Saturday, August 29, 2009

Mosque Series: Central Asia

Mosque Architecture, a few samples, in Central Asia.

In Karakol, Kyrgyzstan this is a Dungan (Chinese Muslim) Mosque (built 1907). The blue makes it kin to the blue domes of Central Asia and Persia, but the rest of the architecture certainly looks like a Buddhist Pagoda.

Sky-blue minaret in Dungan Mosque, Karakol

Inside of the Dungan Mosque in Karakol

Astana, Kazakhstan (breathtaking mix of modern and ancient)

Golden Mosque in Astana, Kazakhstan

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ramadan in Brooklyn: Day 4 Qabili Palau (for the busy chef)

Qabili Palau (The Palau only the most capable can make -- that is the rough meaning of the name) is my latest recipe to post.

But lets catch up to Miss Talibonita's last few days of Ramadan, which has mostly been her feeling a little sick. Found out that the dry skin under the super hawkeye Miss T's eyes wasn't sudden aging (although did discover some great anti-aging mask recipes) it was dehydration! Yes, more water and fruit for this faster.

The most beautiful aspects of not eating (once you get control of that lack of water issue noted above) is being able to enjoy breeze. NYC's mugginess is out of control this summer. When there is no water, the body adjusts and Miss Talibonita's has appreciated breeze under trees, under awnings as if she were drinking a nice glass of water. The other benefit has been getting renewed tastebuds! Day 2 Miss Talibonita just ate farm fresh organic eggs, organic butter and whole wheat bread. For the mouth, it felt like tasting eggs for the first time.

Day 4, let's stick to the plan and so here is the Qabili Palau recipe that has been handed down from father to father and perfected by Miss Talibonita to suit the busy chef. One version of Qabili Palau requires the chef to cook each individual part separately, which is exhausting. Didn't they know we had better things to do than spend 6 hours in the kitchen! Well, this one is very flavorful, healthy and takes about 2 hours to prep and cook. Still long but comes a long way from the original. Also use a cast iron pot if possible and one that is wide rather than tall. The wider the pot the better the palau.


2 small yellow onion
4 carrots (the big fat carrots)
2 tsp of dried tomato paste
2 tsp powdered cumin
1 pinch ground black pepper
1/4 cup of black raisins
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2lbs lamb (on the bone or chicken or beef meatballs)
4 cups basmati rice (preferrably Aahu Bara rice, since Indian rices like Pari have a strong scent that isn't very appealing to Miss Tbonita)

Aahu Bara Rice (Found in Afghan shops)

Heat the oil. Fry the onions till they get golden. Add meat. Salt to taste (usually a tsp or tblsp for each cup of rice but again CenAsians oversalt). Once meat browns a bit add carrots (shredded or cut into little matchsticks). Add 2 tsp dried tomato paste. Fry up. Add powdered cumin. (See below)

The magic paste! (No tinny taste)

Cumin -- powder this cumin put half in while it is frying the other half when it is simmer (before the rice)

Carrot time!

Onions Carrots cooking with the lamb. Fry till the carrots look like they have browned around the same color as the onions.

Add six cups of water. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add rice. Simmer till water has evaporated and you can hear the sizzle at the bottom of the pot. Add raisins on top and if you want a little treat, place the cut stalks of rhubarb on top along with the raisins. Cover top with towel. Put lid on it. Lower heat to a very low flame. Turn timer on for 20 minutes and "dimla" or simmer it. (See below)

Place a Bounty or towel over the pot and cover the lid over it so the fluid can evaporate. 20 minutes.

Finished Qabili Palau!

Eat and Enjoy!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ramadan in Brooklyn: Day 1 Samsa Recipe (Revamped)

Day 1:

Fortunately, Ramadan started on a Saturday this year, allowing Miss Talibonita a weekend to get used to the new schedule. At night, after the fast is broken, there is that feeling that only the Uzbek term "elit" describes best. "Ramadan mon'eh elitdi" (sorry this is all phonetic since Miss Talibonita cannot spell properly in Uzbek) which means, "I've been softboiled by Ramadan." It's quite a lovely feeling of being satiated and elated all at once.

On this night, since Miss Talibonita and her father had to attend a business meeting, our meal had to be something portable and easy to eat at a nearby park.

The meal we broke fast with is a revamping of the traditional Uzbek samsa. A lot of Uzbek cuisine seems to depend on chunks of fat nestled into the meat to make it taste rich and hearty. But this is absolutely unhealthy, especially since there are no battles on the steppes to balance off the fat, a healthy revision of samsa is necessary!

In this version, which was quite flavorful, Miss Talibonita dropped the fat, using lean meat, whole wheat dough instead of that filo dough (one serving of anything made with filo dough is enough calories for the entire day). In place of fat chunks, Miss T used rhubarb for a dash of tartness to contrast the chili peppers thrown in.

Samsa (serves 4 ppl)

1 whole wheat dough (bought frozen at Whole Foods)
1/2 lb of ground beef
2 medium red onions
10 chili peppers (okay, choose how spicey you want your dish)
1 stalk of rhubarb (adds freshness and tang)
2 pinches of cumin
2 pinches black pepper
2 pinches of coriander seeds
1 tsp yogurt

Defrost and roll out dough. Miss Talibonita just flattens them out with her hands on a nonstick table top. Just wet hands and work the dough out (don't use flour). Separate into four long rectangular pieces. Flatten out these individual pieces.

Throw onions, rhubarb and spices into foot processor (of course, the spices must be freshly ground). Salt to taste (most Central Asians are generous with salt so for this filling, let's say a 3/4 tbsp.)

Mix into the lean ground beef. The idea is to have more of the onion showing than the meat. So measure it on your own and make sure it is 2 parts onion/rhubarb mixture to meat. The less meat the better, the more onion the more flavorful the filling.

Set aside for at least 15 minutes. You can flatten out your dough while waiting for the filling to mingle with each other. Most likely you'll have a lot of filling left over, and this is great you can let it marinate in the fridge or freeze it and bring it out next time you feel like unrolling some dough.

Fill the rectangular dough pieces with the meat stuffing. Miss Talibonita recommends a filling that allows space on the sides so the dough may fold or be pinched together and a layer that is not too generous that it spills out. Think a monkish appetite rather than a Mcdonald's appetite when filling. Fold up the two sides like an envelope. Seal it and brush over the closed samsa with yogurt.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Put it in the middle rack and bake for 45 minutes. Don't let it get too brown on top. If it is browning quickly then lower the heat to 375 and maybe you want to cook on that heat till its done.

The result is a samsa that is rectangular rather than square and something that can be foiled up and carried with you for a quick nourishing meal.

Miss Talibonita and family ate the samsa too fast for any photos. Email me if you have questions and maybe I can post up some photos from the next samsa.

The result of this samsa is low calories and a very flavorful, fresh tasting and zingy quick meal on the go. If you have time then make some black tea and add some sugar. Samsa goes best with sweet black tea.

Take that Lean Pockets!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ramadan in Brooklyn: Night Before Ramadan

Night Before Ramadan:

When I was 5 years old, I would fast on weekends and only half a day to prepare for growing up when I would fast the entire month.

The first fast I broke accidentally, I drank a box of grape juice on a Sunday while I was babysitting my 4 year old brother. I was 8 years old. I remembered I was fasting after the last drop of grape juice was emptied from the little waxy box. I cleaned the entire house in pennance. I admitted it to my father, teary-eyed and sorry. He said, "It's okay God invited you to drink the juice. Tomorrow is another day to start over."

Perhaps this is where my optimism began.

Tonight, I made lamb qorma with asparagus. I've prepped onions, jalapeno peppers, garlic, and tart dried plums for the qufta (meatball) qorma (simmered down stew) that I am planning. The onions, garlic and jalapenos to season the minced meat. The dried plum is for the center of the qufta a surprise streak of tart in the center of a meaty meal.

In honor of Ramadan I will post up some recipes and keep a diary of food and prayers for this month of pause; a pause in which we look deep into ourselves and reorganize ourselves.

Ramadan Kareem!

(This Ramadan card is odd. It's an Urdu card but the dudes are white cartoon men. And... white cartoon men who look like they are ready to smooch! Oh those Urdu Ramadan cards!)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Farhad Ahad (1970-2003)

This is a tribute to my dear friend, Farhad Ahad. After successfully leading Afghan Solidarity, Farhad jan went to Afghanistan in 2002 to be part of the reconstruction. He was one of the first group of Afghan-American engineers who returned to Kabul to survey the region. He later joined the Afghan government and was part of the committee to build an oil pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan. I have included an interview on his work a few weeks before he was killed off the coast of Karachi. He will always be missed. Perhaps the most painful part of this is the mysterious circumstances of the crash that was never investigated properly by either the Afghan or American government (Farhad jan was an Afghan-American). Here is a blurb on the circumstances of the crash by another Afghan-American, Homaira Nassery.

Farhad Ahad, one of the most vibrant of young Afghan-Americans, with an MBA from the University of North Carolina, and founder of left the United States to work for free as economic advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was one of three Afghans to perish on February 24,2003, in a mysterious plane crass off the coast of Karachi, Pakistan. The team was to have observed Chinese mining operations in Pakistan to capture ‘lessons learned’ and implement them in Afghanistan. In addition, they were the central advisors in the $US3.2 billion gas pipeline deal involving Pakistan and Turkmenistan.

"Reverse of the Braindrain: Afghan-American Diaspora in Post-conflict Peacebuilding and Reconstruction"

Homaira Nassery

I found this lovely tribute to Farhad jan online posted by Brad.

Farhad Ahad: Rebuilding His Homeland
By Nancy Oates

Editor's note: As our spring alumni magazine was going to press, we learned of the tragic death of Farhad Ahad in a Feb. 24 plane crash in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Pakistan. Farhad was among a delegation of Afghanistan officials, including the country's mines and industries minister, who died in the accident. We hope that this article, written before his death, will serve as a tribute to the passion and commitment he had for rebuilding his country. Farhad will be greatly missed by his classmates and all members of the UNC Kenan-Flagler community.

Even if Enron had not fallen so spectacularly, the pull of his native Afghanistan probably would have taken Farhad Ahad (MBA '99) back to the country he fled with his family as a teen-ager. The opportunity to rebuild his homeland was simply too great to resist.

"Afghanistan was never too far from my heart," said Ahad, who today is serving as the chief of economic affairs in Afghanistan's foreign ministry. Though he'd lived in the United States about 15 years, he kept close ties with the community of Afghan expatriates and closely followed news reports from his homeland in recent years that were full of turf wars and violent resistance against the Taliban.

"I'd tell myself I should forget about Afghanistan's hardships and enjoy my life in the United States," he said. "But your heart will always cry. You'd always tell yourself, 'That could have been me.' "

In June 2001, Ahad founded Afghan Solidarity, an organization dedicated to helping Afghanistan thrive and repatriating its refugees. In March 2002, a month after he met Afghanistan's President Hamed Karzai at a mosque in Washington, D.C., Ahad flew to Kabul as part of a delegation of the Society of Afghan Engineers. There he met Afghanistan's minister of foreign affairs, who offered him a job in the newly restructured government.

Ahad didn't accept right away.

"Kabul was a mess," he said. "Nothing was heated; there was a 9 p.m. curfew; it was chaotic."

And he'd been through enough chaos at Enron.

On Dec. 3, 2001, the morning after what was then the largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history, senior managers at Enron's Houston headquarters gathered all of the employees together.

"They told us, 'You may all go home now,' " Ahad said.

Within a week, Ahad had landed a managerial position at Progress Energy in Raleigh. But going through changes at Enron had provided the impetus to reflect upon larger issues. The day he rescheduled a meeting to accommodate an online discussion on Afghan Solidarity's chat board was the day he realized where his true priorities lay. He talked to his boss about the responsibility he felt to serve his homeland. He then told the foreign affairs minister he would come to Kabul for one year.

"Progress sent me off with the best imaginable blessings," he said.

Six months into that commitment, the full weight of the challenge has hit. As chief of economic affairs in the foreign ministry, his top priority is to develop investment opportunities to draw business from other countries into Afghanistan. His days are spent on everything from prioritizing aid from the United Nations to negotiating an agreement on building a $3.5 billion gas pipeline through Afghanistan from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India. At other times, Ahad travels - sometimes with President Karzai - to countries interested in mining Afghanistan's coal, iron and copper.

Although his background in engineering and business did not prepare him for a career in diplomacy, he is making up for that now. He must motivate the 16 career diplomats in his department to take more initiative - something that living under communism for so many years has drained out of them. At age 32, he is a young leader in a country that values its elders.

Ahad is considering his next step. Afghanistan's ministry of finance is recruiting him, as is the ministry of mines and industry. He may return to the private sector to work for an energy concern that will invest in Afghanistan. Though the past year has been difficult, he has no regrets about his commitment to rebuilding his homeland.

"This is an experience I want to be a part of," he said.