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Michael Brandy, Deseret News
Mansoor Rahimi, 5, eats an Afghan dinner.

Mahmoba Rahimi is an anomaly in her U.S. kitchen. She doesn't use measuring cups, she is still getting used to an electric stove and the food processor seems out of place.

"I wish it were a bit bigger," Rahimi said with a smile when she looked at her small, apartment kitchen in Murray.

But she cooks like she was born in that kitchen.

Rahimi grew up in Afghanistan where her parents would throw parties for more than 1,000. She said she first learned to cook from the hired chefs who would come to her house.

But, she has had some outside influences on her cooking since her family arrived in the United States in 2006.

"I also learn to cook watching TV," Rahimi said, "and my daughter takes cooking class."

During the preparation for dinner, Rahimi's 18-year-old daughter, Mursal, was tested on her English skills. Beforehand, she had made a traditional Afghan dessert, called Firni, and sprinkled "Wellcom" on top with the spice, cardamom.

Mursal laughed when the misspelling was pointed out to her. Then her 19-year-old brother, Munir, debated the spelling of Firni with her, claiming it had a "y" at the end. The playful bantering was all done in Farsi — the family's native language.

Their father, Majid, came home and started putting together the sallata, or salad, for the meal, which is more like a condiment, not so much a dish by itself. Mahmoba said her husband, Majid, helps a lot with the cooking.

"You see," Majid said, "my wife is my boss."

After slicing the end of a cucumber, Majid rubbed the two cucumber ends together before he continued cutting it.

"Cucumber in America is more bitter," Majid said, when his method was questioned. "It helps make it less bitter."

While Mursal and Munir helped their mother, Mahmoba, in the kitchen, somewhere in the apartment five other Rahimi children kept themselves busy.

The Rahimi family lived relatively peaceful lives in Afghanistan until 1992 when civil war broke out with the fall of the government. Since Majid was affiliated with advocates for peace, the Taliban started pursuing the Rahimi family. Majid was eventually caught and imprisoned by the Taliban. He said he was beaten daily.

In his application for asylum in the United States, Majid wrote, "I lived mostly in damp caves and basements, and was not fed for days on end. When I was fed, it was dirty water and a piece of bread. I was literally starving."

After his release nine months later in 2000, Majid took his family to Pakistan. After 9/11, Majid, who was a police officer under the old government, was offered a job again with the police in Afghanistan, and he was eventually put in an anti-drug unit. There he was told unofficially to cooperate with the drug dealers and he would be protected and become rich.

"I could not do it," Majid wrote in his asylum application. "My family and I have made incredible sacrifices for our ideals, and I would not compromise them."

Sure enough, Majid and his family started receiving death threats. He was attacked numerous times and shot at, but the last straw was when his wife, Mahmoba, was attacked at the elementary school where she taught.

They decided to leave Afghanistan. In October 2006, the family arrived in Salt Lake City.

Kenny Farnsworth, 41, from Sandy, found out about the family and their situation a year ago. He offered to help the Rahimi family as they adjust to a new country.

"My parents helped refugee families when I was young," Farnsworth said, "so I thought I would get involved."

Farnsworth said he likes to cook, and he has integrated some Afghan recipes into his cooking.

"Some things I haven't been able to figure out," Farnsworth said.

Grocery shopping for the family hasn't been easy.

"They have been begging me for raw milk," Farnsworth said. "And you have to buy the meat from specialized stores in Salt Lake."

Farnsworth found Halal meat at Desi Market, 1615 W. 2100 South. Most everything else, he said, can be found at a regular grocery store.

"Except the rice," Farnsworth said. "They use a specific type."

The baghlan rice Mahmoba used for the meal was thin, long, delicious and expensive. Farnsworth said a 40-pound bag of the rice is $68. He buys the rice at Eastern Groceries, 1616 W. 3500 South or Halal Market, 2850 S. Redwood Road. Mahmoba soaked the rice — it's best soaked overnight, she said — drained it, boiled it, then pressure cooked.

It was worth it. After tasting the Qabuli Palau that Mahmoba made, it was clear that using instant white rice would be an insult to the dish.

As a substitute, basamati rice would be the next best type of rice to use in this dish, Farnsworth said.

When eating, Farnsworth said it is a custom in Afghanistan for people to sit on pillows and carpets on the floor and eat with their hands. In their apartment, the Rahimi family, or as many as had seats, sat down together at the table, piled with enough food to feed a small army. They dug in with their silverware.

The dishes were presented beautifully and served generously. Mursal took pride in making sure each dish has a garnish.

"It makes it beautiful," Mursal said.

The Chabli Kebab looked like small hamburger patties. Each bite was tender and melted in the mouth.

The kids try to get as many raisins as possible in each scoop of rice. Majid beams with pride as everyone devoured the meal.

"I never go to restaurant or other party," Majid said, "because my wife's cooking is delicious."

CHABLI KEBAB

1 pound ground or minced lamb, beef or turkey

1 finely chopped onion

1 tablespoon garlic paste

1 tablespoon dried cilantro

1 teaspoon black pepper

Salt to taste

1 egg

2 diced tomatoes

2 diced spicy green pepper

1/2 cup flour

In a large bowl, mix ingredients together by hand. Wet hands with salty water (to keep meat from sticking) and pat meat mixture into patties. Place in pan and fry in corn oil until they look like hamburgers. Serves 4-8, depending on size of patty. Serve with Sallata as a condiment.

CHICKEN KEBAB

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1/4 cup water

8 chicken pieces (legs, breast, thigh, etc.)

Hot oil

1 tablespoon garlic paste

1 cup vinegar

1 red pepper

1 yellow pepper

1 green pepper

1 orange pepper

Place the onion in the water to soak. Deep fry the chicken in hot oil. Do not discard the oil! Save it for frying the Baghlan Rice/Qabuli Palau.

In a bowl, mix the garlic paste, vinegar and onion with water. Place fried chicken in a bowl and pour garlic vinegar mixture over it. Massage it into chicken.

Chop the peppers and spread into bottom of 9-by-11-inch pan (or whatever will fit the chicken) and put chicken on top. Pour the rest of the vinegar mix on top. Sprinkle dried cilantro and black pepper on top.

Cover pan with foil and put in oven to simmer at 350 for 15 minutes or so. Serves 8 adults.

BAGHLAN RICE/QABULI PALAU

8 cups of rice (or as many cups as people being served)

1/8 cup salt

4 chopped carrots

1 cup raisins

1 tablespoon sugar

1/8 cup chopped almonds

Pinch of cardamom

1 teaspoon cumin

Salt to taste

Soak rice in water overnight or for 4 hours or more. Drain rice and put it in boiling water over stove. Add the salt. Let it slow-boil for 15 minutes or until soft. Drain rice.

In the pan with chicken oil, fry chopped carrots and raisins. Take carrots and raisins out of oil when done. Strain the oil and add 1 tablespoon sugar to oil. Heat until dissolved.

Pour heated oil and sugar over rice. Put rice mixture into pressure cooker for 20 minutes at medium pressure.

After cooking, mix in cardamon, cumin, carrots, raisins and almonds to rice. Add salt to taste.

SALLATA

Cilantro

Green onion

Tomato

Spicy green pepper

Cucumber

Lemon

Radishes

Finely chop all ingredients and mix together. It is eaten as a condiment or garnish along with your meal.

DESSERT FIRNI

2 cans condensed milk

4 cans of water (fill the milk can 4 times)

Put mixture to simmer

5 or 6 teaspoons cornstarch

Sprinkle of ground cardamom

Nuts for topping, as desired

Allow the milk/water mixture to simmer. Add cornstarch and let lightly boil for a few minutes. Pour mixture in 9-by-11-inch pan and allow to cool and set up. Sprinkle cardamon and whatever kind of nut on top.

Serve the dessert chilled or at room temperature.

AUSH

This delicious soup is often served as a cold remedy. It can be eaten vegetarian style as listed below or topped with meatballs.

1/4 cup black-eyed peas, dried

1/4 cup red kidney beans — dried

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 medium onions, grated

1/2 cup tomato juice

1 red bell pepper, chopped (about 1/4 inch)

2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced

16 ounces spaghetti

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cilantro

1 tablespoon dried mint

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

4 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

8 ounces yogurt

Salt and pepper

Rinse and then soak the black-eyed peas and beans for 8 hours. Put the black-eyed peas and beans into a large pan with the water in which they were soaked.

Add 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and boil gently until cooked, adding extra water if necessary. Cooking time will vary according to the freshness of the pulses (peas and beans).

While the pulses are cooking, heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the grated onions and fry, stirring continuously until they are nicely browned (about 20 minutes). Add the tomato puree and bring to a boil. Add the chopped red bell pepper and carrot. Add water as necessary and cook until the bell pepper and carrot are soft — approximately 10 — 15 minutes.

Bring 3 1/2 cups water to a boil in a large pot. Add salt and the spaghetti, and boil gently for 10 minutes. Add the onion/carrot/bell pepper mixture to the spaghetti. Add the beans and peas with a slotted spoon, you may add the juices from the peas and beans depending on how thick you like the soup. Typically it is the thickness of Italian Minestrone soup. Add the dried mint, crushed red pepper, cilantro, and red pepper. Add salt to taste. Allow soup to rest for 10 minutes or so to let the flavors blend. Serve the soup. Each individual may top their soup with yogurt, cilantro, and other toppings according to their taste.


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