I've explained my love for Afghan food in an earlier post here. One of the most interesting things about Afghan food is the significance it has with family. Most families have versions of dishes such as Aushak (or ashak) and curries that are unique to that family. Traditions past on through the act of doing, sharing, eating rather than through recipe notecards and magazines. One beautiful aspect of Afghan meal time is the dastarkhan. The "space" for eating a meal. Sometimes (I believe usually with larger family gatherings and special guests) a dastarkhan is used to set the space for eating. It is a piece of fabric or tablecloth spread across the floor and then arranged with the various dishes, bread, curries, rice, meats, and beverage, usually tea. The dastarkhan is a sacred space, not to be walked across or sat upon, just a place that holds the sacredness of enjoying and sharing a meal with family. Often, there is a designated tea poured and food server because these jobs have meaning, even the arrangement of food is taken into consideration; it all has significance.
In our home, our table is typically strewn across with bits and pieces of whatever project I've been working on lately or whatever was in my hands when I walked in the door. Books, bags, laptops, keys, papers, glues, labels, mail, boxes... these all frequent my table more than actual food. I can spend so much time enjoying the preparation of the meal and, in the end, eating it can feel more of an afterthought because I don't bring the sacredness of enjoying a meal. Sometimes I have to clear a little placemat sized space open on the table just to eat... or we forgo it all and eat bowls of soup cuddled on the couch under a blanket. Don't get me wrong, couch eating has its place, but I should put as much intention into eating the food and enjoying the time to quite the mind, as I do while preparing the food. I feel as eating in a space with intention helps us to remain present.
This aushak is delicious and, I promise, simple. It varies from the traditional a bit, but like I said, each family has their own version. It is typically a leek filled dumpling served with a yogurt sauce, spiced ground meat topping, and dried mint. This version combines leeks and scallions, steamed in peppery broth, and topped with a garlic-mint yogurt. Its wonderful and best enjoyed in a sacred space. If you do not want to make all the dumplings at once. Reserve the left over fillings and wonton wrappers separate. Already steamed dumplings do not keep well, so steam to order :). You can, of course, make your own pasta dough here, but this time I choose the quicker version of using pre-made wonton wrappers.
Aushak (Makes about 35-40 dumplings)
Wonton wrappers - 1 package (at least 40 inside)
Leeks - 3 large, trimmed and chopping into thin half-moons
Scallions - 1 bunch, trimmed and sliced into thin rounds
Cayenne pepper - scant 1tsp, ground
Garlic - 3 cloves, minced very fine or grated in a microplane
Yogurt - 1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt or greek yogurt
Mint - 2-3TB fresh, plus extra to garnish
Coconut oil - 3TB (Or evoo)
Whole pepper kernels - 1tsp
Mushroom (or veggie) broth - 2Cups (plus a little extra, if needed)
Salt/pepper - to taste
Stir together the yogurt, 2 cloves worth of the garlic, and the fresh mint in a small bowl. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt and pepper and stir again, sit it aside for later.
In a large skillet heat up the coconut oil on medium high heat. Add in the other clove of minced or grate garlic and the leeks/onions. Cook stirring frequently until softened. At least 5 minuets. You want them to be soft and buttery tasting but not mushy. Season with the cayenne and some salt and then turn off the heat.
Heat up a medium skillet with a lid with 2 cups of the broth sprinkled with the whole peppercorns on medium low. You want to bring this mixture to a simmer and keep it there, keep it covered. Get out the wonton wrappers and a little bowl or cup of water. Lay out your wonton wrappers individually onto a clean surface. Spoon a small spoonful of the leek mixture into the center of each of the wontons. Then dip your finger into the water and spread two connecting edges of the wonton wrapper (one wonton at a time) with a strip of water. Fold the dry edges of the wonton wrapper over onto the wet edges, making a triangle and pinch together to seal. Make sure you only spread the water on one wonton at a time because the water will soak up/dry out so you need to fold it over right after you wet it. Repeat the process with all of your wontons. (If you aren't making all of them make sure you wrap the wonton wrappers up well so they don't dry out and keep the leek mixture separate).
Once the broth is simmering, lay in the wonton wrappers in one flat layer, try not to let them touch or they will cook together. You will need to do this in batches. Return the cover to the skillet and let them simmer/steam in the broth for 3 minuets. You might, occasionally need to add in a little more broth as you cook the dumplings in batches, in case too much steams out. Removed from the broth with a spatula and lay on a plate, drizzle with the yogurt sauce and sprinkle with extra chopped mint, if desired, and serve warm.