Faraidon Osmani has traveled great distances to bring his Afghan cuisine to Boise. As a young adult, he left Kabul, Afghanistan, and headed to medical school in Russia, where he became a general physician. But the food from his childhood was never far from his mind.
Osmani opened an Afghan restaurant in Moscow after job security became an issue in the medical profession there. If he couldn't heal Muscovites, at least he was going to nourish them with recipes from his homeland. He eventually made his way to America.
Now, Boiseans can taste Osmani's Middle Eastern cuisine at the Kabob House, an eatery he opened earlier this year in an innocuous-looking strip mall at the corner of Maple Grove Road and Emerald Street - a world away from the clogged boulevards of Russia's capital city, and the tumult of Afghanistan.
Diners are met with a friendly "salaam," a common greeting in Afghanistan, as they enter the restaurant. The decor is pleasant yet understated, with some reminders of the Middle East, like framed tapestries, ornate brass teapots and a hookah pipe or two. Mysterious Afghan music lingers overhead, also pointing people in the direction of Kabul.
The menu closely follows the Khyber Pass, a high-country route that cuts deep through the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. This legendary passage was part of the ancient Silk Road, and it also was an important stretch of the spice route that brought aromatic foodstuffs (on the backs of camels) from India to Afghanistan, and onward to Persia and points west.
In many ways, the food of Afghanistan has its own identity, yet it draws influences from other countries along the spice route. Even though Afghan cuisine dictates the menu, diners at the Kabob House will also find some northern Indian and Persian dishes.
During one visit, I was curious about the Afghan fare, but not so much about the Indian cuisine, the latter of which is fairly common in Boise.
We started with a beverage called dogh ($2.55), a chilled yogurt and cucumber drink that might be too tart for some Western palates, but it played well with the spicy food that was soon headed our way.
Our friendly server recommended the sambosa appetizer ($4.50), and she instantly earned our trust after we received three fried pillows of chewy dough filled with cumin-spiced potatoes and peas. These golden-brown turnovers are excellent on their own, but they enter the "incredible" category once dragged through the adjacent chatni - a chutney-like sauce made with coriander, garlic, green chilies and walnuts.
We chose another Afghan specialty called kofta chalow ($11.95), a deliciously piquant tomato-based stew with lentils, chili pepper, onion and silky beef meatballs, served with toasted basmati rice.
Shish kabobs are obviously the focal point at the Kabob House. The chicken kabob platter ($11.95), served with mixed greens splashed with a lemony olive oil dressing, turned out to be a good choice. The cubes of grilled chicken breast - tenderized by a marinade of yogurt, mint, garlic and red pepper - were served off the skewer, for easy eating. Also on the platter were grape tomatoes, roasted cauliflower and a heap of marinated red onion, next to a verdant puree of avocado, jalapeno and lemon. The waiter who delivered our food told us that the sauce "was a family recipe that we kind of made up, because there are no avocadoes in Afghanistan." We didn't care that the sauce didn't come from the century-old Osmani recipe book. It's the perfect dipping sauce for the seared chicken.
A few nights later, we tried the lamb tekka kabob ($12.95) with sides of tasty housemade yogurt ($2.95) and Indian-style flatbread ($1.95). The naan bread wasn't as good as the charred and chewy stuff dished up at Indian restaurants, but it worked well for wrapping around the grilled lamb medallions, which were juicy and redolent of lemon, garlic and olive oil.
We tagged on orders of ashe gooshti ($4.50) and bolani ($4.50), two appetizers of Afghan origin. Bolani is a flat potato turnover (think potato lefse) filled with sautéed onion, parsley and flecks of red pepper, served with spicy chatni.
Most Afghanis probably won't recognize the Kabob House's version of ashe gooshti, a dish that is suppose to resemble lasagna, with strips of pasta, tomato sauce, lentils, seasoned ground beef and yogurt. Instead, we were brought a bowl of canned vegetable soup with spaghetti noodles, enhanced by a few beef meatballs, chopped mint and a liberal dollop of yogurt.
We finished our meal on a sweet note, and I mean really sweet. Right after receiving a steaming pot of cardamom-spiked Persian black tea ($2.55), out came a plate of gulab jamun ($3.95), a dessert of northern Indian persuasion. Three round milk dumplings were situated in a pool of super-sweet syrup and dotted with crushed pistachios. The fragrant tea helped to balance out this saccharine dessert.
Email James Patrick Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org