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The Book Club Cookbook - by Judy Gelman, Vicki Levy Krupp
For The Kite Runner book club discussion and luncheon held at her Irvine, California, restaurant, Britta's Cafe, Britta Pulliam prepared sabzi challow, a traditional Afghani New Year's Eve dish, made with spinach, (sabzi), rice (challow), and lamb. "In the novel (The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini), Soraya prepares sabzi challow for a dinner party after she and Amir are married," says Pulliam. "It seemed like a very traditional dish." Pulliam contacted Afghani friends to help her create an authentic sabzi challow recipe.
     Pulliam first tasted the rice, challow, when a friend served it to her for dinner. "At first I thought it was burned," says Pulliam. "It was crispy on the bottom and caramel-colored, but I quickly realized this is the way it should be prepared. Now this is how I always cook my rice. Once you try it, you will always want your rice prepared this way."
Pulliam was happy to share her recipe for sabzi challow, and says the dish is also delicious when prepared with beef or chicken.

Yield: 8 servings


    · 1/4 cup olive oil
    · 8 lamb shanks
    · 3 onions, thinly sliced
    · 1½ teaspoons turmeric
    · 5 cups baby spinach, stems removed (large leaves must be chopped)
    · 3 cups cilantro leaves
    · 1 cup Italian parsley, stems removed
    · 16 to 18 scallions, whole, outermost layer and tough upper green removed
    · 3 tablespoons minced garlic
    · 3 - 5 cups beef stock (homemade is preferable)
    · 5 tablespoons fresh lime juice
    · Salt and pepper to taste
    · Challow (see below)


1) Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat the oil in a large ovenproof Dutch oven and brown the lamb shanks on all sides. Remove the lamb and set aside. Add the onions to the pot and saute until soft and lightly browned. Stir in the turmeric. Add the spinach, cilantro, parsley, and scallions. Saute for 20 minutes, stirring constantly (add more oil if needed). The aroma of the herbs should rise—it is very important for the taste of the stew that this stage be completed. Add the garlic and saute briefly.

2) Return the lamb to the Dutch oven. Add enough beef stock to barely cover the shanks. Bring to a boil, then cover, transfer to oven, and cook for 2 - 2 1/2  hours.

3) When the meat is tender, remove from oven. Stir in lime juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over challow.

Yield: 8 servings

NOTE: For saffron rice, soak 1 teaspoon saffron threads in 1/4 cup boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove saffron and discard. Use this water in place of the final 1/4 cup water in step 3.

    4 cups uncooked basmati rice
    1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt
    1/4 cup olive oil

1) Rinse and drain the rice three times in tepid water. Place the rice in a large bowl and add 8 cups of water and 1 tablespoon salt. Soak the rice for 2 - 3 hours.

2) Fill a medium-size pot halfway with water. Add 2 teaspoons of salt and bring to a rapid boil. Drain the rice well and add to the boiling water. Return to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Test the rice—it should soft on the outside and still firm, but not brittle, inside. Strain the rice and rinse with tepid water. Drain well.

3) Rinse out the pot with water and add the oil. Place over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add the rice, 1/4 cup water, and a pinch of salt. With the handle of a wooden spoon, poke five holes through the rice, one in the center. Cook for 1 or 2, minutes—do not stir. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cover with a lid wrapped in a kitchen towel. Steam the rice for 20 to 30 minutes (do not remove lid to check the rice during this time). The bottom should be crisp.

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