Upscale Afghan cuisine has adopted a lot of British and Indian desserts—divinely delicate flans, rice puddings flavored with rose water. But in most poor Afghan towns and villages, the dessert I ate most commonly consisted of sugar-coated almonds, green raisins, and caramels imported from Iran. Jelebi was the first locally prepared sweet dish ordinary Afghans ate that I had tried; it is popular in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of India. It's supersweet, and probably should be served with a glass of milk or unsweetened hot tea. Jelebi is supposed to be eaten so hot it burns the roof of your mouth (which kind of goes against the idea of something that is supposed to be a treat, but that's life in a war zone, I suppose), but in Jalalabad, our crew would often buy a couple of pounds of the rings, put them in a big plastic bag, and then pick at them during our long daily drives around the violet and yellow filigree of mountain roads, listening to Najibullah's war stories and laments, sound tracks to Indian movies, and distant explosions of American ordnance outside Tora Bora.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup plain nonfat yogurt (any kind will do)
2 cups sugar
1 stick cinnamon
Sunflower or canola oil or ghee, for deep frying A plastic bottle for squeezing out dough, like a clean ketchup or mustard bottle
Make the dough: Mix the flour, baking powder, and yogurt together into a batter and set aside for 24 hours to ferment at room temperature.
Make the syrup: Combine the sugar with 1/2 cup water and cinnamon in a small saucepan and boil for several minutes. The syrup is the right consistency when, as you carefully dip the tip of your index finger into the syrup (don't burn yourself!), touch it to your thumb, and gently pull them apart, a thread is formed between the finger and thumb. Remove the cinnamon stick. Prepare the syrup and keep it warm.
Heat the oil or melt the ghee in a wok-type deep frying pan. Drop a tiny bit of batter in; if the batter sizzles and rises to the top, the oil is hot enough. Pour the batter into the plastic bottle. Squeeze the batter into the oil in circles, 4-5 inches in diameter, several at a time. Try to keep them from touching when you pour them. When the rings are golden, move them from the oil into the syrup with a slotted spoon. Let them soak in the syrup for 2 or 3 minutes, then remove and stack them in a pyramid or arrange them on a plate.
Reprinted with permission from Peace Meals: Candy-Wrapped Kalashnikovs and Other War Stories By Anna Badkhen. 2010 by Free Press
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