Abbas Bagheri jogs along the streets of Melville in Hamilton once or twice a week.
“I ask myself, Abbas do you believe that you are here in New Zealand? Is this real?”
The 37-year-old fled worn torn Afghanistan in 2013, as a refugee, with his wife Sediqa and their eldest son Mohammed. As an interpreter for the New Zealand Defence Force his family was a target for Taliban insurgents who hunted and executed residents with any links to the Afghani Government.
Abbas was plucked from the alleys of a local bazaar to work as an interpreter with the Kiwis.
A medic had shown him the Kiwi on her hat, but he knew nothing of New Zealand.
“We thought all foreigners came from America. Every moment is a good memory for me. It was the best time working as an interpreter.”
Originally from Yakwalang near Band-e Amir National Park, nestled in the Hindu Kush Mountains, he describes it as “the most beautiful place.” In summer the stark landscape is set against the national park's iridescent blue lakes. In winter it freezes over and sherpas migrate their flocks across the frozen surface.
But Afghanistan is a country that marks time by periods of unrest. Through the years he fled with his family to neighbouring Iran, but he always went back. He now has three brothers in Sweden, one in Iran and his remaining family still live in Afghanistan.
“I am proud to be a Kiwi. My proudest day so far was when my son Omid was given a New Zealand passport. He was born here. His name means 'hope'.”
He says the biggest Afghani event often linked with food is Ramadan. Muslims the world over fast during daylight hours but fasting is followed by feasts when the sun finally goes down.
“Proper food is not always easy to get in Afghanistan. It is normally basic because that is all people have.”
His family’s food is influenced by their time in Iran. Qorma-e Sabzi, a lamb curry, and Kookoo, a potato frittata are favourites, along with national Afghani dish, Kabuli Palaw.
“We always have to have bread. If we sit down to eat, we always ask, where is the bread?”
KABULI PALAW WITH BEEF
Kabuli Palaw is the national dish of Afghanistan. It graces the centre of the table at any celebration. Nothing else is needed, other than some bread on the side. You can also use chicken for this dish (picture above). Substitute the beef for chicken thighs and drums.
PREP: 15 MINUTES COOK: 2 HOURS
1 kilogram of stewing beef, cut into squares 2 medium onions, finely sliced 6 garlic cloves, diced 2 tablespoons of olive oil 1 teaspoon of turmeric ½ teaspoon of black pepper 1 tablespoon of salt 3 cups of water, more if needed
3 cups of cooked basmati rice 2 teaspoons of garam masala 1 teaspoon of ground cardamom 3 tablespoons of olive oil 2 julienned carrots ½ cup of raisins 2 tablespoons of sugar
In a heavy bottom-stewing pan add olive oil and turn heat to medium. Add the onions and fry until golden brown. Then add the garlic, mix well and cook until fragrant.
Add the meat, turmeric, black pepper and salt and stir for a couple of minutes. Add the 3 cups of water, cover and bring to a boil.
Turn down the heat to low and let it simmer until the meat is tender and pulls apart with a fork. Depending on the quality and size of your meat, this could take up 2 hours. Less if you're using chicken.
Once beef is cooked remove from the pan, cover with tin foil and set aside. Reserve the cooking liquid and leave it on a low heat.
Cook 3 cups of basmati rice, using your preferred method.
Pour a little of the reserved beef cooking liquid over the cooked rice and sprinkle the garam masala and cardamom over. Stir the spices gently through the rice.
In a fry pan heat the olive oil to a medium heat. Add the carrots, raisins and sugar and fry for 1 to 2 minutes, until the raisins plump up and carrots soften. Remove from the pan and drain the carrots and raisins on paper towels.
Pour rice onto a large serving tray. Place meat on the rice and pour over a little more of the beef cooking liquid if needed. Top with the fried carrot and raisins.
“Personally, I love food. Food is everything, it gives us sustenance. It is a big part of our culture and who we are.”