Zereshk Challow

Afghan rice is known for its perfect fluffy individual grains of rice, the cooking process is multi-stepped in order to get the perfect texture. All Afghan rice is prepared using Basmati rice, which is where half of the flavor and amazing texture comes from. Challow is basic white rice, it can be garnished with fried Zereshk (dried Barberries), almonds, pistachios, or even fried eggs. I personally love Zereshk Challow, as the sweet ruby colored gem-like berries perfectly compliment the fluffy cumin scented rice. Challow is often paired with popular side dishes such as Kufta-Challow (Meatballs), Kurma-Challow (Meat Stew), and Sabzi-Challow (Spinach).

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To make Afghan rice you first make Aw-Roghan which is the sauce for the rice. For Challow it is a basic sauce of water, oil, and salt. For more fancy rice dishes it can be a sauce mixed with saffron, turmeric, tomato sauce, or spinach sauce. It depends on what type of rice you are making. For Pallow the sauce is made from fried onions, meat broth and tomato sauce.

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First the rice is washed and soaked for a few hours. Then the rice is cooked in boiling salted water until al dente. To check if it is al dente you squeeze a grain of rice between your thumb and index finger. The rice should break with a gentle squeeze, but should still be firm and not too soft. Once al dente the rice is drained in a strainer. Check the rice to see if it is too salty, if it is you can lightly rinse it with water or reduce the salt in your Aw-Roghan.

Then the rice is carefully placed back onto the pot it was boiled in. It is gently mixed with the Aw Roghan and seasonings, for Challow you only use crushed cumin. But you must be very careful mixing so the rice does not break. At this point you can taste the rice to check and make sure the salt is right. After the rice is placed in the pot, you smooth the top of the rice and with the back of your spatula you make a few deep holes in the rice to the bottom of the pot. Then you check if there is liquid at the bottom of these “holes” if there is no liquid then you can add a little water in a few of the holes just so there is a tiny bit of water at the bottom. The pot of rice is then covered with a kitchen towel or foil to absorb the moisture. This is so the rice steams properly in the last stage of cooking.

The last stage of cooking is important as this is when you “Damm” the rice, which is basically steaming the rice and finishing up the cooking. This stage is what results in perfectly fluffy individual grained rice that fills every Afghan home with a heavenly aroma as the rice cooks. The trick here is the rice should be cooked at high temperature for about 1/3 of the cooking time, and for the rest it should be cooked at medium low. The cooking time depends on the type of rice, Pallow takes longest to cook and Challow takes the shortest time to cook. For Challow you cook on the stovetop on high for about 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to medium-low for twenty minutes.

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Challow                                                                                                                                                     

4 cups white basmati rice (should be soaked in water for at least an hour)

Aw Roghan:

1 cup of oil

1 cup of water

1 ½ teaspoon of salt

1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin

½ teaspoon of cumin seeds

1) It is important to soak the rice ahead of time for at least an hour.

2) First to prepare the Aw-Roghan boil 1 cup of oil, 1 cup of water, 1 1/2  teaspoons of salt. Make sure to taste Aw-Roghan as it should be slightly salty. Let this come to a soft boil and then let it cool to room temperature.

3) In a large pot boil salted water. Once it comes to a boil add your four cups of rice. Let this cook for about 5 minutes, or until rice is slightly soft but not cooked all the way. To check is the rice is ready take a grain of rice and squeeze it between your index finger and thumb. It should break into 2 pieces when squeezed gently.

4) Once rice is ready strain it in a rice colander in the sink. Taste your rice to see how salty it is, and keep in mind how salty your Aw-Roghan is. If the rice is too salty gently rinse the rice with lukewarm water.

5) Now take your empty pot that you boiled the rice in and pour the rice back in. Add the Aw-Roghan and Cumin. Make sure to carefully and thoroughly mix Aw-Roghan with the rice.

6) Smooth out the top of the rice and take the back of the ladle and make holes in the rice to the bottom of the pot. In each hole there should be just a little tiny bit of liquid, if there is no liquid then add a little water to a few of the holes.

7) Cover the pot with a clean kitchen towel and put aluminum foil on top. Place on high temperature, for 10 minutes. You should see steam coming out from the pot. Then lower the temperature to medium-low for about twenty to twenty-five minutes. This step is called “Damm” and is basically steaming the rice.

8) Once rice is ready serve on a platter and you can garnish with fried dried Barberries (Zereshk),  fried almonds, or a simple tomato sauce that is poured around the top.

Zereshk:

1) Leave the Zereshk to soak in warm water for about 10 minutes.

2) Once ready heat some oil and a frying pan, and add the Zereshk. Add about half a cup of water, and sprinkle about a tablespoon of sugar on the Zereshk. Let this simmer for about five minutes, a light pink colored syrup should develop and the Zereshk should be soft once finished.

3) When the rice is cooked garnish with Zereshk, and spoon some of the liquid syrup on top of the rice.

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