Afghan Kidney Bean Stew
This vegan stew heralding from Afghanistan is a gorgeous dish full of goodness and one that I am sure will become a firm favourite in your household, as it has in mine. With simple ingredients (kidney beans, onions, tomatoes and some herbs and spices), this dish is easy to prepare (especially if you use canned kidney beans as opposed to dried ones).
Afghan cuisine includes dishes and cooking techniques also seen in Persian, Central Asian and Indian cuisines due to Afghanistan’s close proximity and historical cultural connections. As neighboring countries with cultural ties, there has been a long history of population movements between Iran and Afghanistan, indeed parts of Afghanistan formed part of the Persian Empire, which lasted from approximately 559 B.C.E. to 331 B.C.E. Sadly modern day Iran has not treated Afghan immigrants well, with widespread reports of Iranian mistreatment of Afghan migrants and their human rights – the community is very marginalized in Iran.
The two official languages spoken in Afghanistan are Dari and Pashto. Dari is the official name of the variety of Persian language spoken in Afghanistan. It is often referred to as Afghan Persian. Although still widely known as Farsi (the official language of Iran) to its native speakers, the name was officially changed to Dari in 1964 by the Afghan government. Pashto is an Eastern Iranian language of the Indo-European family. It is also the second-largest provincial language of Pakistan, spoken mainly in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the northern districts of the Balochistan province.
I remember the first time I heard someone speaking Dari (1980 something). I asked my mother why I could understand a language which seemed familiar but unfamiliar at the same time. The words made sense to me but the rhythm the language was being spoken in was different to the Farsi I had grown up with. And that is when I learnt about Afghanistan, their languages and the relationship with Iran. My journey into Afghan cuisine came later in my life but as with learning about our connections in language, their cuisine has brought me great joy and continues to do so. There are many Afghan dishes that feel familiar to me due to my Persian background, but there are also a huge amount of dishes new to me which I have loved learning to cook! And the first I am introducing to you is my version of Qorma-e-Lubia. For those of you familiar with Indian cuisine, you will note this recipe is very similar to the North Indian dish Rajma Masala. Pakistan and Nepal also have a version of this dish.
So what is Qorma? Qorma is the Afghan name given to an onion and tomato-based stew or casserole, usually served with rice (challow, Persians call their rice chelow). First, onion is caramelized, for a richly colored stew. Then tomato is added, along with a variety of meat, lentils, spices, and vegetables, depending on the recipe. The main ingredient, which can be meat, beans or vegetables, is usually added last. There are many different qormas including:
- Qorma e gosht – a meat stew usually served at gatherings;
- Qorma e nadroo – lamb or veal, yogurt, lotus roots and coriander;
- Qorma e alou-bokhara wa dalnakhod – veal or chicken, sour plums, lentils and cardamom;
- Qorma e sabzi – lamb, sautéed spinach and other greens;
- Qorma e lawand – chicken, lamb, or beef, plus yogurt, turmeric and coriander;
- Qorma e shalgham – a sweet and sour qorma made with lamb, turnips and sugar.
Qorma-e-Lubia is simply made with red kidney beans as the protein element and cooked with an onion and tomato base flavored with garlic, turmeric, coriander, cumin and dried mint. I also add a little garam masala to mine. Serve it with flatbread, rice (kateh or chelow), a nice crunchy salad with a citrus dressing and / or a yoghurt or non-dairy dip (I have served mine with Maast O’Khiar, the Persian yoghurt and cucumber dip, as pictured below).
The flavour of this qorma (as with many stew style dishes) gets better if eaten the day after cooking. Therefore, I recommend making it a day before you want to serve it and then heating it up. The flavours really fuse together brilliantly with a little more time to get to know each other.
Just as a side note, if you are using dried kidney beans you will need approximately 250 grams. Remember to wash, soak, drain and then cook the beans before adding them at step 7 below. Kidney beans are toxic if not prepared properly when starting with the dried form and can cause tummy upsets, so make sure you follow the instructions on the packet or google it.
The flatbread pictured below is Bolani, an Afghan stuffed flatbread and the recipe will be posted soon – so watch out for it!
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 large onion (finely diced)
- 3 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp dried red chilli flakes
- 1 tsp dried mint
- 3 medium tomatoes (roughly chopped)
- 3 tbsp tomato purée
- 600 ml vegetable stock
- 2 x 400 g cans of kidney beans (or 250 grams of dried kidney beans cooked in accordance with package instructions)
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- Juice of 1 lime or half a lemon
- Salt and Pepper (to taste)
- Chopped fresh coriander leaves and sliced sping onions (to stir through / garnish before serving)
- Place a medium to large saucepan (which has a lid) on a medium / high heat and add the oil.
- Bash the coriander and cumin seeds in a pestle and mortar and then add to the saucepan. Cook for about a minute. Keep a close eye on them so they don't burn. Lower the heat to medium, if necessary.
- Then add chopped onions and cook until they brown / caramelise.
- Add the garlic and turmeric and stir to distribute evenly into the onions. Then add dried mint and dried chilli flakes (feel free to exclude chilli or revise chilli levels down if half a teaspoon feels a bit too much for you).
- Add the chopped tomatoes and stir now and again until they break down (roughly 5 to 10 minutes).
- Add the tomato purée and stir until evenly distributed and follow with the vegetable stock. Give the mixture a good stir and let it come to a boil and then reduce the heat to low / medium to allow to simmer. Place the lid on the saucepan and let the sauce simmer for a minimum of 30 min or longer - ideally when you start to see the oil form a little round the edges of the sauce.
- Then add your cooked kidney beans, garam masala, the lime (or lemon) juice, salt and pepper and stir. Leave to simmer with the lid on for a further 15 to 30 mins.
- Taste and adjust seasoing if required. Before serving, stir through some fresh chopped coriander. Spoon the Qorma into your serving dish and sprinkle with the sliced spring onions. Serve with flatbread and / or rice, yoghurt-style dip and / or salad and pickles (torshi).