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What Is Bolani?

By H.R. Childress
Updated May 16, 2024
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Bolani is an unleavened Afghani flatbread, usually stuffed with one of a variety of fillings. It may also be cooked flat, with no filling. Bolani is a popular food to buy from street vendors and cafes in Afghanistan.

The basic dough for bolani contains only white or wheat flour, water, salt, and olive oil. Eggs may be added to make a flakier finished product. The dough ingredients are mixed together and kneaded for several minutes. The dough ball is then left to rest for a while so it will be easier to work with when forming the individual breads.

Plain bolani with no filling is formed by dividing the dough into tennis-ball-sized pieces and stretching or rolling each piece into a thin sheet. The sheet of dough is pleated like a fan, and the resulting strip is rolled into a small circle. Once the balls of dough have rested for a few minutes, each ball is pressed into a flat circle. The flat breads are cooked in a skillet with a little oil over medium-high heat until both sides are browned and crisp.

Bolani can have a variety of fillings, but some of the more popular fillings include potatoes, lentils, spinach, and pumpkin or butternut squash. Mashed potatoes can flavored with cilantro, leeks or scallions, and salt and pepper for a potato filling. A lentil filling may be made with red or green lentils and is often spiced with curry flavors, such as turmeric, garlic, ginger, and cumin. Spinach filling is typically flavored with onion and garlic and may be mixed with yogurt. Pumpkin or butternut squash fillings are often both sweet and savory, and include ingredients such as garlic, coriander, and tomato sauce.

Filled bolanis are formed by rolling a ball of dough into a flat round disk, similar to a tortilla. Filling is spread onto one half of the disk, leaving space at the edges to seal the turnover. The other half of the disk is folded over the filling, and the dough is pinched together to seal in the filling. These turnover-like breads are cooked in much the same way as the plain bolanis, by heating oil in a pan over medium-high heat and cooking each bolani on both sides until brown and crisp.

Bolanis are typically eaten as an appetizer, side dish or snack. They are popular at holiday and special occasion parties, such as birthdays. Typical accompaniments for bolani include thick plain yogurt and chutney.

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