Eid during Covid-19
Holidays in my multi-culti home are an exciting time, being able to add more tradition, foods, and richness from the traditions of my background and my husband's makes for an even livelier celebration than before. As an Afghan American girl from Toledo, Ohio, food is a my family's love language and a part of the fabric of Toledo's pride as restaurant city of America. My husband, on the other hand, is a Swahili Kenyan American, a globetrotter who brings flavors from the many countries he lived in as a diplomat's son. The melding of our families together has resulted in double the desserts, double the love, and a doubling down on ensuring we've properly tasted each dish, something neither of us will complain about.
However, as Eid Al'Adha approached, it was evident that this year would be a bit different than those of holidays past. Washington D.C. has a vibrant Muslim community, but due to the pandemic, social distancing has become our "new normal," and finding a way to embrace a spirit of festivity without many of the rituals and people who made it such a special day was a tall task.
As an avid lover of Hallmark Christmas movies, my inner Ohio'an takes her holidays quite seriously. They must be filled with the Hallmark'esque spirit: festivity, family, finding joy in the small things, and of course, the food. Thus I set out to make this year a memorable occasion, because we no longer could start our days with our usual traditions. Leading up to the holiday involved a few things: finding coordinating outfits to take cheesy over the top photos, decorating the home with supplies I had gathered over time into a large storage bin from clearance sections at Target and Home Goods, and most importantly, creating a feast to feed the few of us who quarantined together at our home.
So this year, instead of introducing you to my family, I'd like to introduce you to our adjusted Eid. Filled with fanfare, festivity, and food, the highlight being a close tie to counting how many refrigerators our Eid holiday card had made it to and my mother using a photo of my home decor (see right) as her Zoom background on our extended family virtual Eid "gathering." I'm still not sure which to be honored more by, but I do feel like we were able to honor the essence of Eid with a little bit of creativity and love. As my husband and I both love to cook, we designated which meals would carry which cuisines. Brunch was a full Swahili traditional meal, while dinner was an Afghan love letter to my mother and grandmother, the two women from whose side I learned the art that goes into the delicate crafting of the dishes that have curated a crazed following in the D.C. food scene. Dessert dedicated itself to American summer classics with a twist.
A glimpse at the royalty of my dinner table, from my home to yours.
Qabuli Palau. To me, it is the king of Afghan cuisine, the dish full of fanfare and prominence that sits in a position of high esteem, grandeur, and honor. Every over the top occasion
requires its presence, covered in gems of Afghan cuisine, our beloved raisins and almonds, and the fresh scent of sweet carrots coated in cardamom. The melding of the perfect spice blend with the lamb broth wraps around each delicate grain, steamed to fluffy perfection. Embedded within is lamb so tender, it falls off the bone. A bite of Qabuli Palau proves its worthiness as the King of Afghan cuisine: the delicate yet rich lamb, ensconced within the most scrumptious indulgent rice, a hint of sweetness balancing the savory flavors with the raisins and carrots, and a satisfying crunch in the almond. It is, simply put, the most perfect meal in one bite.
Mantu: if Qabuli Palau is the King of Afghan cuisine, then Mantu is the Queen. For she is a delicate art, one looked upon with adoration, high regard, and given a lofty status on the
dinner table. This isn't a meal that is had without a labor of love, for after you have taken the care and time for each dumpling, you cherish it greatly. Mantu is made with either very finely shredded cabbage or onions and seasoned ground beef or ground lamb. Wrapped in a thin dough, it is steamed gently to a tender softness. Doused in mint yogurt (Chaka) and a tomato sauce based vegetarian topping, each bite is perfectly proportional to the next. The dough's thin texture melts in your mouth with the flavors of the dish, such that no singular ingredient overpowers the rest. Rather, this unique dumpling combines the various flavor elements into a delectable bite that becomes an entire experience in itself.
The sister side dishes are no less important than the King and Queen of the table, as there is just as much enthusiasm for their presence as the rest. They are some of the famed dishes of Afghan cuisine that have caused a fervorous following: Banjan Borani, Bolani, Chalau, Salata, and Roast Lamb.
Though it's difficult to find the capacity to honor the desserts of the room, a meal is not complete without leaving a sweetness in your mouth to reminisce the occasion the next morning.
Nothing says summer quite like juicy fruits ripe with sweetness. These strawberry cupcakes pay homage to the Strawberry Festival local to our suburban D.C. community in MoCo. They are cored to make room for the cherry pie filling that complements the berry essence of the cake, topped with an airy whipped cream cheese frosting for the perfect balanced bite.
Finally, my own favorite fusion creation for the summer capped off these individual portioned treats. They may not have been roasted in my aunt's fire-pit with my 30 cousins gathered neck and neck holding their sticks of marshmallows above the fire, but their distinct flavors leave an impression that will transport you time and again back to my Afghan American home.
My Afghan Pink Chai S'mores are the perfect blend of my diasporic experience. A warmed pink marshmallow covered in white chocolate and crushed pistachios squished between two tea biscuits brings together flavors reminiscent of Afghan and American classics. The subtlety of the pistachio highlights the sweet undertones of the white chocolate, reminiscent of Firnee, an Afghan sweet pudding. The marshmallow tea biscuit combination is similar to the classic S'more on a graham cracker, but feels like you should dunk this in a cup of Pink Chai. The perfect ending to our food affair, this blends both of my worlds and creates a longing for leftovers to enjoy everything one more time.