Bolanee: Savory Afghan Dumplings

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I sometimes daydream about taking a culinary tour of the Middle East. I’m a novice when it comes to authentic cooking from the region, but I love the stateside versions I’ve tasted of pita bread, hummus, pickled vegetables with rice and beans, practically anything cooked with cumin, and lentils, to name a few favorites. When my brother and his family spent a few months in Syria, their reports of local culinary discoveries made me sigh with longing. One day. But not now.

I think my first real exposure to Middle Eastern cooking came in high school. I had a dear friend whose parents immigrated to the United States from Afghanistan, and I whiled away hours and hours at her house. We spent a lot of time studying (we were both certified nerds for sure), and on many hot summer days we could be found stretched out on her bed, trying to escape the New Mexico heat, talking about everything from religion (she’s Muslim, I’m Mormon) to (of course) boys. Some of my fondest memories include her family, who always welcomed me with a level of hospitality I rarely experienced in my other friends’ homes. Her grandparents lived in an attached house. I loved listening to them chat in farsi, or the bewitching sound of the Quran being sung in arabic on the satellite TV stations her grandfather watched. Whenever they saw me, they always offered me food, which I was happy to take. Invariably there was a large platter with Jordanian almonds and other sweet treats. Exotic smells always wafted from the kitchen, which I remember my friend and her sister moaned about because they said their hair absorbed the smells.

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Now, I know that Afghanistan is geographically in South Asia, but its cuisine has always seemed closer to the Middle East to me. I’m pretty naive in this area, though, so I could be wrong grouping it with those countries. In any case, I loved the Afghani dishes I tasted at my friend’s house, particularly Bolanee. These savory pockets are stuffed with cumin-tinged potatoes and tomatoes, the outsides are crisp and slightly oily, and the cool, creamy dipping sauce is the perfect compliment. I loved them so much in high school that when I left for college, I got my friend to sit her grandmother down and write the recipe. Of course, there were no amounts listed, and I didn’t end up attempting to make them until years later.

This version is highly modified from the scribbled recipe I took with me to college, but I love the way it tastes. I’ve also tried making it with garbanzo beans instead of the potatoes, but potatoes are by far my favorite.

After reading this, all of you will be more aware than I would like at just how uneducated I am on Middle Eastern/South Asian cuisine, so, please, enlighten me. What are the differences between Afghani cuisine and other Middle Eastern countries? Does anyone else have a favorite recipe from the region? If you do, please share it. Since I won’t be visiting any time soon, I’ll have to make it at home, and I need a list to start from!

Speed it Up: You can make the filling and dipping sauce ahead of time, then just stuff and bake before your meal. You can also serve these at room temperature, so you can make them up to an hour or so before you plan on eating.

Special Dies and Allergies: Nut free, soy free, vegetarian, dairy free and vegan (if you make the vegan version of the sauce)

Veg Meal with Meat Option: I have tried putting cooked sausage in these for Ryan, which he likes. That way you can easily make some vegetarian and some meaty.

Bolanee: Savory Afghan Dumplings

Serves 4 – 5 as a main dish

This traditional Afghan dish is delightful as a snack or main dish. The outside crust browns and becomes crisp in the oven, while the inside is soft and savory. The onion, garlic, and cumin combine to create one flavorful bite. The dipping sauce is an absolute most: the creamy, cool consistency compliments the texture and taste of the dumplings perfectly. You can make these completely vegan if you use the vegan version of the sauce. I like these served warm or at room temperature. For a meal, try serving them with a cucumber and yogurt raita or green salad. Also, make sure you use the large egg roll wrappers, not the small ones for won tons.

Ingredients:

4 medium-sized red potatoes, peeled and sliced in 1″ rounds
2 t salt, divided
2 T olive oil
1 small- to medium-sized red onion, minced
1 carrot, peeled and grated
5 cloves garlic, pressed in a garlic press
1 1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t ground turmeric
1 C canned, diced tomatoes, partially drained (half of one 14.5 oz can)
3 T chopped cilantro (opt.)
About 10 egg roll wrappers

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Add 1 t of the salt and the potatoes and cover. Leave the heat on high until the water boils again, then lower the heat, and crack the lid. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork. Drain the potatoes.
  3. While the potatoes are cooking, heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.
  4. Add the onion, and sautee until tender, about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the carrot and continue to sautee for another 2 minutes. Now add the garlic and sautee, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant, being careful not to let it burn, about 2 minutes.
  6. Add the cumin, salt, and turmeric, and sautee, stirring constantly, another minute.
  7. Add the cooked and rinsed potatoes and tomatoes, and cook, stirring, for another 2 to 3 minutes, using the spoon to break up the potatoes into small chunks.
  8. Stir in the chopped cilantro and remove from heat.
  9. Pour some water into a small dish. Lay out an egg roll wrapper. Place about 1/4 C of the potato mixture on the wrapper. Dip your fingers in the water, then moisten the four edges of the wrapper. Fold it in half, matching the edges to make a rectangular package containing the filling. Fold the edges over to seal in the filling.IMG_0579
  10. Brush the top of the dumpling with olive oil, then place on a large cookie sheet, oil side down. Brush the top with some more oil.
  11. Repeat until all of the filling is gone.
  12. Bake in the preheated oven for about 8 minutes. Flip and bake on the other side for another 6 minutes, or until golden brown.
  13. Serve warm or at room temperature with the dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce (dairy version)

Ingredients:

3/4 C plain yogurt or sour cream
1/2 t garlic powder
1/4 – 1/2 t salt
1 t cumin
dash cayenne
2 T minced red onion
minced cilantro (to taste)

Directions:

  1. Mix the sour cream or yogurt with the garlic, salt, cumin and cayenne until smooth. Stir in the onion and cilantro, if using.

Dipping Sauce (vegan version)

Ingredients:

3/4 C firm tofu
1/4 C olive oil
1/2 t garlic powder
1/4 – 1/2 t salt
1 t cumin
dash cayenne
2 T minced red onion
minced cilantro (to taste)

Directions:

  1. Puree the tofu and olive oil in a food processor until smooth. If it’s still chunky, add another 2 T of olive oil, and continue to puree until smooth. If you want it thinner, add some warm water, 1 T at a time, and puree until you like the consistency. Add the garlic, salt, cumin and cayenne and puree until mixed.
  2. Stir in the onion and cilantro, if using.

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10 responses to “Bolanee: Savory Afghan Dumplings

  1. Rosalie, these look so yummy and your photos are beautiful. I think I can find vegan “egg” roll wrappers, right? These would be so fun to make with children.

    • Hi Somer! It is quite a bit like a samosa. It seems many cultures have a similar idea (ie, bread stuffed win something): empanadas, pupusas, won tons, and I’m sure many others, although those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

  2. These looked so yummy I made them for a party. Everyone was bringing appetizers to share. I made mini versions in wonton wrappers, folding them into simple triangles. They were a huge hit. I loved the flavors and the dipping sauce (dairy version). It was nice to share something unique at e party. Thank you!

    • That’s great! Thanks for sharing. I wish I could have come to the party. I love the idea of using won ton wrappers. What other appetizers were brought? I’m afraid I am dismal when it comes to making something to go before the meal–I feel good if I can make the meal itself, let along dessert. Forget about appetizers.

  3. Oooo, I know whose house you are talking about! My favorite dish was the (cumin?) rice with raisins and other delicious things in it, so good! I also remembered doing middle eastern dancing in her living room our senior year, so much fun! I hope you’re doing well Rosalie!

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