Thanks to the internet and social media, the world has become one vast meeting ground, a chance encounter available at every swipe.
What you make of these encounters depends on what you want from them. The pitfalls are well recognised—abuse and opprobrium from random people. But there are benefits, from the romantic to the academic to the culinary. I am familiar with some.
I first got acquainted with my spouse of 22 years on email, a squabble developing into passion before I even saw what she looked like. I am wary of social media “meet-ups” but I have certainly renewed or deepened old acquaintances thanks to the apps on my phone.
Only last month, a close friend from school, whom I had not met for more than 40 years, got in touch and asked if I would be willing to meet a classmate who had flown down from Delhi to Bengaluru just to have lunch and a drink with us at the airport before catching a flight back three hours later. So we did.
The latest fortuitous encounter came last week when a Delhi-based defence analyst I am acquainted with on Twitter—whose name I do not know—read my last column and tagged me with a criminal and immigration lawyer called Mirriam Zary Seddiq, an Afghan who is a US citizen.
Seddiq also runs a blog (www.afghancooks.com), a YouTube channel and Instagram and Twitter handles called @afghancooks. I do not usually follow others who cook, not out of hubris but only because I never find the time.
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As it happened, the day I read her blog was the day I was looking for something new for the 12-year-old’s dinner. Bored easily after two years at home thanks to the pandemic, even with food she loves, she wanted “something different”. Since she isn’t a fan of spicy food, I realised Seddiq’s chicken kebob salad might be just the thing when she arrived ravenous and edgy after 90 minutes of tennis.
The salad was a hit with my slightly cranky preteen. Struck by this easy acceptance, I turned my attention to the blog and realised almost everything in there—from brinjal to a biryani with minimal spice—was attuned to my style of cooking and the family’s tastes.
It wasn’t difficult to reach out to Seddiq and ask about her culinary philosophy, which she says is to use techniques from other cuisines to elevate Afghan food. There is a difference, she says, between using techniques and calling what she does fusion food—Afghan-Mexican, Afghan-French or Afghan-Italian—although her latest post is about Afghan spaghetti sauce and her offerings include Afghan nachos or brinjal wrapped in French pastry.
Despite some similarities—their barjans are our baingans—Afghan food culture, as Seddiq points out, is relatively simple, with much braising, boiling and steaming. She wanted to expand on those flavours while remaining true to “our ingredients and flavours”.
Seddiq recognises food as being “political and very emotional”, as the comments left on her social media often indicate. No one knows that better than an Afghan in exile. Seddiq, who is 50, travelled to the US with her mother when her father was doing his medical studies. The Soviets invaded, and they never returned.
Seddiq grew up eating Afghan food and speaking Pashto but her connection with the home country was never strong until family members started arriving as refugees after the Soviet invasion. Today, aside from a law firm, she runs—with her brother and three cousins—a foundation called Komak, or home, launched on her 50th birthday last year. They help resettle thousands of Afghan refugees, with donated supplies that once filled her garage and now occupy a 3,000 sq. ft warehouse.
“I have always been Afghan and I never considered myself Afghan-American because I wasn’t born here, even though I am a citizen,” she tells me. “As I have gotten older, I have tried to learn as much as I can about my country—the food, the ethnicities, the regions as well as its history. So, I think my Afghan identity has gotten stronger as I have gotten older.”
A path to that identity has clearly emerged through food, which leads her to research the basics and history of each dish before she puts it out on the net—to be available to a hungry tween and her eager-to-please father somewhere on the other side of the world.
Mirriam Zary’s Afghan chicken kebob salad
500g boneless chicken, 2-inch pieces
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
For the marinade
1 cup yogurt
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
1 tsp paprika powder
Half tsp turmeric powder
Half tsp fresh ground pepper
A pinch of cinnamon powder
Salt to taste
For the salad
1 large cucumber, deseeded and chopped into small bits
2 large tomatoes, deseeded and chopped into small bits
2 tbsp fresh mint leaves
For the salad dressing
Half cup yogurt
4 garlic cloves, roasted and smashed
1 tbsp lemon juice
Half tsp sumac (if available)
Roast cumin and coriander seeds until they start to pop. Remove and crush to a powder in a mortar-pestle. Add to the chicken with marinade ingredients. Mix well and set aside for at least 2 hours. Grill the chicken in the oven for 40 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius or in an air- fryer.
Mix the salad dressing with the salad ingredients. Add in the grilled chicken. Garnish with mint leaves.
Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures. @samar11
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