- Alex Springer
For many years, I've come to rely on Utah's specialty markets as travel surrogates; you can get a lot of culture by aisle-surfing at your local Indian, Asian or Latino market. There's something different about visiting these markets now that travel is a bit more taboo, however. Spending so much time at home means opportunities to get outside my bubble are much more potent than they used to be. My decision to check out Kabul Kitchen (2407 S. Redwood Road, 801-952-0786, kabulkitchen.co), located within the recently opened Halal Market in West Valley, was partially motivated by a desire to remember how big the world really is.
Owner and operator Baz Khan opened Halal Market earlier this year, and has slowly expanded his business to include Kabul Kitchen. It's a savvy move, since Khan's new market focuses on his halal butcher shop—all of their meat has been prepared in accordance with Muslim law. Kabul Kitchen leans into the Afghani tradition of skewered meat kabobs with chicken, beef and lamb getting full representation on the menu. Since the dishes are prepared with product that Halal Market already has on hand, it's a great place to snag a reasonably priced kabob or two.
I started with the qabuli palaw ($9.99)—cubes of bone-in lamb smothered with palaw, an herbaceous mound of rice, carrot strips and raisins. I feel like this is the kabob that really encapsulates what Kabul Kitchen is all about. You've got some freshly prepared, extremely tender lamb which tastes amazing with a forkful of that fluffy palaw. The lamb has also been seasoned to perfection, which isn't terribly surprising considering the experience Khan and his team have with meat-prepping. A truly unexpected pleasure on this dish was the side of borani banjan, slices of eggplant stewed with a tasty mix of tomato, onion and garlic and topped with cool yogurt. Its smoky sweet flavor is enough to stand on its own, but it makes a stunning complement to the lamb and rice when the three are combined.
Moving on to the chicken kabob ($9.99) and the teka beef kabob ($10.99) feels a bit more familiar, but slightly less exciting. Though they've both been prepared and marinated well, the chicken was cooked for slightly too long, giving it a bit of toughness and extra char on the edges. The beef also felt the slightest bit overdone, but the flavors were excellent. Both kabobs are served with more of that lovely palaw, along with a nice cucumber and tomato salad to freshen things up. Each kabob also comes with a small cup of cilantro chutney that hides a considerable jalapeño punch. If you like spicy condiments, add this liberally to your kabob for some added heat.
While Kabul Kitchen serves up a plethora of proteins, its vegetarian menu doesn't slouch when it comes to a satisfying meal. The vegetarian platter ($12.99) serves up a combo of sabzi, an Afghani dish of sautéed spinach with onions, cilantro and dill along with grilled eggplant. If you're going meatless, however, I suggest you stick with the meal-sized version of borani banjan ($11.99) and rice. I was caught off guard by how much I liked this, especially since I don't generally dig eggplant. Whether you're eating meatless or not, every meal comes with some hubcap sized naan, plus their freshly brewed black or green tea is on the house with each order.
Rounding out a solid menu of dinner heavy hitters is a solid roster of Afghani appetizers, many of which I hadn't tried before. The chicken pakawra ($4.99) is a Middle Eastern take on chicken fingers, though these are fried in chickpea batter for a nuttier flavor. It's great for kids who are leaning hard into their chicken finger phase, much like my daughter. The bulani ($4.99), a pan-fried turnover stuffed with ground lamb or just spiced onions, is a tasty snack in the same vein as an empanada. The surprise dish for me was the mantu ($4.99), which are steamed dumplings stuffed with ground lamb and onion, then topped with yogurt and veggies. Texturally, these are much like the steamed gyoza that I love so dearly, and the toppings add some creaminess to the existing savory flavors. They pack a strange flavor profile that's a bit on the sour side, but it was something that I found myself wanting more of the more I ate them.
I can definitely see diners who like a deft hand and a pure heart when it comes to meat prep taking a shine to Kabul Kitchen. It's a place that elevates the humble kabob, and the fact that it's in a well-stocked Middle Eastern market means you can load up on a few essentials while immersing yourself in a pocket of welcoming Afghani culture.