“When people come to our house we make special food to make them feel welcome.”
The mother of four cooks a fusion of Afghani and Pakistani recipes, with subtle differences in the use of spice or dried fruits, showing the variations between the two countries.
While she was born in Afghanistan, where her mother taught her to cook, she fled her war-torn country to Karachi in Pakistan when she married her husband.
It is a similar journey up to one million other Afghani refugees have made to escape decades of unrest in Afghanistan.
“My husband was a very good cook. He traveled back to Afghanistan one day and we never see him again. That was 10 years ago. I don’t know what happened.”
From Karachi she moved with her four children to Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, where she was separated from her two boys and was sent to live in a hostel with her two daughters. She baked bread daily to provide for her family.
“I baked hundreds every day. I don’t like baking bread," she says with a smile.
It was four years before her refugee application was approved. The refugee agency reunited her with her children before moving to New Zealand.
“I am so happy when I find out I am coming to New Zealand. It is a safe place, a good country.”
Saleema says she still struggles with English but is trying hard to learn. She says she feels very lucky to live here and has spent time learning to cook New Zealand dishes.
Now her day-to-day cooking has the hallmarks of many New Zealand homes. Her children like macaroni cheese and sausages but she still bakes the naan bread she made every day in Islamabad.
Her specialties however are Mantu and Aushak, Afghani dumplings filled with beef or in the case of Aushak, leeks and spring onions. They are special food however and are traditionally reserved for festive occasions or times when she helps with catering for the Red Cross, welcoming new refugees arriving in Hamilton.
“Food is special, it makes things special.”
These are like an Afghani ravioli. Saleema serves them with a lentil topping and a garlic yoghurt dip
PREP: 20 MINUTES COOK: 15 MINUTES
1 packet of wonton wrappers Olive oil for frying 1 leek, well cleaned, halved, and finely sliced 2 bunches of spring onions, finely sliced (reserve some for garnish) 1 garlic clove, finely minced 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes Salt and pepper Thick natural yoghurt Coriander
Heat olive oil in a large fry pan over a medium heat. Gently fry the leeks, spring onions, garlic and red pepper flakes until soft. Season with salt and pepper. Bring a pot of well salted water to the boil. Open the packet of wonton wrappers and one-by-one place a spoonful of the leek mixture into the middle of the wrapper. Pull the sides of the wrapper together to make a half-moon or triangle shape, sealing the edges. Drop the aushak into the simmering water and cook 4 to 5 minutes, until they float. Remove from the water and place onto plates. Top with the mantu topping, thick natural yoghurt and sprinkle with chopped coriander.
2 tablespoons of cooking oil
1 cup chana (yellow) lentils (soaked overnight to soften)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
½ teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon of ground black pepper
½ tin of tomatoes
2 cups of water (plus more if needed)
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
Heat oil in a clean fry pan and gently fry onion and garlic until browned. Add remainder of topping ingredients and cook for up to 1 hour, until lentils are soft (if mixture becomes dry and lentils are still hard add more water, ½ a cup at a time).
GARLIC YOGHURT DIP
1 teaspoon of dried mint leaves ½ teaspoon of garlic ½ teaspoon of salt 500 ml of plain yogurt
Mix all the ingredients for the garlic yoghurt dip together in small bowl.