Recipe Difficulty: easy - medium depending if you are comfortable working with dough.
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How I discovered Afghan Food in Spain
I took my first trip to Spain in December 2022 to visit my long distance partner, Jose. I spent several months prior day dreaming about all of the Spanish food I would discover. No trip to Spain would be complete without experiencing authentic paella, patatas bravas, or pan con tomate. I am happy to report that I did indeed enjoy those dishes (and more) in Spain, and absolutely fell in love with Spanish culture and cuisine. (I'm certain I found the best vegan paella in Valencia and will try to re create it at some point.) What I couldn't have imagined, was that I would go to Spain and fall in love with flavours from Afghanistan. That however, is precisely what happened.
I ate in restaurants almost daily during my two week stay in Valencia. Much of my time was spent in Old Town, which is a beautiful and vibrant part of the city. It's mainly a pedestrian area, so be sure to put on a pair of comfortable shoes, as you'll undoubtedly be wandering through the narrow, winding cobble stone streets for hours. It's full of great restaurants, shopping, Central Market & so much more. I also wouldn't be surprised if you find yourself lingering in an alleyway taking in the graffiti that stretches across every spare inch of empty wall space. The spray painted murals and art are a striking juxtaposition to the medieval fortification I passed through to enter into the area every day. The Serranos Towers were originally a defensive structure at one of the cities busiest gates, and is now a historical point of interest for tourists and a popular location for special events in the city. If you do visit Valencia, my suggestion would be to spend at least a few days in Old Town, but then be sure to venture elsewhere because there is lots to explore outside that area. I honestly think you could spend every day of your life wandering around Valencia trying new restaurants, and you wouldn't be able to try them all.
Finding Food outside of Old Town in Benimaclet
One night without a plan, Jose and I were wandering around the city in an area I hadn't seen before, called Benimaclet. It is a vibrant, multicultural area in Valencia that is a bit off the beaten path, so there aren't as many tourists wandering around. It was about 7pm, we were hungry, and hoping to find something with vegan options. After walking around for what I'm sure was an hour, Jose finally pulled out his GPS and found an Afghan restaurant called Ca'Miri not far from where we standing. I was definitely keen, and not only because I was tired and ready for food! In my experience with globally inspired food and menus, it's common to see offerings centered around humble whole food ingredients. Pulses, legumes, rice, vegetables and delicious spices are common in the Middle East, and I love all of it.
We walked into the restaurant on a quieter night, which allowed for plenty of exchange with the owner about vegan options. Jose ordered our food and a couple of draft beers. Draft beer is a lot less common in Valencia compared to East Coast Canada from what I could tell, so I was happy for the option! We sat inside and sipped, Bob Marley playing in the background. First, we shared several small dishes including rice, beans, lentils & salad. All of it was delicious and the kind of food I could eat every day of my life. What really inspired me however, was what we ordered next. It was called "Bolon" on their menu, "Bolani" seems to be more common if you search online. Either way, it's incredibly delicious, I was instantly obsessed and knew I would be making some version of it as soon as I arrived back in Canada.
The Spread of veggie, bean & rice dishes we had
What is Bolon or Bolani?
If you haven't heard of Bolani, it is a simple dough stuffed with potato and leek (the fillings vary but this is what I had) and then fried in oil until golden and crisp. Bolani is indeed humble fare, but it is addictively good. At the restaurant they served it with a tomato sauce that had a hint of warm spice (cinnamon I think), which I did try at home first. I liked that enough, but the chef in me knew there was something that I would enjoy more and I felt that to take my bolani to the next level I should keep looking. I searched online for inspiration, and found something called "Afghan Green Chutney." on a blog called Pick Up Limes. I made it once, then made it again tweaking some things to balance it to my taste. The result, a delicious condiment of fresh cilantro, parsley & jalapeno peppers blitzed together with toasted walnuts, white pickling vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper, & because I couldn't resist adding it (inspired by the tomato sauce I had had at Ca'Miri), a hint of cinnamon and cumin.
The serving trays I use in my photograph are from Fodory. I'm a big fan of the products they offer, and you can shop using Discount Code 10OFFTrisha.
I only had the Bolon at Ca'Miri once, though when I'm back in Valencia I hope the restaurant will still be there and thriving so I can have it again. My Boloni is not an exact copy cat recipe of theirs, I would be interested to spend a day in their kitchen to watch how they do it. With that being said, I'm thrilled with the results of my recipe. I can't wait to make it for Jose, and for family the next time I'm cooking.
The Bolani Dough
I tried a version bolani dough without yeast, and another version with a small amount of yeast. I think I prefer the yeasted version, but it is worth noting both variations seem to exist. Either way, the idea is to roll the dough quite thin into a circular shape. No thicker than a tortilla. Then, you spread some of the potato mixture on half of the circle and fold it into a half moon shape pressing down the sides. It then gets fried in a pan with oil until crisp and golden on each side. The dough is beautifully soft has a bit of chew, yet the outside is crisp (it softens as it sits, but you can always crisp it up in the pan again if you want to, though it remains delicious no matter what.) I couldn't resist adding a little bit of turmeric powder to my dough, I don't think that is a thing anyone else is doing, but I am obsessed with the gorgeous yellow colour it lends.
The Leek and Potato Filling
The filling is simply mashed potatoes mixed with a bit of olive oil, s&p, and leek that is first softened in a pan. I also experimented with different amounts of potato filling, and I find less is more. A thin layer of potato is all you need. If you end up adding more, that's ok, it will still be delicious and maybe it comes down to personal preference. The filling in the Bolon at Ca'Miri wasn't thick in my memory, so perhaps that is how it is meant to be served.
On The Side
Even if you didn't serve this with anything to dip it in, it's still really good. I'm a big fan of condiments though, and I love spooning the green chutney on all of my bites. I found I also like having a bit of vegan sour cream on the side. This doesn't surprise me, pairing oniony potato fry bread and sour cream together just makes sense. If the green chutney doesn't seem like something you'd be into, I noticed lots of variations being served with minted yogurt. I like minted yogurt in theory, but it didn't pique my interest in this context, though it is undoubtedly a thing for a reason. Bolani is good enough to make again, and again, so go ahead and experiment and discover what you like!
Storing and cooking leftovers
I didn't cook my bolani all at once. I refrigerated all of the components separately in glass containers and made it for dinner a few days in a row. It worked really well. Just bring your dough to room temperature to relax before trying to roll out and proceed with recipe as written.
The Rock is one of my favourite brands of cookware, and what I use to cook my Bolani.
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