Bolani: A vegetarian treat from Afghanistan for Ramadan

Feed the Spirit columnist Bobbie Lewis

Feed the Spirit columnist Bobbie Lewis

Parwin Anwar’s suburban Detroit home was bustling. She had offered to show me how to cook some of the dishes her family eats during Ramadan, which starts at sunset on July 8 this year. Her two daughters-in-law had come to enjoy the fruits of her labor, bringing with them two friends and three toddlers. The room hummed with activity and love.

In addition to learning how to make some Afghani foods, I wanted to get a sense of how Muslims cope with the month-long fast, especially when Ramadan falls in the summer when the days are so long. Because the Islamic calendar is a lunar one, with no correction to bring it in sync with the solar calendar, Ramadan occurs approximately 11 days earlier every year.

Ramadan: It’s a long, hard fast in the summer

Going without food and drink between dawn and dark would be hard enough in the winter, when there are about 10 hours of daylight. How much more difficult it must be in the summer months, when—in Michigan anyway—the fast stretches on for more than 15 hours. And, when it often is hot enough to easily dehydrate anyone, let alone a fasting person.

In Muslim countries, schools, stores and offices close or modify their hours so that people can eat and do their business after dark and sleep during some of the daylight hours. In countries where Muslims are a minority, Ramadan is a challenge.

Parwin Anwar with a platter of bulani.

Parwin Anwar with a platter of bolani.

Parwin says many women start shopping and cooking weeks in advance for Ramadan and for Eid al Fitr, the festival that marks its end. She often makes curries, soups and other dishes and freezes them for use during Ramadan. Then all she needs to do to make a meal after the fast is defrost something, cook up some rice or noodles and throw together a salad.

Iftar: Breaking the Ramadan fast

Muslims like to break the fast by eating dates and sipping water—something the Prophet Muhammad did to break his fast. Many then get together with family or friends for the iftar meal.

Parwin and her husband, Qadir, are empty nesters with four adult children. Every night during Ramadan they go to communal prayers at the mosque starting about an hour and a half after the fast. That doesn’t leave them much time to have a large meal.

“By the time we get home it’s close to midnight, and we don’t want to eat a lot,” said Parwin. “So we eat something simple before the prayers, then rest for a few hours. We eat our big meal for sohor (the pre-dawn meal)—around 2:30 or 3 a.m.—so we can be finished before daybreak.”

Parwin fries the stuffed bulani.

Parwin fries the stuffed bolani.

The Anwars’ Ramadan meals usually start with a soup. They often eat pakora—thin slices of potato dipped in a chickpea-flour batter and deep fried—and bolani, a pan-fried turnover filled with chopped scallions, pumpkin or potatoes. The meal often ends with fresh fruit.

Ramadan iftar favorites—
cooked with love … and memory

Getting a recipe from Parwin posed a problem. Like many traditional cooks, she does not measure her ingredients using standardized cups or weights. She knows from memory how much of what should go into each dish and she cooks by sight, feel and taste.

This week’s Feed the Spirit recipe for bolani—the Afghani stuffed fried bread that they enjoy in their home—was adapted from what I saw Parwin do in her kitchen and recipe resources I found online. The best online recipe I found comes from an Afghani family in Australia. The web page includes a good video showing how to make bolani and links to other Afghani recipes.




  • Dough:
  • 2 cups self-rising flour (or use 2 cups plain flour and 2 tsp. baking powder)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Water
  • Oil for frying
  • Pumpkin filling:
  • Half a small pumpkin peeled and seeded (or use an acorn or butternut squash)
  • ½ cup walnuts, crushed with a mortar and pestle or ground fine
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbs. vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 Tbs. coriander seeds, crushed
  • Cut pumpkin or squash into chunks and grate it into a bowl. Add the chopped garlic, crushed walnuts, salt, cayenne pepper and crushed coriander seeds. Mix well.
  • Potato filling:
  • 2 lb. potatoes, peeled
  • 2-3 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • 1 large onion finely chopped
  • 1 Tbs. vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • Boil potatoes until soft, then drain and cool. Mash the potatoes and add the other ingredients. Mix well.
  • Onion filling:
  • 2 bunches garlic chives or scallions chopped fine
  • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 Tbs. vegetable oil
  • Mix all ingredients together.


  1. Put the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add water gradually with one hand while mixing with your other hand. Continue until you can form a ball, then knead the dough in the bowl for several minutes until it is smooth and elastic. Cover the bowl and let it rest for at least 20 minutes while you make the filling.
  2. Separate dough into pieces the size of a tennis ball. Roll each into a ball.
  3. Scatter some flour on a counter or board and roll each ball flat with a rolling pin, keeping the circular shape. Continue to roll and stretch gently with your hands until the circle is about 10 inches in diameter.
  4. Place a spoonful of desired filling on one side of the dough circle and spread it evenly with the back of a spoon across one half of the dough. Fold the other half over the top of the mixture to form a semi-circle and crimp the edges with your fingers.
  5. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet. Place the bolani one or two at a time in the pan. After you put them in the pan, flatten them a bit more with your fingers. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, flipping with a spatula, until golden brown. Place on paper towels to drain the oil.
  6. Serve with plain yogurt.


Wish your friends and colleagues well in Ramadan

To all my Muslim friends and readers: “Ramadan mubarak!” (That’s “A blessed Ramadan!”)

Would you like to greet Muslim friends and colleagues? All this week, the popular Our Values column is reporting on 5 surprising things about Ramadan—and the first column is about how to greet our Muslim neighbors. Want to read more about the holiday itself? Stephanie Fenton’s Holidays column has a complete report on the fasting month and the way it affects communities around the world. Finally, if you like this recipe, today, please share it with friends: Click the blue-“f” Facebook icons and “Like” this column and recipe; or you could click the little envelope-shaped icons and email this to a friend.

Enjoy a good movie after dinner? Film critic Ed McNulty serves up A Baker’s Dozen: 13 Best Films on Food and Faith, which includes Hollywood favorites as well as one feature film about fasting in Ramadan.

Come back next week!

Come back to Feed the Spirit next week, when I’ll share another one of Parwin’s recipes, along with the dramatic story of how she and her family left Afghanistan.

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Comments: (2)
Categories: BreadsVegetarian Dishes


  1. Kathy O'Gorman says:

    The amount of ground coriander is missing — in the potato filling area. Guessing it’s probably a teaspoon…?

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