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Friday, April 19

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If Afghan cuisine is top on your culinary want list, a visit to Kabul House is likely in your future. This restaurant -- with one location near the corner of North and Halsted and another in Skokie -- is actually one of the only places in the Chicago area serving up eats from Afghanistan.

Until recently, I myself was unfamiliar with food of this type, but after a meal at Kabul House (a fantastic one, I must add), I would describe the fare as being a mélange of Persian, Indian and Mediterranean flavors. It doesn't have the heat that I usually prefer, but even the mildest offerings are packed full of fragrant saffron, garlic, cardamom and mint, giving each dish an impressive depth of flavor.

Every culture seems to have some sort of dough-enclosed appetizer (dumpling, potsticker, ravioli, perogi, etc.) and this was no exception. My dining companions and I started the meal off (at the location on Halsted) with the Afghani version: mantu, dumplings made of pasta and filled with ground beef and scallions. These were smothered in a meat sauce (similar to an Italian red sauce) flavored with garlic and onion, and a yogurt-mint topping that served as a cool foil to the zesty sauce. We used warm complimentary naan -- Afghani naan being thicker and spongier than Indian naan -- to soak up the remaining sauce. For vegetarians, a scallion-filled dumpling sans meat sauce (obviously) is also available.

The list of entrees on the menu at Kabul House was quite easy to navigate, if a bit redundant. Patrons can choose one of three types of kabobs (lamb, chicken, or beef) or a sautéed vegetable (pumpkin or spinach) over rice. Or, one can opt for a combination of these offerings, an option of which we took full advantage.

I settled on the super combo special: one skewer each of chicken, lamb and ground beef served on a gigantic bed of basmati rice sweetened with raisins. The grilled chicken was by far the best -- wonderfully moist and juicy pieces flavored with garlic, onion, and lemon juice. The tender lamb was also delicious, similarly flavored with a hint of cilantro and tangy mustard -- so far, I was two for three. Unfortunately, the ground beef was not up to par; I found it to be dense, dry and not at all flavorful. Next time, I'll trade in the beef skewer for an extra chicken.

The vegetarian rice combination was also amazing. Pumpkin, eggplant, spinach and lentils were pureed (separately) and sautéed with what tasted like cinnamon, nutmeg, garlic and cumin and served with yogurt sauce and basmati rice. The result was earthy and peppery with a subtle sweetness. It made me wonder why pumpkin, with its slightly bitter taste and smooth texture, is so underappreciated here in the States beyond the occasional dessert.

We also sampled the qabili palau, one of the only entrees offered besides the kabobs and sautéed veggies. Pieces of tender lamb were mixed in with rice and carrots, but besides a slightly sweetened flavor (most likely from the carrots) I really couldn't differentiate this dish from the lamb kabob.

For dessert we savored creamy Persian ice cream that tasted of rose water and was topped with whipped cream. We also sampled a yogurt mint drink that had the appearance of a mint chocolate chip shake, but (surprisingly to me, as I was foolishly expecting it to be sweet) tasted tart, tangy, and almost metallic -- too bad I took such a large gulp on my first try.

The Kabul House on Halsted sits below street level. The interior isn't much to look at with random (what I would assume to be) Afghani-inspired decor adorning the walls, but the room is well-lit, warm and cheery, and the servers are gracious and accommodating (although not always too helpful as their English skills are somewhat limited). Chicago might be deficient in the quantity of Afghani cuisine, but, because of Kabul House, it certainly isn't wanting in terms of quality.

Kabul House is located at 1629 N. Halsted and 3320 W. Dempster Ave. in Skokie. Visit them online at www.kabulhouse.com for hours. Alcohol is not sold at either location.

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About the Author(s)

Kim Conte loves to write and eat, and dreams that one day someone will pay her a lot to do both.

If you feel the need to get in touch with her directly, do so at .

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