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Pakistani khana (food) is very accha (good)!

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Aslaam alaiqum! Hello!

Has your interest in Pakistan been piqued by reading 'Three Cups of Tea,' the book Lake Oswego Reads organizers chose as this year's citywide reading selection? Mine has. The book left me with a better understanding of the Pakistani people - in fact, I finished the book with a totally different perspective of the people and events happening in that region of the world. Somehow it didn't seem as remote by the time I turned that last page.

As one of the events scheduled for Lake Oswego Reads I taught a cooking class featuring Pakistani cuisine. I believe you can learn a great deal about a culture by eating the foods they love. Wanting the food to be as authentic as possible, I called Julia Bergman, chair of the Central Asia Institute for help finding recipes. She directed me to a few Web sites where I found Pakistani family recipes, which proved to be a gold mine.

From the recipes I learned some staple ingredients in the cuisine are milk, yogurt, onion, garlic, ginger, garam masala, curry, coriander, zeera (cumin), cardamom, chilies and turmeric. Meat is used sparingly; rice and flat breads are basics.

I selected a menu comprised of traditional dishes for the class participants to prepare, starting with samosas (small, deep fried dough filled with ground lamb, onions and fragrant spices), Bihari Kabab (thinly sliced beef, marinated in yogurt with spices, chilies and papayas), raita (a wonderful yogurt sauce with cucumber, tomato, onion and mint), channa masala (chickpeas cooked in tomatoes), chapati (unleavened flat bread) and kheer (a sweet rice pudding).

Fourteen people came to learn about Pakistani cuisine. The dishes were colorful and delicious - zippy with flavor but not spicy hot. The fragrances transported us to the top of the world.

My husband Mark Randall commented that even though the spices - coriander, cardamom, chilies and others - were used heavily in most dishes, every item was unique in flavor.

Another interesting fact about the meal was the quantities the recipes made. There was plenty to eat but not an overabundance of food, as you would find at an American meal. Everyone ate as much as they wanted and when the meal was done, the platters were nearly empty. That must have something to do with the hospitable nature of the Pakistani people.

Not everyone who attended the class had read 'Three Cups of Tea' yet, but all came away with a better understanding of our Pakistani brothers and sisters from sharing time in the kitchen preparing foods the way they would. The evening ended with all of us feeling that we had drunk from the third cup of tea shared with family.

'Three Cups of Tea' is not a book you finish and then forget you ever read. Can peace truly be achieved so simply? Read the book, cook up some Pakistani food and see how you will be prompted to help promote peace, one school at a time.

Maze karein! Enjoy!

Mark's favorite dish we prepared in the class was channa masala, with the kheer running a close second. They will appear on our dinner table again and often.

Channa Masala

(Chickpeas in Tomatoes)

Serves 6-8

2½ cups boiled chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

1 cup water or chicken stock

1 medium onion, skinned and finely chopped

¼ cup oil

1 tablespoon ginger paste

1 tablespoon garlic paste

½ cup oil

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon chili powder (to taste)

1 teaspoon garam masala

2 tablespoons fresh chopped coriander (cilantro)

2 green chilies, chopped

4 to 5 ripe tomatoes, cored and chopped

Heat oil in a heavy-based saucepan. Add the onions, ginger and garlic. Stirring frequently, fry for 5 to 8 minutes until the mixture turns to a rich golden color. (Add a little water during drying, if the mixture sticks to the bottom of the pan.)

Add chili powder, turmeric, salt, green chili, coriander and a little water to prevent the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Stirring frequently, fry the mixture for few more minutes. Then add the tomatoes. Still stirring frequently, fry the onion mixture for about 8 to 10 minutes until the tomatoes are reduced to a pulp. Add a little water, if necessary, to prevent mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Keep frying until the oil begins to separate.

Add the chickpeas and water. Mix well, reduce the heat, cover and allow to cook for about 15 minutes or until the chickpeas have absorbed some of the sauce and all the mixture has dried up.

Add garam masala, coriander leaves and green chilies. Serve with nan, roti (breads) or plain boiled rice.

Kheer

This rice pudding is a traditional Pakistani dessert. It is thin and oh, so delicious.

2 liters of milk (1/2 gallon)

Crushed almonds for garnish

1 ½ cups sugar

½ cup rice

1 tablespoon ground cardamom

2 tablespoons corn flour

Take milk in the boiling pan. (Heat to boiling.)

Soak rice in water for about 15 minutes.

Add rice to the milk. Cook for 15 minutes on low heat, till rice gets tender and becomes one with milk.

Take corn flour in another bowl and add 4 tablespoons of the milk to it.

Prepare a paste and add it to the boiling kheer. Stir well and keep cooking for another minute, till it becomes thicker (it will still be very thin). Add sugar and cardamom to it and let the mixture boil once.

Kheer is ready, dish it out and garnish with crushed almonds.

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 or by e-mail at brandall@lakeoswe

goreview.com .