Thanksgiving for 60 in Kabul

Timur Nusratty, an American of Afghan descent, takes time out from his incredibly busy kitchen to describe how hard it is for expatriates to stage the traditional feast.

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Well, it is Thanksgiving, and people around the country at this very moment are scrambling to put together their Thanksgiving dinners for family and friends, making sure that turkey is perfectly basted, that special stuffing has the perfect amount of thyme and rosemary.

MIKE PESCA, host:

Also making sure that Uncle Stan hasn't gone into the brandy a little bit early.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm. And, of course, if you forget something, you can always ask a relative to grab some extra pumpkin pie filling at the grocery store. But what if you're trying to put together a Thanksgiving feast in Kabul, Afghanistan -for 60 people, no less?

That is exactly what a friend of mine is trying to do today. His name is Timur Nusratty. He's a lawyer and an American of Afghan descent who's been living and working in Afghanistan in Kabul for the past three years or so. And Timur is on the phone right now from Kabul.

Timor, are you there?

Mr. TIMUR NUSRATTY (Lawyer): Yes, Rachel, I'm here. How are you doing?

MARTIN: Hi. I'm doing fine. How are you?

Mr. NUSRATTY: I'm doing great. Good to hear your voice.

MARTIN: Great to hear your voice. Tell me, what is going on in your house, in your kitchen at this very moment?

Mr. NUSRATTY: I feel like it's almost like a scene from "Monsoon Wedding." We have people setting up a tent outside. The stereo guys are in the house testing the stereo now. We have two, three turkeys cooking at this moment. We have a 15-pound ham coming in.

MARTIN: Oh, my gosh.

Mr. NUSRATTY: It's been quite a day. I have to admit. I mean, it's been going on for the last three or four days, the preparation work. But now it's actually coming to a head. The guests are arriving in about two hours.

MARTIN: You told me that you woke up at 5:30 this morning. What's on your menu that…

Mr. NUSRATTY: Yeah, I did.

MARTIN: …requires - that's requiring so much effort?

Mr. NUSRATTY: Well, as I said, we have three birds - two 20-pounders and one 10-pounder. We have 15-pound ham. We have a mixed grill, comprised of grilled beef, grilled zucchini, grilled eggplants and grilled onions, and we have some snow peas with a bechamel sauce, two different kinds of mashed potatoes, and many different kinds of pies and all the sweet stuff as well. And it's been quite an ordeal. I mean, we've been prepping for the last, as I said, three or four days. So…

MARTIN: Okay, so…

Mr. NUSRATTY: …it's been crazy.

MARTIN: …the first question on most people's minds is going to be how do you get all of this stuff in Kabul? Explain to us how you've gone about gathering all the intricate ingredients for your feast.

Mr. NUSRATTY: Well, I mean, as far as vegetables and fruits and whatnot, Afghanistan has actually amazing vegetables like, I mean, of far as eggplants and zucchini and pumpkin and whatnot. I mean, in fact, Afghanistan is famous for that kind of stuff. As far as the meats are concerned, the turkeys and the hams, I asked a friend of mine who runs a logistic company that actually feeds security companies and whatnot - I know I sound I'm too glamorous, but he was able to procure two birds for me from the States. And then I talked to the director of facilities of a company I worked for, Roshan…

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. NUSRATTY: …who was actually able to get me the hams and another turkey. So, I mean, there are a lot of Americans living in Afghanistan, whether they be in the private sector or working for NGOs and whatnot, also for military. So there's a demand.

MARTIN: Yeah.

Mr. NUSRATTY: There's a demand for birds, so…

MARTIN: Do you have to pay a premium for that stuff? I mean, how much does that cost, Timur, to get a turkey that's flown in, basically, for your feast?

Mr. NUSRATTY: Well, actually, to be perfectly honest, I didn't pay for these ones, because they're invited guests. So they actually donated them for the party. So I was lucky this time.

MARTIN: Wow, that's nice.

Mr. NUSRATTY: Actually, I had a Thanksgiving dinner in Kabul two years ago, and I had two 15-pound birds. And I think those were, if I recall, about - for both, about close to $70, like $35 each. So it was expensive back then. I was able to buy them at a market that was open back then that serviced basically expats living in Afghanistan, but it closed about a year ago.

PESCA: So it sounds like you're saying…

Mr. NUSRATTY: (unintelligible)

PESCA: Timur, I'd say I was thinking that it sounds like you're saying that most of these turkeys would be unknown to the palates of an - someone who's born and live in Afghanistan his whole life.

Mr. NUSRATTY: Well, no, actually, they do. I mean, you can find turkeys here. You can find turkeys. And, in fact, last year we made this turducken - not for Thanksgiving, but for another event. So we found a chicken, a duck and a turkey that were local. The only thing is, they don't have the same kind of - generally, poultry here is a little more gamy.

MARTIN: Uh-huh.

Mr. NUSRATTY: It doesn't have the, you know, (unintelligible).

MARTIN: That nice Butterball taste.

Mr. NUSRATTY: Maybe not as many hormones, I supposed you could say. Who knows. Or they don't have the same kind of culture of raising poultries that allows them to become very meaty, I guess you could say.

PESCA: Or you could say…

Mr. NUSRATTY: I mean, you can definitely find them.

PESCA: Or you could say that turkeys actually taste like animals.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NUSRATTY: Exactly, absolutely. It almost this like this wild, wild game that you have to hunt yourself, you know, through the forests of Nuristan or somewhere like that…

MARTIN: Hey, Timur…

Mr. NUSRATTY: …as opposed to going to your local market.

MARTIN: So I know you grew in the Bay area, but your family is originally from Afghanistan. And I happen to know from personal experience that you are a fabulous cook. Are you making any dishes that are kind of a fusion American-Afghan dish, or this strictly a traditional, straight-up American dinner?

Mr. NUSRATTY: This time, I mean, honestly, I mean, some of the spices we use, I mean, the stuffing, I mean, we use a little bit of cumin and what not, which would be, I guess, not as traditional. This is pretty, pretty mainstream. I mean, it's going to be a high-level Thanksgiving fare, I'd say, but not as much Afghan.

I mean, my parents - my father's Afghan, my mother's American, and they actually own Afghan restaurants for years in the Bay area and Oakland and the East Bay. But this time around, I think, we're going - we're really trying to stick with the American Thanksgiving program. I mean, we're using, obviously, local pumpkins. We're mixing mashed potatoes with fresh pumpkin to have like this mixed mashed potato-pumpkin dish. Also we're having pure mashed potatoes there by themselves. But, no. I think we're - it's pretty much standard American, obviously, Americana.

PESCA: Have labeled or branded the fest to anything? I was thinking you could either go with the Gobble in Kabul, or a Turkey Jirga.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NUSRATTY: It's funny that you should say the Gobble in Kabul, because, apparently, the American embassy has this run around the American - the American embassy compound is very big, and people who live there aren't really allowed to go off the compound. So, apparently, last year, they had this thing called the Kabul Gobble, and they're doing it again this year, which I think is like a six-K or 10-K run around the embassy today. And so actually, I can't coin that term, because it's been taken. But the Turkey Jirga, I'll definitely think about it. That sounds pretty good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Timur Nusratty is an Afghan-American lawyer living in Afghanistan, cooking up a storm this very moment for 60 guests at his home in Kabul. Timur, thank you so much. Happy Thanksgiving, my friend.

Mr. NUSRATTY: Happy Thanksgiving to you, Rachel, and I hope to see you soon.

MARTIN: Okay, take care.

Mr. NUSRATTY: You take care of yourself.

PESCA: You know what we should do now?

MARTIN: What?

PESCA: Define jirga.

MARTIN: Oh, the jirga. It's a big meeting that the Afghan government holds when they want to nominate people for elections.

PESCA: So it's like a Loya Jirga, grand jirga.

MARTIN: Exactly.

PESCA: A turkey jirga would be the turkey-based jirga.

MARTIN: The turkey-based jirga.

PESCA: Yeah. A little off on the side, there's the kids jirga, where they have cranberry sauce.

All right. Coming up on the show: More tales of do-gooders, because you want them and they make you feel good and a little guilty. But then good again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: On this Thanksgiving Day, we're celebrating the people who are out there doing the right thing. From a guy who spends months counting out loud - why is that good? For a charity? Oh, I understand.

MARTIN: Yeah.

PESCA: To an aid worker trying to help the people of Uganda get mobile phones.

MARTIN: Plus, we're going to take you on a little Ramble through some news you may not be able to use, including an archeological find that dates back to the mythic origins of Rome. Exciting.

This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

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