A lot has gone on in Afghanistan. It has always been volatile and I can’t write about all of it, but I would like to write about one of it, since I am dedicating the Afghan food to my friend Jay, who was the 1st Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group Operations Officer for Operation Medusa.
The 2006 Operation Medusa was a crucial battle that may have saved Afghanistan from the Taliban. This was the largest combat operation ever led by NATO, the battle of Panjwayi in the Kandahar province. It was also the bloodiest and most decisive operations.
This area was the birthplace of the Taliban decades earlier and has become Afghanistan’s most deadly area. With Operation Medusa, it would turn even deadlier. The Taliban had secretly congregated for a full-scale attack and to keep the Taliban from slaughtering NATO troops, Operation Medusa was put in place. This operation would keep the Taliban from laying siege to Kandahar and it would restore the south of the country to a newly formed democratic Afghan government.
According to Major General David Fraser, Canadian in charge, the operation was an opportunity to buy time, as the Taliban had changed their tactics at this time from small groups into one large fighting unit. The mission of Medusa was of course not to lose, and it has set up the peace process to keep on going, but the odds were against them.
The Taliban knew their terrain and they had drilled landmines into every piece of ground they could find and dug IEDs into every road they knew. They stocked guns and ammunition in every local house, school and mud hut they could lay claim to. Worst of all, they were protected by corrupt officials.
Despite suffering a brutal battlefield defeat, the Taliban retained their presence in Kandahar province and did not lose their will to fight, leading to the subsequent Operation Falcon Summit. Nonetheless, Operation Medusa was at the time the most significant land battle ever undertaken by NATO.
Kandahar is more than just symbolically significant in the continuing fight for southern Afghanistan. It is the key to central and northern Afghanistan and Panjwayi is the key to Kandahar. The Panjwayi District, beginning 35 kilometers southwest of the city encompasses the Arghandab River valley.
The river is part of an extensive watershed that creates a broad, fertile region in the desert of southwest Afghanistan. The valleys provide natural lines of communication between Kandahar and Taliban safe havens in Pakistan. Residents of Panjwayi raise grapes, corn, and other crops making it the breadbasket of Kandahar and the surrounding country.
Kandahar is known for Pashtun cuisine. A specialty of Pashtun cuisine, Chopan Kabob is made with lamb meat roasted over a traditional Afghan charcoal brazier called mankal. It was named after sheep herders who used to rub chunks of lamb with plenty of salt, skewer them on twigs or small branches, and roast the meat over a fire while watching their flocks.
Today, Chopan Kabob is a popular Afghani street food and can be found in numerous kebab street stalls called dukan-e-kebabi. The delicious Afghan lamb skewers are seasoned with sumac or gard-e-ghooreh, sour grape powder, and commonly served with naan bread.
The Afghan cuisine is of course not limited to just this one dish. The national dish of Afghanistan is Kabuli Pulao, which is a special occasion food in Afghanistan. It is a rice dish made with lamb and sweet and warm spice and is named after Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.
The dish comprises of a two-step cooking process that yields fluffy and flavorful grains with excellent texture. The cooking process isn’t particularly difficult, but it does take time to complete. These steps can be done ahead of time and when you are ready, you may just layer all of it and complete the cooking on your stove top.
I love dumplings and my recipes from Afghanistan will not be complete without Mantu, the delicious ground beef dumplings and sauce that I could eat all day long. I include a recipe for a Middle East Relish that goes well with everything.
In Afghanistan most vegetables are cooked in their own juices or some kind of broth for a long time. Crunchy vegetables are a rarity, but Afghanis do eat salad (salata) and they use fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Salata is always light and crunchy, making it a perfect counterpoint to Afghan cuisine’s heavier dishes. Some Afghan cooks consider it a point of pride when the diced vegetables are small and uniform in size. This salad makes a great palate cleanser if you intend to eat dessert.
The recipes for the above mentioned dishes will appear in my book under construction, Rustic.