In 2018, Laila Gazimi, her mother and two siblings fled Kabul in Afghanistan. They landed at Delhi airport, got into a taxi and headed straight to Hauz Rani in south Delhi.
Hauz Rani is a small and tightly-knit community of Afghans living in congested buildings where food can be passed from one window to another. In a small flat in one of those buildings, the Gazimi family started anew by making friends, nurturing relationships and looking forward to festivals—like Eid.
The way Eid is celebrated across the globe by Muslims is similar; believers fast for 30 days, and on the final day, they pray and treat themselves to food, gifts and clothes. In Kabul, the celebrations go on for three days, unlike in India, where it’s usually a one-day affair.
Chand Raat (the night before Eid) is famous as Shab-e-Eid in Kabul. Laila shares that her family would get busy preparing lavish feasts for the following day. In India, sevai is synonymous with the festival; in Kabul, naan-e-kulcha (a kind of sweet biscuit) and other biscuits are popular. The Gazimis had a sprawling family house, and the shop outside their home sold excellent quality dry fruits. Laila recalls soaking raisins, cashews, almonds, dried apricots and peaches in water, placing them in an ornate bowl and keeping them on the centre table for guests to snack on. Afghans love dry fruits; they were affordable and available in abundance in the heydays of Kabul when there was no conflict, remembers Laila.
On Eid, men would head to the mosque for namaz in brand new clothes, while the women stayed back. After their prayers, the family would get together, greet each other by hugging and kissing hands (a symbol of respect) and sit for the first meal of the day. The dastarkhwan would have naan-e-kulcha, kulche shor (salty cookies), roghni roti with qaimaq chai; Afghani Pink Tea. On special occasions in Afghanistan, a pinkish tea with thickened cream is prepared. The base of green tea is mixed with baking soda, which gives a dark crimson colour. Then it is mixed with boiling milk to get a pinkish tea. It is similar to Kashmiri or Lakhnavi Noon Chai.
Tea and bread are the foundation of Afghan cuisine. No meal is complete without these two food items.
This practice is different from what I am used to eating and serving during Eid in Delhi. The first meal has sheer khurma, kimami sevayi, a sweet version of sevai prepared with thin sevai, sugar, khoya, and orange fruit, along with dahi vade and chole. There is no biscuit or bread on the menu. Lunch has meat dishes like qorma, aalo gosht, biryani, phulka or sheermal and raita.
The dastarkhwan in Kabul, features a longish brunch, and is meat-heavy with a few vegetarian options as well. There are dishes such as Nargisi kofta, shaami kebab to burani bonjan sabzi. The sabzi contains pan-fried or stewed eggplant discs with tomato, onion, chilli combined with yoghurt garlic sauce, with a dab of spicy garlic oil on the side. It’s paired with bolani. In Afghanistan, festivities would be incomplete without bolani, a flatbread loaded with greens like spinach, potatoes, or lentils and eaten with whisked sour yoghurt.
In India, Laila misses her grandmother’s albaloo polow which is rice cooked with sour cherries. In Delhi, she finds the Afghani sour cherries unaffordable and has substituted them with regular tangy cherries, which don’t have the same flavour; the dish lacks her grandmother’s warmth too. But, there is a semblance of familiarity and a taste of home, which is enough—for now.
Laila's recipe for albaloo polow
For advieh polo (Persian spice mix)
4 tbsp rose petals dried
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp green cardamom, while
1 tsp nutmeg, scrappings
4.5 cups of fresh sour cherries
One-third cup sugar
3 cups basmati rice
4 tbsp butter
1 tbsp + 1 tsp of advieh polo (persian spice mix)
2 tbsp yogurt
A pinch saffron
Half cup pistachios, toasted and slivered
To make advieh polo, pan roast all the spices, grind to a fine powder and keep aside.
To make the pulao:
1. Put the pitted sour cherries in a saucepan and sprinkle sugar. Stir gently and cook for 15 minutes on medium heat.
2. Place the cherries in a sieve and drain the juices in a vessel.
3. Transfer the juice back to the saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes. Don't be concerned if it congeals like a jelly. Set aside the thickened syrup.
4. In the same sauce pan, melt two tablespoons of butter. Add one tbsp advieh and give it a good swirl.
5. Turn off the heat and add the cherries. Stir carefully and coat them with butter and advieh.
6. Meanwhile, boil and strain your basmati rice. Let it cool. Rice should be cooked 80% only.
7. In a deep non-stick pan, put some oil and a bit of water. Now, combine yoghurt and saffron.
8. Divide the rice into three portions. Take one portion and mix in the saffron-yogurt. Place it in the non-stick pan. Sprinkle some rice and layer with half of the sour cherries. Give it a slight toss to combine the sour cherries and rice. Repeat with the remaining rice and cherries.
9. Always end with a layer of rice, preferably in the shape of a pyramid.
10. Now, melt the remaining two tbsp butter and combine with 1 tbsp syrup, the remaining saffron, and 1 tsp advieh. Pour the sauce over the rice.
11. Cook for 10-15 minutes on medium-low, covered with a cloth. When the rice is done, lay it on a dish and top with the slivered pistachios.