Afghan Cuisine — Mashawa: Meatball and Bean Soup

When we were browsing around, trying to figure out what we would feature next now that Afghanistan has come around again on The World Cup of Food, a description for a recipe on the blog Afghan Culture Unveiled piqued our interest: “Afghan Chili.”  The dish was called mashawa (recipe follows), and further research revealed that it goes by a variety of descriptions, like “lentil soup,” “meatball soup,” or “spicy beans.”  Recipes we found in books and online showed a variety of methods and ingredients, and we were eager to produce our own.

More Afghan dishes on The World Cup of Food:

  • Qabali Palau, Kabul-style pilaf with chicken (with Afghan cuisine overview)

Mashawa can be made with a variety of meats, spices, or beans.  Ground lamb and beef seemed to be the most popular meat choices we saw in our research.  Beans ran the gamut, from garbanzos and kidneys to smaller, more tender choices like split peas, lentils, or mung beans.  Cinnamon was a common spice choice, and other options include cloves, coriander seed, cumin, turmeric, cayenne pepper, paprika, and nutmeg.

Mashawa

adapted from the blogs Afghan Culture Unveiled and Afghan Kitchen Recipes as well as The Complete Middle East Cookbook by Tess Malos

SERVES 6 TO 8

  • 1 cup each dried kidney and garbanzo beans, rinsed and picked through for stones, dirt, or any other debris
  • 6 cups water, plus more as needed
  • 3/4 pound ground beef chuck
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 large white onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup yellow split peas
  • 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp dried dill
  • plain yogurt and rice for serving

First we put the dried kidney and garbanzo beans in a small stockpot, covered them with water, and brought the pot to a simmer.  The pot was covered, and an hour-and-a-half later the beans were tender but not yet mushy:

beanscooked
Cooking time for dried beans varies widely. We have achieved this result in as little as seventy-five minutes and in as long as three-and-a-half hours.

The beans were left in the pot with their cooking liquid for later.  Next it was time to mix and form the meatballs.  Some mashawa recipes suggest forming small, one-inch meatballs and other simply ask that the cook add ground meat to the stew loosely, resulting in a soup that more closely resembles American chili that the meatball version.  Thanks to the wet hands technique we have practiced in other meatball dishes like Swedish köttbullar or Armenian kololik, we were confident we could work up a plateful of meatballs with minimal effort, so we opted for that route.  First we placed the ground beef and spices in a larger-than-necessary mixing bowl:

meatmixture

…and mixed by hand until the meat had a uniform, smooth texture:

meatmixed

Keeping hands wet with a nearby bowl of water, we quickly shaped the meat into one-inch balls and were ready to proceed:

meatballs

In our large Dutch oven, we heated about a teaspoon of oil (enough to prevent the meatballs from sticking until they could render some of their fat into the pan) over medium heat and added the meatballs:

meatballsinpan

Frequently stirring gently to prevent damaging the meatballs, it took about eight minutes for them to be brown all over:

meatballsbrowned

Next into the pot was the onions:

onionsadded

…which were cooked until softened, about three minutes:

onionssoftened

Finally, the split peas, tomatoes, and dill were added:

everythingadded

The garbanzo and kidney bean mixture was reintroduced at this point, and everything was stirred together and brought to a simmer:

stuffcooked

Our soup was simmered, covered, about an hour until the split peas were tender:

stuffcookedmore

To serve, the soup was ladled into bowls over rice and topped with a dollop of yogurt:

mushawaserved

While the moniker “Afghan chili” is not one hundred percent apt (chili tastes like, you know, chilies), this dish hits some of the same key points as American chili.  It is rich, filled with beany goodness, and makes the apartment smell amazing while it cooks.  The leftovers made great work lunches all week and sparked some interesting coworker conversations as well.

The World Cup of Food lost one of its greatest friends with the recent passing of Jim Bowman.  Grandpa, you will be missed.

James Allen Bowman, 1923-2014
James Allen Bowman, 1923-2014
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