Months and months ago, I learned of this amazing organization called League of Kitchens – cooking classes taught in someone’s home, someone who grew up in the respective culture from which the food comes.
What does that mean?
It means I got to learn how to make Afghani food from an Afghani woman who was born and raised in Afghanistan and moved to the United States roughly 5 years ago. (Nawida’s English was amazingly good, considering; I would hazard that she picked up English faster than most Americans pick up other languages. I don’t have experience with any of the other instructors yet, but Nawida also turned out to be super charming, a wonderful teacher and very honest and open about her home country, answering all sorts of questions that we asked. I also lucked into being with a group of very cool and interesting people as my classmates who asked lots of really intelligent questions about cultural differences and her life.)
Honestly, I have had very little to no experience with Afghan cuisine; I’m not sure I really knew what to expect aside from reading the menu on the site. I was greeted by the above sight when I arrived at my class; various snacks and nibbles that Nawida provided for us. She brought many of the items back with her from her last trip to Afghanistan, and happily explained what each item was to us. So many fun little snacks – I can’t possibly remember all their names, but if you take the class, I’m sure she will happily explain them to you, too!
After going around the room and introducing ourselves with a little bit about our respective food history/experience, Nawida moved us into the prep and kitchen area. The fun thing about this was that her kitchen wasn’t the biggest, nor a professional kitchen with all high-end stuff – this is a real kitchen where someone actually cooks everything we made on a regular basis, which helps make one think one could ostensibly recreate these meals in their own homes. Her dining area, which we used as a prep station, is much larger than mine, but her kitchen was roughly the size of mine – maybe even smaller – and I totally appreciated watching her juggling act with balancing plates on top of bowls in order to create impromptu workspace. She also had shelves along one side, which made me think it might be time to redo my kitchen…
Here’s a shot of one of my classmates getting some hands-on experience. Since the kitchen is on the small side, we took turns stirring or cooking items. You can see some of the shelves on the right side of the pic.
Here is a picture of our lovely hostess and cooking instructor doing something I would never think I could do in my own home, in the amount of time we had: making dumpling dough from scratch. Yes, we made dumplings completely from scratch – the filling and the wrappers! Mantu, filled with meat and dumplings…
We all sat around wrapping the mantu after Nawida showed us how. With a group of 6, it’s fast work – this is something I did growing up sometimes, with my mom and sister. Dumpling parties are actually super fun – we need to do more of those! – though the method of wrapping was slightly different from what I did growing up (we employed the “here are 3 ways to do it, you can do it whichever you find easiest” and each of us had our own preferences as to method), and honestly I think mine came out pretty terribly… luckily someone else there made a bunch that were worse 😡
It was hard to take too many pictures while we were actually cooking and making food, so I am just going to show you the end results. After we’d finished cooking and were plating, setting the table, etc., Nawida said “Hold on, I’m going to make a quick salad.” This is the salad she made in about 5 minutes – beautiful, healthy, and delicious. I love how quickly she was able to make it — most people I know wouldn’t put the effort into this much salad work for a “quick” salad… especially when there were definitely going to be other foods on the table that would get star attention. (The salad was great, and very fresh – and I love my veggies – but relative to all the items on the table I’d never eaten previously, the salad was old news.)
Our entire table, from left to right: the mantu, covered liberally in various sauces that are traditional; quabli pilau, a rice dish; the salad; burani bonjon, an eggplant dish.
Burani bonjon: fried slices of eggplant that were then layered with tomato and baked. This was flavorful and delicious, but not my favorite item of the night. Very good still!
I failed to get a photograph that clearly illustrates how highly mounded this dish was. Made with stewed lamb shoulder over wonderfully fragrant rice and topped with strips of caramelized carrots – yes, really – pistachios and raisins, this dish was incredibly delicious. The flavor spectrum within which this dish falls is far outside my comfort zone or the area in which I tend to reside, but while completely foreign to me, still managed to taste comforting in some manner. Hunks of tender lamb meat were scattered within the dish, and the rice just absorbed all of the delicious flavors.
Am I expressing to you how much I LOVED this dish?
But… but… even better? This giant plate of mantu (and there was even a second plate; no shortage of mantu here)!! Oh my gosh… how do I explain to you… I love dumplings, first of all. And the dumplings themselves were each delightful: pliant skin, flavor explosions of meatwads within… but the topping scattered about almost haphazardly, something I barely think to do with dumplings… amazing. Verdant cilantro to make things pop, and the chana dal (beans) were almost crunchy like nuts (I know, strange, but it had that sort of chick pea texture? A little hard but not), to balance the softness of the dumplings. I seriously could not stop munching on these, and continued to eat them long after I was full – thankfully, there were leftovers so we all took some food home and my goodness, it was a wonderful next day reminder of everything I’d learned.
Closer up shots of the mantu and the quabli pulau. So good. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it now…
Overall, I thought the class was totally worth the asking price – hours of hands on, up close and personal instruction with a wonderful and knowledgeable instructor, lunch and dinner, plenty of breaks if we needed it (or we kept going, but she offered to take breaks if we needed them). It was a great class and I learned a lot – I also received all of the recipes and a list of the markets that Nawida shops for her ingredients, which was super helpful in the event that I want to make these at home. (I don’t… I am going to find a restaurant that makes this type of food, because I don’t want to make my own dumplings. I hope Nawida opens a restaurant at some point… she’s in the right neighborhood for it, oh my lovely mantu, come to me!!)
There are actually a few classes upcoming in the next few months with Nawida, more information here: https://www.leagueofkitchens.com/instructors/afghan-cooking-with-nawida
I am actually likely going to sign up for the Argentinean cooking class that’s coming up soon, because it sounds like so much fun and so delicious (and it’s local to me, which helps a lot — I have interest in some of the other classes but due to either allergy restrictions or the location — Bay Ridge is just too far for me to travel via subway for a class, sadface).
Love the idea and love the concept. Just amazing.
Please note that I attended this class courtesy of League of Kitchens, but my opinions are my own. The food was just incredible, and it was such a fun learning experience.
Thanks LoK, both for bringing yourselves to my attention and for the awesome class experience!!
And if you do attend a class, let me know in comments which one you took and what you thought!