For thousands of years, Afghan cooking has been influenced by surrounding cultures -- mainly Persian and Indian. Because Afghanistan is situated at a culinary crossroads, its cuisine relies on many spices. While Afghan dishes have much in common with well-known Middle Eastern dishes, the generous use of spices such as pepper, cardamom, cumin, saffron and turmeric echo the influence of neighboring Pakistan.
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Black pepper, native to South Asia, comes from peppercorn berry clusters found on the pepper plant. Black pepper is an important ingredient in most Afghan recipes including curry dishes, beef and bean soup, minced meat pastries, lamb and spinach stew and kebabs.
Cardamom is derived from several plants in the ginger family. Green cardamom, the kind used in Afghan recipes, is native to India. The strongly flavored spice has long been a staple in Afghan cooking, particularly for desserts. Recipes noted for their use of cardamom include afghan fudge, cookies, baklava, cereal and meat porridge, and pastry dishes.
Cumin is a pale green seed from the herb Cuminum cyminum. Although cumin can be purchased almost everywhere today, the spice is grown in Northern Africa and Central and South Asia. Cumin is noted for its strong, slightly bitter flavor, and is found in many Afghan dishes including meat pies and meatballs.
Saffron comes from the Crocus sativus flower. The spice, grown in western Asia, can be found in Persian dishes. In Afghan cuisine, saffron is used to enhance meat, vegetarian and dessert dishes. Afghan orange chicken with rice and rice pudding are among the Afghan recipes that use saffron.
Turmeric, known for its medicinal properties, is a staple Afghan spice and food coloring agent. Afghan recipes that use turmeric include vegetable fritters, chicken kebabs, braised chicken in yogurt and various curry dishes.