Hazara Kitchen

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Chelo Nachodo

 A stew made with chickpeas and chicken. Wonderful. I thank God for the invention of the chicken.

What you will need:

  • A chicken, above all. A fat, happy chicken – one that has spent her life eating harlequin beetles and earthworms and grass seeds; a free-range chicken, as they are known in the West. In Afghanistan, all chickens are free-range. It would come as a shock to any Afghan chicken to hear of enclosures that prevent a fowl from flapping its wings and digging in the dirt. Chickens and cows and sheep and goats live happier lives in my poor, Third World country than many of the people. Nobody drops bombs on them.
  • Five or six bay leaves.
  • A quantity of dried chickpeas, enough to fill the bowl from which you eat your porridge in the morning.
  • Three stalks of celery, including the leaves, cut finely across the grain.
  • Two big brown onions, chopped into small pieces.
  • A nice carrot, sliced lengthways and then sliced into small pieces.
  • A big zucchini, sliced lengthways into four sections then each of the four sections sliced into three sections lengthways.
  • A pinch of cumin seed.
  • A few spoonfuls of fresh dill, chopped finely.
  • A few spoonfuls of fresh coriander, chopped finely.
  • The juice of two good lemons.
  • Ground black pepper.
  • Salt.
  • Basmati rice.
  • Sesame oil.

It is the night before the day on which you will make this chelo nachado. Take the chickpeas and soak them in a big bowl of hot water overnight. Read your book before you go to sleep. If you are married, be sure to kiss your wife or your husband before you close your eyes. Speak some loving words, if possible.

Use the big pot that you have so much trouble fitting into your dishwasher for this chelo nachado. Fill it two-thirds with water, place it on the heating surface and bring the water to the boil. Place the whole chicken in the pot then add the bay leaves. Cook the chicken for one hour with the lid on the pot, but every ten minutes take the lid off and skim away anything that has formed on the surface. Read your book while the chicken is boiling, or do a crossword puzzle. Not a Sudoku.

After an hour the chicken will be falling away from the bones. Take the pot off the heating surface and remove the chicken, without burning your fingers. On another surface, one you can wipe down, pull the flesh of the chicken from the bones, including the flesh on the legs. Remove the skin, too, which will be loose and will come away readily. Make sure you get every last piece of chicken flesh!

Now skim the surface of the water in which the chicken cooked one more time. Remove the bay leaves. Return the chicken pieces to the pot and to the water in which it cooked. Into this big pot, tip the softened chickpeas, the celery stalks, the brown onions, the carrot, zucchini, cumin seed, fresh coriander, dill, the lemon juice and salt – just enough. Also the ground black pepper; just a little more than enough. Let the pot simmer for one hour.

Now the rice. We will do this a little differently to normal. Find a pot almost as big as the chicken pot.  In this pot, boil five cups of water with a certain amount of salt added. Now pour into the boiling water enough Basmati rice to satisfy your family and your guests. Let the rice cook for a sensible time, not long; if you are a grown man, for about the time it would normally take you to shave, or if you are a woman, the time it would normally take for your husband to shave. Next, drain the rice and rinse it with cold water. When the rice is reasonably dry empty into a broad frying pan and pour the sesame oil over it. Cover the pan with a lid and cook the rice on a very low heat for half an hour. In this way, the rice will become crisp on the bottom of the pan and fluffy on top. Now call your family members and your guests. Allow them to serve themselves, covering the crispy rice with as much of the magnificent chicken stew as they can possibly wish for. Accept the congratulations of your family and guests. Eat.