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Women in Panjshir Teach Afghan Cuisine

Army 1st Lt. Lory Stevens Special to American Forces Press Service

Air Force Staff Sgt. Michelle Cooper, services superintendent for the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team, helps to prepare a special meal. Miriam Panjshiri, director of women’s affairs for Afghanistan’s Panjshir province, and her sister, Nasrene, hosted the PRT’s affairs team for a time of fellowship and an Afghan cooking class Oct. 2, 2008. U.S. Army photo

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Oct. 14, 2008 –

The provincial director of women’s affairs hosted the women’s affairs team from the provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan’s Panjshir province for fellowship and an Afghan cooking class Oct. 2.

Miriam Panjshiri and her sister, Nasrene, work closely with the PRT’s women’s affairs team, and Nasrene cooks for all the meetings.

“A few months ago, I asked Nasrene if she could teach us how to cook some normal, everyday Afghan food, and both she and Miriam loved the idea,” Air Force Maj. Jillian Torango, women’s affairs liaison for the PRT, said.

“The important thing to note about this day of fellowship is that it was during Eid,” said Torango, explaining the honor of being invited into an Afghan home during one of the biggest celebrations of the year. Eid, the Festival of Fast-Breaking, occurs at the end of the month of Ramadan. Muslims throughout the world observe a joyous three-day holiday and celebration, visiting family and friends and giving gifts.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Michelle Cooper, services superintendent, and Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dawn Tiemann, a medical technician, accompanied Torango to Panjshiri’s home for the special holiday meal.

Nasrene prepared expensive rice of a variety found quite a distance away from Panjshir, as well as Roma tomatoes and jalapeno peppers. Cooper, who has no access to these items in her position at the PRT, said she was impressed.

Nasrene walked the soldiers through her yard and garden, where she grows many of her own vegetables. Cooper said she was fascinated to learn Afghanistan has a version of the American pumpkin that is sweet but resembles a huge zucchini.

“We used beef with a hard-boiled egg and fried it in a mini-wok over a propane tank,” Cooper said, adding that she had never thought of cooking beef this way, but found it very tasty.

A side-salad dish contained tomato, onion and cilantro in a vinegar base. Most dishes contained a tomato, oil and onion base. Another popular staple in Afghanistan, a cheese sauce formed by adding water to a hard rock cheese, is used to add flavor to a variety of foods.

“We used the tomato base and cheese sauce over the rice and beans, with a beef bone added for extra flavor,” Cooper said. “Tomatoes were used on squash, which tasted sweet and, surprisingly, very good.”

Afghans cook with pressure cookers that differ from the American version of the cooking appliance.

“The cover seals into the pressure cooker like a cork into a bottle, and sits atop a fire, where food is cooked very quickly,” Cooper explained.

Cooper said she sensed the Afghan women were a little intimidated by her presence, knowing she is a cook.

“They kept apologizing for not having a cleaner kitchen,” she said, “and they took measures such as ensuring any meat was fully cooked in order to make me feel comfortable.”

The women’s affairs team spent most of the day at Panjshiri’s home. “It was surprising how blunt and open the Afghan women were,” Cooper said, noting that the PRT’s work has helped to develop a level of comfort, trust and closeness among the women.

“It was refreshing how easy it was to speak with them, and also challenging in knowing how to respond to some of their questions,” Cooper said. The Afghan women were curious about issues affecting American women, such as the life of a single parent and how one becomes a single parent, she said.

“The people in Panjshir have made us feel like family numerous times, but none more than this,” Torango said.

(Army 1st Lt. Lory Stevens serves in the Task Force Warrior Public Affairs Office.)

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