Afghanistan: Kabuli Palau


When I was researching Afghanistan, I found their dining etiquette to be interesting! Dining in Afghanistan is a different experience than most of us are used to. When you first enter an Afghan home, you should always remove your shoes at the door. Guests are seated on the floor, usually on cushions. The guest should wait for the host to show them where to sit. Food is usually served on plastic or vinyl tablecloths spread out on the floor. Everyone sits cross legged, and it is considered rude if you have your legs outstretched or your feet are facing others. When there are guests present in an Afghan home, males eat separately and also prior to females and children.

The food is generally served communally with everyone sharing from the same dish. Food is often eaten with their hands, so cleanliness is important! Before the meal, a ceremonial hand washing occurs with a haftawa wa lagan (pitcher of water poured over a basin). Utensils are mainly only used for tea and pudding.  The left hand should be used as little as possible and should not be used in a communal bowl. Food is taken with the right hand, but both hands can be used to eat once food is taken from the communal bowl. Food should be taken only from the portion of the communal plate directly in front of you.

Afghan food has influences from many places including India, other Central Asian countries, Turkey and Italy. Afghan food is neither spicy, nor bland. It is a blend of perfectly balanced ingredients, lightly seasoned to highlight the best flavors.

I also discovered that poetry is a big part of Afghan culture. In the city of Herat, women, men, and children gather together on Thursday nights to share poetry. If you share a love of poetry like I do, you can visit here to see some Afghan poems.

Kabuli Palau (also known as Kabuli Pilaf, Kabuli Palaw, Kabuli Pulao, Qabili Pilau, Qabili Palau, Qabili Palao) is not only considered Afghanistan’s national dish, but also reserved for special occasions. It is a rice dish made with meat, aromatic spices, carrots and nuts. There are many different versions of Kabuli Palau, but the cooking method and spices remain the same. Lamb is mainly the meat of choice for this dish, but you can also use chicken or beef. Since Lamb was not available for me, I chose to use chicken.

The cardamom in this dish is what gives it a nice flavor.

Kabuli Palau

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  • 4 Chicken Thighs or 4 Medium Sized Chicken Breasts
  • 2 Cups Basmati Rice
  • 1 Medium Yellow Onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. Olive Oil
  • 1/2 cup Chicken Broth + Extra for the rice
  • 2 Garlic Cloves, minced
  • 2-3 Carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 1/2 Cup Raisins
  • 1/4 Cup Slivered Almonds
  • 1/4 Cup Pistachios, chopped
  • 2 tsp. Cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. Ground Cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp. Black Pepper
  • 2 tbsp. Sugar


Cook the rice in some chicken broth. When finished cooking, set aside.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the chicken and cook until no longer pink. Then add in the onion and cook until it starts to caramelize. Pour in the chicken broth and cover. Let it simmer for 10 min. (sauce needs to turn brown)

In another pan, sauté the carrots in some olive oil, salt, and pepper and cook until soft. Mix in the raisins, sugar, and almonds and cook for 2 min. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Remove the chicken from the broth and set aside. Stir in the cumin, cardamom, and black pepper into the broth. Let it cook on low for 5 min. to thicken.

Preheat the oven to 400 F. and prepare a baking dish. Place the rice followed by the chicken mixture, and half of the cooked carrots and raisins into the baking dish. Bake for 20 min.

Remove from the oven and let cool. Before serving, add the remaining carrot mixture.

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