It doesn’t get much more decadent than a plate of aushak, the chive-filled dumplings from Afghanistan. The sheer dumplings are typically served with a meaty, Bolognese-like sauce, layered with swirls of creamy garlic-infused yogurt, a sprinkling of stewed yellow dal and dried mint. In this one plate, you taste the Persian, Indian and Chinese influences found in Afghan cuisine, interwoven over centuries, thanks to the country’s proximity to the Silk Road.
Aushak cognoscenti complain that few Afghan restaurants actually serve the labor-intensive dish. And many good sources have evaporated: Old Town Pasadena’s Azeen’s recently rolled up its kilims after a dozen years on Union Street, and Walter’s Restaurant in Claremont Village no longer lists the dumplings on its menu.
If you’re looking for the elusive dumplings, here are five restaurants that serve great aushak.
At San Fernando Valley Persian restaurant Nan Dagh Kabob Dagh on Lindley Avenue, there’s a kebab menu, and then there’s a menu of Afghan dishes. Once you’re seated and you ask about the bolani (a flatbread from Afghanistan) you see on several tables, the manager will hand you a separate green menu from behind the cash register that reads “Khybar Afghan Foods.”
Apparently Khybar catering, which makes and distributes Afghan bread and supplies Nan Dagh Kabob Dagh with its Afghan dishes, is housed within the restaurant. Its menu lists aushak along with other Afghan specialties that you can order any time of day. Khybar’s version, a plate of sturdy half-moons reminiscent of Italian mezzelune, under a particularly rich tomato sauce, is a testament to the commonly used aushak nickname, Afghan lasagna. 7163 Lindley Ave., Reseda (818) 774-9966.
Ariana is another aushak treasure in the West Valley, but its sign simply reads “Middle Eastern cuisine.” Its menu offers items such as shawarma and grape leaves. But if you sit at one of the maroon-clothed tables close to the open kitchen, Ariana will reveal its true identity.
Exiting the roaring deck oven are beautifully bronzed bolani the size of prayer rugs and chaplee kebab, the juicy disks of ground sirloin and marinated lamb chops seasoned Afghan-style. And then there’s the aushak, and its meat-filled cousins, mantu. The dumpling dough is fine and silky. And the coriander and ginger in the accompanying sauce impart an unmistakable Central Asian flavor. 19321 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana, (818) 457-4545, www.arianalarestaurant.com.
The new Mirage Restaurant and Banquet Hall in Orange County was intended to house a cultural center for Lake Forest’s surprisingly large Afghan community. Replacing the former El Toro Tack and Feed building in a somewhat obscure business park, the luxurious facility is where Soria Popal, an Afghan chef (formerly of Nimroz), is making aushak. Her refined, carefully plated aushak, stuffed with locally grown Persian chives, balances pungent Asian seasonings with sweet, tangy sauces. The aushak is available every day in the small café area in front of the restaurant’s wine bar. The restaurant’s menu also includes Italian and Iranian entrées and pizzas. 22731 Aspan St., Lake Forest, (949) 716-4323, www.miragelakeforest.com.
At S. Gyros Kabob House and Pizza Parlor, a tiny restaurant in Reseda, the chicken wings and “hot dog” combos are all halal. These items were the restaurant’s mainstay in its early days. When owner Sayed Saidzadah came to this country 25 years ago, he thought that introducing unfamiliar foods seemed too risky. “But he loved to cook Afghan dishes for us at home,” said his daughter Nargis Saidzadah.
Today, the backlit photos above S. Gyro’s ordering window tell a different story. Almost every one features an Afghan specialty, including Saidzadah’s aushak, which people carry out by the trayful for catered parties. Shaped like over-filled tortellini, the sturdy pasta is tender, lightly sauced and redolent of herbal notes that don’t overshadow the chive filling. 7221 Tampa Ave., Reseda (818) 341-1946.
At Chili Chutney in Lake Forest, Afghan families fill the tables and share heaping platters of qabili pilau (an Afghan rice pilaf dish), rich chicken korma, potato-stuffed bolani, aushak and the bright bowls of chutney for which the restaurant is known.
Chili Chutney started life as a six-table hole in the wall with an Afghan-only menu. As word of its aushak spread, it expanded into a larger two-room space that turns an Afghan meal into a full immersion experience. Instead of sitting in the formal dining area, ask to be seated in the more whimsical second room with its pillowed sofas and sheer fabric-draped booths. 24301 Muirlands Blvd., No. 1A, Lake Forest, (949) 859-1778, www.chilichutney.com.