Milk Street Radio - Durkhanai Ayubi
Made from minced beef or lamb, crispy chapli kebabs from Afghanistan share many of the ingredients used in similar dishes in neighboring India and Pakistan— coriander, cilantro, onion, garlic and chilies among them. Yet the resulting kebabs are distinct.
That’s thanks to a lighter hand when it comes to the spices and a greater focus on fresh herbs and aromatics. And though called kebabs, the ingredients are not grilled on skewers, but rather formed into patties (the name chapli refers to the word for “flat” in the Dari language), then pan- or deep-fried.
“We let fresh and cool have its day,” says Durkhanai Ayubi, author of the cookbook “Parwana,” also the name of her family’s Afghan restaurant in Adelaide, Australia, where she grew up. “We don’t use a lot of spices in heavy proportions, and with that kind of recipe like chapli kebab, the emphasis is on garlic, the herbs and fresh things, so it’s lighter and more balanced.”
In fact, the herbs and aromatics are used in such a high ratio to the meat, the patties are held together with egg and flour, traditionally chickpea flour but sometimes wheat. And that brings with it another advantage: The egg-flour mixture helps the kebabs retain moisture, which keeps the interior tender while allowing the exterior to crisp.
Beyond that, the recipe is flexible. Ayubi, who learned it from her mother, sometimes adds fresh tomato to the meat mix, while other variations include spice mixes or both red pepper flakes and loads of green and red chilies. With the freedom to pick and choose, we loved the added depth from the spice blend garam masala and the vibrant red color and mild heat of Kashmiri chili powder. Some versions blend the meat and aromatics together for a uniform texture, but we preferred the distinct flavors we got by chopping the herbs and aromatics, then mixing them into the ground meat. Fresh chili added a vegetal quality that helped balance the richness of the meat, and roughly crushed coriander seeds contributed citrusy flavor and texture.
Served with sliced onion and cooling yogurt inside flatbread, our chapli kebabs came punctuated by pops of flavor.