In the 7th grade, I had my first taste of Afghani food. I was invited to dinner by my middle school best friend and we feasted in a very dimly lit kabab house on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with her mom. I still remember eating the well-spiced kababs that resembled meatballs. I had never eaten anything like it before and was excited to try a foreign cuisine that I knew absolutely nothing about. I felt posh and grown up to be dining in a place that was so far removed from my day-to-day life. Fast forward to more than 20 years later (ugh, I’m giving away my age!) and I find myself in another kabab house eating the same deliciously spiced tender meatballs that I fell in love with all those years ago.
Sami’s Kabab House is a low-key gem tucked away in the fringe border of Astoria/Long Island City, Queens. We were immediately greeted by the owner/manager and knew that we were going to have a good meal just from the scents wafting through the air. Another signal that we were going to have a good time was the looming stare of Leonardo DiCaprio from a hand-painted poster for the Titanic’s release in Afghanistan.
We ordered three appetizers to start: bolani kachalu, borani banjan, + aushak.
Bolani kachalu is a fried thin piece of dough stuffed with potatoes, onions, cilantro, scallions + spices. It reminded me of a flat, crunchy eggroll stuffed with pillowy mashed potatoes. I love any fried dough with potatoes so it was a win-win for me!
The borani banjan was an interesting dish that reminded me of baba ganoush but with red pepper and tomato. It’s fried eggplant that is seasoned with Afghan style sofrito (their words not mine) and is topped with garlic mint yogurt sauce. I found that the banjan was not as fried as one would think. It isn’t crispy or crunchy and most likely was lightly pan-fried. I ate it up with a basket of Afghani naan.
We all know here at Food For Thought., I love a dumpling so I will order it wherever I go. Afghanistan has dumplings and they are delicious. These dumplings are called aushak. They have thin, chewy skin + a juicy herby center. The filling is made from leeks + scallions and is topped with garlic mint yogurt sauce and garnished with lamb gravy + yellow lentils. The dumplings were very tender and a joy to eat.
Now on to entrees! We ordered two entrees that both came with heaping piles of rice.
The beef kofta kabab is seasoned ground beef + lamb mixed with fresh herbs + onions. Kababs can be chunks of meat or ground meats that are formed into large-sized meatballs that are then put on a skewer and cooked over an open flamed grilled. Our kofta was a delicious blend of beef + lamb that was perfectly spiced. It was still moist in the center so the meat wasn’t dried out and had a nice outside crust from the grill.
Our second entree was Uzbeki qabuli pulao. It featured a huge braised lamb shank over a bed of rice. You know lamb shank is good if it’s tender + falls off the bone and ours did just that. I haven’t had it this succulent in years. The shank wasn’t as heavily seasoned as the kofta which was a nice balance for our taste buds.
Now let’s talk rice. The heaping pile of rice pilaf they gave us was overly generous. Like way more rice than protein kind of generous, which we were confused about but then knew exactly why once we opened our mouths and tasted the aromatic flavors of the rice. This rice was BANGIN’! If I ended up on a deserted island I’d want this rice to be on my boat stranding me ashore. It was that good. It was topped with cooked raisins and julienned carrots that were sauteed in cardamom syrup. I am not a fan of cooked raisins AT ALL + I couldn’t get enough of them in this rice. The rice was a flavor explosion I wasn’t expecting and thoroughly enjoyed.
All in all Sami’s was a delight. These food memories have instantly replaced the ones from 7th grade. Afghani food is really a feast for the senses + just a feast in general. So. Much. Food. I really wish I could use an emoji right now to describe it, but I’ll just leave what my 12-year-old self would send to my friends :-) <3 !
Cook. Eat. Repeat.
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