Blending Afghan and Italian Cultures at My Daughter’s Wedding

It was dessert time at my daughter Elise’s wedding, and my meal was about to come to an end. It was when I decided I couldn’t wait any longer. I and everyone around me had oohed and aahed our way through each course, and I just had to congratulate and thank the chef for what turned out to be an exceptionally wonderful meal that surpassed my expectations. 

From the start, the menu was challenging — it would celebrate two cultures miles apart but similar in many ways.

Elise married Tim, a young man whose family originates from Afghanistan. Our family has an Italian/Irish heritage, and Elise grew up in a home where Italian food is the ultimate celebration. Italian culture, like Afghan culture, is rich in tradition, and in developing the menu we hoped to preserve some of the traditions that honor and reflect both cultures. What better way than by using our favorite dishes to create the wedding menu.

Tim’s mother supplied family recipes — including the recipe for Vegetarian Afghan Mantu, below —  and together with my family's favorites we created a menu that celebrated our cultures. Lucky for us, the head chef at the venue, Montelucia Resort in Scottsdale, AZ, loved the idea of combining the two cuisines. He was excited about experimenting with new recipes and foods he hadn’t used before.

One of the highlights of the evening was watching the women, dressed in beautiful and colorful Afghan clothes, dance while carrying a silver platter with candles, flowers and henna, which is symbolic of the joining of the bride and groom.

With food, toasts and the henna ceremony behind us, the dance floor began to fill and, as the wedding drew to a close, everyone joined in dancing to the national and traditional dance of Afghanistan called the Attan. It is a circular dance used to end the evening. Indeed, this dance, like the foods and drink we had shared earlier, became a symbol of the mutual respect and friendship that had developed over the past several months.

It was the perfect ending to an extraordinary evening.


Vegetarian Afghan Mantu

Recipe developed by Badria Sultani (mother of the groom)

Serves 10-12 (recipe can easily be halved to serve fewer)

Ingredients

For Mantu:
20-oz. package “wonton wrappers” dough squares (approx 3 ¼ x 3 ¼ inches)
1 large cabbage
7 white onions
6 carrots
1 large green pepper
1 large scallion
1 small bushel cilantro
2 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp garlic paste
1 tbsp ground cilantro seeds
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
4 tbsp olive oil

For korma sauce topping:
1 cup dry split beans
1 carrot
1 yellow pepper
½ green pepper
1 small bushel cilantro
2 white potatoes
2 white onions
1 can tomato sauce
½ cup water
½ tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp garlic paste
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground cilantro seeds

Additional ingredients (for serving)
Labneh (strained) yogurt
Dried ground mint leaves for garnish

Instructions for Mantu dumplings

  1. Wash and chop cabbage, onions, carrots, green pepper, scallion and cilantro and individually set aside. Onions should be chopped into small squares and then blended in blender until they appear crushed/very fine. Put blended onions in large bowl.
  2. Blend cabbage in blender until fine, and add to onions in large bowl. Next, blend carrots and add to bowl.
  3. Then blend green pepper, cilantro and scallion in blender until fine, and add this mixture to large bowl with other vegetables. Mix all ingredients together.
  4. Next, add black pepper and garlic paste to mixture in large bowl and mix.
  5. Then combine cilantro seeds, salt, whole cumin seeds and ground cumin and add to the bowl and continue to mix. Finally, add the olive oil to ingredients in bowl to soften and mix again. Set aside. (Note: drain any extra water in bottom of bowl out and set aside so it can be added into the korma sauce topping for extra flavor!)
  6. Next, boil water in large pot and set double boiler on top.
  7. Finally, take a wonton wrapper square and brush each of the 4 sides with water to moisten (you can do this by dipping your finger in water then tracing along each side). Then take a spoonful of the vegetable and spice mix from the large bowl and place in the center of the square.
  8. To assemble the dumpling, touch two diagonal corners together on one side, then repeat on the other two corners. The top will be a triangle shape. Tidy up the sides by touching together the edges/corners on both sides in a purse-like shape.
  9. Repeat this assembly for as many mantu as needed. The above recipe should make about 30-40 mantu.
  10. Dip each mantu bottom in very small amount of olive oil and place the mantu onto the double broiler. Mantu should not be touching each other. Cover the double broiler with lid. Let steam for approximately 20 minutes.

Instructions for korma sauce

  1. Soak split peas in water for 1 hour, then microwave for around 20 minutes until slightly soft. Set aside.
  2. Chop carrot into small squares, then chop yellow pepper, green pepper and small bushel of cilantro into small pieces and set aside. Peel and chop potatoes into small squares and set aside.
  3. Chop onions and add to large saucepan with olive oil. Sauté until golden brown.
  4. Add tomato sauce, water, split beans and chopped vegetables to pan. Continue to sauté. Add turmeric, garlic paste, salt, black pepper and ground cilantro seeds to pan. Cover and cook on medium heat for approximately 20 minutes. Then remove the lid and simmer until the sauce slightly thickens.
  5. To serve: Spread thin layer of labneh yogurt on bottom of serving platter. Add mantu, then add small droplet of yogurt on top of each mantu. Spread korma sauce over mantu, but don't cover it completely. Finally, garnish by sprinkling dried mint on top. Serve and enjoy!
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Monica Joyce
Monica Joyce, MS, RD, LDN, CDE, is a local and national speaker to health care professionals on diabetes and co-author of the book, Too Busy to Diet. Follow her on Twitter.