An Afghani Jewish Culinary Detour

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The history of Jews in Afghanistan is murky, to say the least. For centuries, it was rumored that the apocryphal ten tribes of Israel had immigrated there sometime in antiquity. There are records of Jewish communities inhabiting parts of Afghanistan throughout the medieval period. But the "modern" albeit extinct Afghani Jew community dates to the middle of the 19th century when scores of Jews left Persia to escape forced convention. They settled near Herat and Kabul and thrived for decades, before immigrating to America and later to Israel. While a few Jews remained, by the 21st century their numbers were reduced to a handful.

The cuisine of the Afghani Jews was similar to that of their Muslim neighbors, though it incorporated more Persian and Middle Eastern elements.

For my quick sojourn into Afghani Jew cuisine, this is the recipe I made:

Polo Shabati

Beef Pilau for the Sabbath

Polo Shabati

This is a slow cooking recipe.

Sabbath recipes are almost invariably slow cooking ones: set on the stove the day before so as to make sure no work is done on the holy day. For this recipe, rice and meat are slowly cooked together over a base of potatoes. The latter are suppose to become crispy, providing a nice crunch to the dish. The recipe is minimally spiced, with only cinnamon and pepper, and while the results won't win any culinary competitions, it was perfectly acceptable as a meal (after adding some more salt). Indeed, I was happy to have the leftovers the next day. My only problem is that the potatoes stuck to the bottom of the pan.


Polo Shabati


  • 5 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 2 lbs beef chuck, cut into 3" pieces
  • 3 cups uncooked rice, rinsed
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled & cut into 1/4" slices
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1/2 cup cooking oil


Bring water and salt to boil in a large cooking pot over medium heat. Add the beef and cook for 5 minutes, removing the foam on the top of the liquid as it forms. Remove beef and set aside. Add the rice to the boiling water and boil for 5 minutes. Drain the rice, discarding the broth, rinse under cold water and set aside.

Neatly lay the potato slices at the bottom of the pot you just used. Add half the rice. Sprinkle with cinnamon and pepper to taste. Add the raisins and top with the reserved beef. Cover with the remaining rice. Pour the hot water on top and drizzle with the oil. Tightly cover the pot and cook on low heat for 30 minutes. Turn heat to very low and cook for 5 hours.

Adapted from a recipe in Copeland Mark's Sephardic Cooking: 600 Recipes Created In Exotic Sephardic Kitchens From Morocco To India

See also: American Jewish, Baghdadi Jewish, Bene Israel, Calcuttan Jewish, Cochin Jewish, Egyptian Jewish, Georgian Jewish, Greek Jewish, , Israeli recipes.

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