The Kite Runner: Afghan Lamb Kabobs

Year Released: 2007
Directed by: Marc Forster
Starring: Khalid Abdalla, Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada, Zekiria Ebrahimi, Homayoun Ershadi, Shaun Toub
(PG-13, 122 min.)

"There is inside me a knot of cruelty borne by the stream of love." James Hurst

For all the soaring beauty of the kites above, their game is as ruthless as the human psychodrama being played out below Afghanistan’s clear and cold blue skies. And despite the exotic and war ravaged locale, this tale resonates with a wider truth as timeless as man’s fall from grace and his endless search for redemption.

Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada) is the titular kite runner, lowly son of a house servant, but possessed with an almost supernatural ability to predict where downed kites will land and thus be first to swoop up the colorful well earned spoils of war. And war this is, too, for despite the sweeping beauty of the display, these kites are more like Spitfires engaged in deadly air battle where only one will survive. Their strings are coated with ground glass and glue, and the real purpose of the highflying beauties is to cut the string of their opponent and sent it to ground. Only Hassan can find the downed kites without ever looking skyward.

The son of the house, Amir, is Hassan’s best friend, and for a while they share an idyllic existence, trooping to the cinema for endless reruns of The Magnificent Seven, favorite lines committed to memory and duly regurgitated when the situation is apt. The carve their names into a tree in the old abandoned cemetery– really it’s Amir who does it, since Hassan cannot read or write – and beneath them he inscribes “Sultans of Kabul.”

But the wedge that grows between them is as inevitable as mankind’s doom. It begins when Amir overhears his beloved father Baba (Homayoun Ershadi) lament his son’s inability to stick up for himself and then praise Hassan, who regularly fends off the neighborhood bullies. Amir’s determination to win the kite-flying contest is largely to prove himself to Baba, but it is on the very day of his victory that he throws away the manhood he has just grasped. In actuality Amir does what many twelve year olds would do face to face with overpowering violence and brutality. He runs and cowers in the alley while Hassan is raped by a trio of privileged adolescent thugs. And here is where the story is told with such subtlety and grace, its psychological insights ringing so true that audiences are apt to think they are watching a depiction of real events.

Amir displaces his self-loathing onto Hassan. The mere sight of him is a reminder of his own betrayal, and thus Amir falsely discredits Hassan and engineers his departure from Baba’s household. This moral collapse comes just ahead of the physical collapse of once beautiful Kabul as the Russian tanks take over the streets.

Decades later, secure in San Francisco, happily married and enjoying the first fruits of success as an author, Amir is wrenched back to that deserted alley that he now realizes he has been transfixed upon for the last twenty-six years. He must return to Taliban occupied Afghanistan to save himself and someone else as well.

What elevates The Kite Runner and rescues it from a few melodramatic strokes in this latter half are the deft character portrayals, complex, textured, and like humankind itself, confounding. Amir, for instance, paves the path toward his ultimate treachery of Hassan with a score of casual betrayals. He reads to the illiterate servant and then chides him for not knowing the meaning of certain words. And when the bully Assef tells Hassan he is only Amir’s friend when no one else is around, there is a ring of truth in the taunt.

Baba funds orphanages but is often aloof to his own son; he refers to the mullahs as “bearded idiots” and “self righteous monkeys” but reserves his highest loathing for the Russians, even when he is safe from their clutches in America. He talks of the sin of thievery, but the dark secret he takes to his grave has ramifications that entangle all those around him.

Baba’s friend Rahim Khan (Shaun Toub) is the one who nurtures Amir’s writing talent while Baba is vaguely ashamed of it, and it is he and he alone who can safely put down the proud man. “Children aren’t coloring books,” he snips when Baba complains that Amir is nothing like him. “You don’t get to fill them in with your favorite colors.”

Like the beautiful kites that frame it, this tale is filled with the high ideals that we long for, the soaring hopes, the mad cutthroat airs above ground, and the delicate dance between windborne exultancy and a precipitous fall to the hard and cruel earth.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

 When Amir returns to war torn Kabul, the building are mostly rubble and the streets smell of diesel powered generators. What Amir remembers from his youth is the color of the market place and the perfume of lamb kabobs.

Let us hope that in the not too distant future, these streets will again be vibrant with life and color and the scent of kabobs on the open grills will fill the air.

Afghan Lamb Kabobs 

All through Pakistan and Afghanistan, restaurants and roadside barbecue stalls produce iron skewers of lamb, chicken, and occasionally beef. The skewers are terrifying—about a yard long—and served in great bundles in the middle of the table with huge piles of delicious fresh naan bread. Muslim cooks wouldn't use wine or the ginger, for that matter, but I think it improves the flavor enormously. Beef is also good cooked this way.

  • 1 small leg of lamb, about 3 lb.
  • 6 tablespoons ginger purée or
  • 2 inches fresh ginger, grated
  • 1/2 bottle red wine, or to cover
  • 2 fresh bay leaves, bruised
  • Ghee, mustard oil, or olive oil, for brushing
  • Sea salt
  • Naan bread or flour tortillas

Cucumber Raita (optional)

  • 1 cucumber, seeded, sliced, salted,
  • then rinsed and patted dry
  • 1 tomato, seeded and diced
  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • 1/2 cup plain yoghurt
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 long metal kabob skewers

Ask the butcher to cut the leg of lamb across the bone into thick slices, about 1-1/4 inches wide. Remove and discard the central bone from each slice, then cut the meat into 1-1/4 inch cubes.

Put in a bowl, add the ginger, and turn to coat. Add the wine and bay leaves, cover, then marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour or up to 2 days.

Remove from the marinade and pat dry. Thread onto metal skewers, brush with melted ghee or oil, and sprinkle with sea salt.

Mix the Raita ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.

Light an outdoor grill or preheat a broiler until very hot. Grill or broil the kabobs for about 5 minutes on each side, until the meat is crisp and brown outside and still pink inside. Serve with the raita and warmed naan bread or tortillas.

Recipe Source: Global Gourmet.com