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Monday, October 22, 2007

Can you say fall-off-the-bone in Afghan?



How's this for a story: local favorite Afghan restaurant in San Francisco named "The Helmand" located on the edge of North Beach and Chinatown closes down. Its manager moves to Arizona to set up shop because he's told there isn't a single Afghan restaurant there. I'm glad he did. I would return any day to savor his amazing lamb shank, but more on that later.

We drove by Kabab Palace -- Cuisine from Afghanistan a few times thanks to its prominent location. Curious, we walked in, only to find out it had been three days since it opened. Armed with a huge appetite and even larger party, we ordered a good sampling. The top photo features two appetizers that can be ordered as entrees: aushak, a ravioli filled with leeks and scallions, served on a sauce of yogurt mint and garlic, topped with ground beef and mint; and mantwo, homemade pastry shell filled with onion and beef, served on yogurt and topped with carrots, yellow split-pea and beef sauce. Interesting factoid: the word, "mantwo," used for these ethereal dumpling-like things is the same as "mandoo," used for Korean dumplings, and "manti," tiny dumplings served with yogurt in Turkish cuisine.

Both appetizers were mild and the flavored yogurt sauce complemented the dumplings nicely, but I liked the aushak better, only because I thought the ground beef inside the mantwo was a bit dense. It may well be the garlic-infused yogurt sauce on the aushak that did me in. It helped that the bright white yogurt tinged with sprinkles of green from the mint and red from the meat sauce looked vibrant and inviting.



Let me jump to the best dish, hands-down: qabelee, a pilaf-type rice baked with chunks of lamb shanks, raisins and glazed carrots. This type of rice is called "pallow," and is described as basmati rice boiled then drained of water, seasoned with vegetable oil, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin seeds and black pepper caramelized and then baked. That's a pretty elaborate preparation of the rice. But the star of the dish was the lamb shank, in all its fall-off-the-bone glory. Lamb isn't usually the most popular meat, but my companions were devouring it. The lamb was buried inside a mountain of the rice topped with raisins that added a tinge of sweetness to the rice and lamb combination. It was like discovering a treasure tucked inside that was waiting for its shining moment. I can't think of a better way to eat lamb shanks.



Sabzi challow was another good lamb and rice dish but slightly different. It was lamb loin and the challow rice is made in a similar way to pallow rice but with less seasonings. I liked the spinach that came with the lamb, but some grains of rice of the challow were dried out and hurt when I bit into them.



My third favorite dish was chapendaz, beef marinated, grilled and served on a sauce of grilled tomato, hot peppers, onion and cumin seeds served with lentils and spinach rice. I liked that the beef was cooked medium as requested, although I'm a medium rare kind of person (family-style dining has its pitfalls). We also had mourgh challow, a chicken dish infused with spices and sauteed with yogurt, cilantro and curry, which was similar to chicken tikka masala but less spicy. Koufta challow featured rice with beef meatballs sauteed with sun-dried tomato, hot peppers and green peas in a tomato sauce. The meatball dish looked a lot better than it tasted. The meatballs were too densely packed and felt dry.



What pulled the flavors together was the condiments trio that included "chatnis," the Afghan word for "chutneys." Cilantro chatni was my favorite, which tasted almost identical to the Indian variety, bu the other red chatni was made out of chili peppers and there was a yogurt and dill sauce that added a refreshing touch to the meat dishes that could feel heavy at times.

All of these delectable dishes were washed down with the perfect drink -- green tea with cardamom. Service was great and I would definitely recommend this place. It also has a lunch buffet I have yet to try but I'm sure it'll be as well-prepared with care and attention to detail as the dinner dishes.

Kabab Palace
Cuisine from Afghanistan
710 W. Elliot Rd., Suite 108
Tempe, AZ 85283
(480) 775-6288

15 comments:

omurice said...

mantwo (afghan), manti (turkish), mantou (chinese), mandoo (korean . . . whatever you call them, it all means delicious dumplings.

what's the connection? according to wikipedia:

Mandu are dumplings in Korean cuisine. They are similar to what are called pelmeni and pierogi in some Slavic cultures.

In the Mongolian cuisine, dumplings are called bansh (steamed), buuz (steamed), or khuushuur (deep fried).

The name is cognate with mantou or mandou in Chinese, Japanese, or Vietnamese cuisine, which refers to steamed buns with or without fillings.

In Korean cuisine, mandu denotes a type of filled dumplings similar to the Turkish mantı, the Chinese jiaozi, and the Japanese gyoza. If the dumplings are fried, they are called gunmandu (군만두), which literally means roasted mandu.

It originated in the time of the Three Kingdoms Period when the Shu military leader Zhuge Liang reformed the custom of human sacrifice by substituting so-named and imitatively kneaded steamed breads for heads of captives. see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandoo

According to wiki, central asian dumplings differ and spread as follows:

Mantı or mantu is a type of dumpling in Afghan, Turkish and Central Asian cuisine, closely related to the east Asian mandu.

Mantı, or Mantu consists of a spiced meat mixture, usually lamb or ground turkey, in a dough wrapper. It is either boiled or steamed. It is typically served topped with yogurt and garlic and spiced with red pepper powder and melted butter. Ground sumac and/or dried mint can be added to taste.

In Central Asian and Afghan cuisine, the Mantu are filled with a ground turkey mixture, steamed and then topped with yogurt, dried mint power and olive oil, garlic and ginger, lemon juice, coriander and spicy sauces called "chutney" which is made from red or green chillis. Sometimes the Mantu are topped with lentil (chana dal) and red kidney beans as well. They are a delicacy and are most profoundly enjoyed by Afghan-Hindus today in the United States, Germany and UK.

Mantu are also considered to be a typically Meccan food.

Mantu was carried across Central Asia to Anatolia by migrating Turks in the Chingizid-Timurid periods. According to Holly Chase, "Turkic and Mongol horsemen on the move are supposed to have carried frozen or dried mantı, which could be quickly boiled over a camp-fire".

This, however, does not explain the origins of Mantu. It can only have developed within an agricultural environment. Thus, Mantu's origin may be traced back to either the sedentary city-states of ancient Central Asia (Sogdia, Bactria) or ancient China. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mantu

ironchef442 said...

wow. thanks for the info, omurice. wikipedia strikes again! i do like those dumplings in every culture.

Anonymous said...

Wow, first NJ seems to have a typical Afghan Pallet because she picked as her favorites the same dishes that are also our most loved here in the land of Osmans.

I have to say I have really been to only one restaurant here in NOVA and metro area where the food resembled the pictures in the article let alone taste anything close to pre afghan exodus era of eat-for-the-sake-of-taste.

so, since you asked for a comparison, it seems the aushak was a more freelance dish than the classic. Normally it is made with only spring onions (leak is a little less fine and more dense) inside on a thin layer of yogurt made with garlic,salt,dry mint. then topped with a, umm the tasty stuff, meat sauce (not sure how they make it) with more yogurt on top.

The mantoo is made a little different as well..its made with ground beef with minced onion black pepper and salt inside..tomato sauce, diced carrots, and peas with very little onion all made into a sauce on top. The Qabili sounded uh-ummm tasty and lamb is definitely the way to go with this pallow.the is also a Lahndi pallow made with cured Lamb when you've eaten this, then you've had it all..my favorite and rarely made since its hard to make..cure the meat etc.

Finaly, no I can't actually make any of this. I've tried and ended up with messy sauces that I had to dause with hot sauce to eat.

Later, E

azinku said...

You have people agonizing across the Pacific over the fact that they simply cannot fly to the American mainland every time one of your entries of yummy food pops up. Mick Jagger had it right: "I can't get no satisfaction." What to do over here? The mandoo over here simply won't do...

phasmatidae said...

Is it Kebab Palace or Kabab Palace?

Flavored rice is definitely under-appreciated -- thanks for the nice description!

silverbear said...

There's actually another Afghan restaurant already operating in Tucson, but that's 100 miles away from the Phoenix Metro Area, so this new restaurant is a welcome addition to our dining choices. I used to eat at Chopandaz, an Afghan restaurant in Tempe, but it closed back in the '90s and we've been deprived of Afghan food ever since then. I can't wait to try this place.

ironchef442 said...

I believe it calls itself Kabab Palace -- Cuisine from Afghanistan.

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