Warning: This post is not for the feint hearted!
My boyfriend got his getting his Afghan on today. This collection of sheep bits is a traditionally known as kalah pacha, literally "head and foot". It is a traditional Afghani broth dish, also popular in Iran and Iraq and often eaten for breakfast with traditional Afghani naan using the hands. The parts may also be roasted.
My boyfriend has been eating this since he was a very small boy and he has shown me photos of his Mum skinning and preparing the whole sheep's carcass.
We often eat kalah pacha at one of our local Persian restaurants, where it's served with basmathi rice (think soft, melt in your mouth bits of cheek and tongue swimming in rich broth whilst you play a game of knuckle bones on your own tongue!).
I got educated today during our visit to the local Afghani butcher, where there are huge freezers full of sheep heads, feet, and gigantic cow's legs for this very purpose. We got one head, including its meaty tongue, two sheep's feet and we've also thrown in a whole cow's foot (sliced by the butcher) for the marrow factor.
I know this looks like some kind of Day of the Dead festival, but I just have to share my incredible pre-dinner noms before we get to the nettles... This is the sheep's head 'n' feet plus cow's foot we roasted earlier. I was just back from a 30km bike ride so devoured some incredible Brickfields Bakery sourdough dipped in the marrow drippings, with the succulent lamb's head cheek meat and a divine glass of cab merlot. That was it! Shut the gates.
The bones went into a big stock pot to make the broth.
"And now we need to smash the head open to get the brains out." ... And he reaches for my coconut cleaver. Eek!
And there we have it. Roasted sheep and cow kalah pacha - literally "head and foot" - skull cracked right down the middle to expose the brains (reminded me of lobster halves), ready to be simmered for broth with filtered water, unrefined salt and roasted spices (onion, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, chili, peppercorns, coriander seeds).
And finally the nettle... In terms of promoting awareness about wild food and edible weeds, Marrickville Council Organic Markets are certainly doing their bit! Various stall holders sell dandelion greens, warrigal greens and this beauty, the good old stinging nettle.
WARNING: Always wear gloves when harvesting or preparing nettles, or ouchies!! The sting is neutralised upon cooking and blending.
I'd only ever consumed nettle in tea form when I visit my parents in Tassie, because it grows freely on their property. This week I blanched it in the Afghani kalah pacha - "head and foot" broth.
Milarepa, the Tibetan saint, was said to have lived on nothing but stinging nettles for decades of meditation. Yet another weed that most of us pull and throw out, like dandelions, nettle is a wonderful health-boosting herb that should never be dowsed with weed-killer, but plucked and dried to make into an herbal panacea that could make the local pharmacy go bankrupt.
To give you an idea of just how powerful this singular plant is, nettle has the potential to treat the following ailments:
"Nettle stimulates the lymph system to boost immunity
Nettle relieves arthritis symptoms
Nettle promotes a release from uric acid from joints
Helps to support the adrenals
It helps with diabetes mellitus
Strengthens the fetus in pregnant women
Promotes milk production in lactating women
Relieves menopausal symptoms
Helps with menstrual cramps and bloating
Helps break down kidney stones
Helps with respiratory tract disease
Supports the kidneys
Helps asthma sufferers
Reduces incident of prostate cancer
Minimizes skin problems
Eliminates allergic rhinitis
Cures the common cold
Helps with osteoarthritis
Helps with gastrointestinal disease, IBS, and constipation
Reduces gingivitis and prevents plaque when used as a mouth wash.
Has been shown to be helpful to in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease
Relieves neurological disorders like MS, ALS and sciatica
Destroys intestinal worms or parasites
Supports the endocrine health by helping the thyroid, spleen and pancreas."
And here's the final installment of our traditional nose to tail Afghani cooking adventures this weekend. Not only did I get a free anatomy lesson, but I got to enjoy this rich, spicy broth as a result.
Presenting kalah pacha, Afghani/Iranian/Iraqi "head and foot" broth - the product of a whole sheep's head, two sheep's feet and one gigantic cow's foot simmered long and low with spices (spices listed in a previous post). All the chunks are served with the rich broth; it is never strained. In fact that chunk in my bowl is actually half a cow's hoof, which has gone completely soft and floppy after cooking overnight! Kalah pacha is quite sticky because the foot bits are so packed with gelatine, which melts down into the broth. Gelatin and collagen are essential protein building blocks for health.
We're slurping it with stinging nettle leaves, roast pumpkin and roast eggplant (not pictured). Beginners go easy, as the high fat content may cause slight stomach upset if you are used to life on a low fat diet, but the natural fats are extremely nourishing and satiating and you can build up your tolerance slowly over time.