My friend Asya Ghafarshad’s parents immigrated to the US from Afghanistan in the 1960s. Asya was born in the US and her mom tells her stories of growing up in Afghanistan wearing miniskirts and smoking cigarettes. Her parents own an iconic restaurant in Claremont, California, the town where I went to high school and college. It is called Walter’s and serves delicious continental cuisine, as well as Afghan favorites. This is her father’s chicken soup. Asya likes to cook the chicken breasts on the bone to make the broth, then shred the cooked chicken and add it back to the soup just as it is nearly done. She does not peel the carrots and the vegetables are cut into larger chunks, just the way her dad made the soup.
Yakhni (Afghani Chicken Soup)
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, cut into ½-inch cubes
- 2 roma or plum tomatoes, cut into ½-inch cubes
- 8 cups water or chicken stock
- 1 cup yellow or red lentils or basmati rice
- 2 pound skinless chicken breast, bone-in
- 2 large carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1½-inch half-moons
- 2¾ ounces cilantro (coriander), leaves and stems roughly chopped, plus sprigs to garnish
- 1 tablespoon ground turmeric
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon ground cardamom
- 2 ounces fresh spinach
- 1 lemon, to serve
- Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until it begins to become translucent. Add the tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes until the tomatoes release their juices. Add the remaining ingredients, then bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender, the soup has thickened and the chicken is cooked—a thermometer will read 165°F when inserted into the thickest part of the breast and the juices of the chicken will run clear.
- When the chicken is cooked, remove from the pot and leave until cool enough to handle. Using your hands, shred all the meat and discard the bones. Add the meat back to the soup and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Squeeze the lemon juice into the soup, adding as much tangy flavor as possible without it becoming sour, and garnish with cilantro sprigs.