" (I'm afraid it would be impractical for me to visit "every nation on earth" what with having four kids and all) and no I don't watch Fox News. If you'd like to read up on the incidents of women killed for using mobile phones in Pakistan (yes, Pakistan) you can check out The Digital Rights Foundation, "a registered research based advocacy NGO focusing on ICTs to support human rights, democratic processes and digital governance," which I'm pretty sure is the exact opposite of Fox News. Here is a link: Yes it does happen in Pakistan, and I'm pretty sure you've never "set foot there," either.


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