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Afghan meatball curry with rice pilaf (Kofta challaw)

Updated: Mar 5, 2023

Afghan cuisine has a very delicate profile, it uses a bit more spice than the Persian origins of the cuisine but less than the Indian neighbours. It is refined and delicate, with the perfect balance of spices and flavours.

This dish is a perfect example of the delicate flavours of the cuisine. The super soft meatballs and curry are flavorful from the spices and carry a hint of heat from the chillies. I also love that the meatballs are not fried, but cooked in the curry, a technique that is delicate but allows the meatballs to absorb the flavours and contribute to the dish. The tomato and onion-based curry absorbs the meat flavours and transforms into a wonderful sauce that is perfect with the rice.

In India, it is impossible to find beef and very expensive to use lamb, so I have substituted it for ground mutton. I felt that the slightly stronger flavoured meat added nuances to the dish that would otherwise be absent, so feel free to try this version. Alternatively, you can substitute ground chicken instead.

I love new cookbooks, ok I am a bit obsessed, and new cuisines and learning about cultures through food and spices. This cookbook does just that. It is filled with wonderful recipes and beautiful pictures. My only minor quibble is the print, I have bad eyes, and the weird grey print on a non-white page makes the recipes really hard to read, but again, that could just be me with poor eyesight.

For more delicious recipes from this cookbook click here.


For the meatballs:

1 large onion, chopped

1 fresh red chilli, chopped

3 tablespoons cilantro, leaves and stems

1 garlic clove

1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

Water, 2-3 tablespoons, or as needed

1/2 lb ground lamb, beef, mutton or a combination of lamb and beef

Salt, to taste

For the curry:

4 tomatoes, chopped

1 garlic clove

2 tablespoons oil

1 large onion, finely diced

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon mild curry powder (Madras)

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon tomato paste

Salt, to taste

3 cups water

Cilantro, minced for garnish

For the rice:

2 cups Basmati rice

3-4 green cardamom pods

1 teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly toasted

1 tablespoon butter

Water, as needed

To make the meatballs:

Add the onions, red chilli, cilantro, garlic, coriander powder and water to a blender and purée to form a thick, smooth paste. Set the blender aside unwashed for the purée for the curry.

Mix the paste with the meat and salt till the ingredients are evenly incorporated and the mix is slightly sticky, using your hands is the easiest and best. Make a small teaspoon-sized meatball and fry it in a small pan. Taste and adjust salt and spices as needed. the meatballs should be delicately flavoured and seasoned.

Divide the meat mixture into 12 portions and make small meatballs, about golf ball size. Set aside in the fridge to chill and firm up.

To make the rice:

Mix all the ingredients and cook in a rice cooker or on the stove. Keep warm.

To make the curry:

Add the tomatoes and garlic to a small blender, which can be the same as the one used above without washing, and purée till smooth. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a pot large enough for the curry with meatballs and sauté the onions till they are golden about 4-5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook till the sauce is thickened a bit and does not small raw any longer about 5 minutes. Add the sugar, curry powder vinegar, tomato paste and salt and give a quick stir to mix in well.

Add the water and bring the sauce to a boil. Add the meatballs gently to the sauce so they do not break up. Make sure the meatballs are completely submerged in the sauce, if not, add water as needed. Be careful not to stir the pot at all for the first 15 minutes, you do not want to break up the meatballs. Simmer gently for 30 minutes. The sauce will reduce and thicken a bit, but that is fine. you want the flavours to concentrate a bit and the curry to start clinging to the meatballs. The curry is ready when the oils begin to float to the surface. Taste and adjust for salt.

Serve hot with the curry surrounded by rice and garnished with cilantro.

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