Afghan Chicken Soup (Yakhni) Recipe

Bright with cilantro and heady with spice.

My friend Asya Ghafarshad’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Afghanistan in the 1960s. Asya was born in the U.S., and her mom tells her stories of growing up in Afghanistan wearing miniskirts and smoking cigarettes.

Her parents own an iconic restaurant in Claremont, California, the town where I went to high school and college. It is called Walter’s and serves delicious continental cuisine, as well as Afghan favorites. This is her father’s chicken soup.

Asya likes to cook the chicken breasts on the bone to make the broth, then shred the cooked chicken and add it back to the soup just as it is nearly done. She does not peel the carrots and the vegetables are cut into larger chunks, just the way her dad made the soup.


  • 90 ml (3 fl oz/⅓ cup) olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, cut into 1 cm (½ in) cubes
  • 2 Roma or plum tomatoes, cut into 1 cm (½ in) cubes
  • 1.9 liters (64 fl oz/8 cups) water or chicken stock
  • 150 g (5½ oz/1 cup) yellow or red lentils or 200 g (7 oz/1 cup) basmati rice
  • 900 g (2 lb) skinless chicken breast, bone in
  • 2 large carrots, cut into 5 cm (2 in) pieces
  • 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 4 cm (1½ in) half-moons
  • 80 g (2¾ oz) cilantro, leaves and stems roughly chopped, plus sprigs to garnish
  • 1 Tbsp ground turmeric
  • 1 Tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tbsp ground cardamom
  • 55 g (2 oz) fresh spinach
  • 1 lemon, to serve


  1. Heat the oil in a large pot over a medium–high heat. Add the onion and cook for 3–4 minutes until it begins to become translucent.
  2. Add the tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes until the tomatoes release their juices.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients, then bring to the boil. Immediately reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender, the soup has thickened and the chicken is cooked – a thermometer will read 74°C (165°F) when inserted into the thickest part of the breast and the juices of the chicken will run clear.
  4. When the chicken is cooked, remove from the pot and leave until cool enough to handle. Using your hands, shred all the meat and discard the bones. Add the meat back to the soup and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  5. Squeeze the lemon juice into the soup, adding as much tangy flavor as possible without it becoming sour, and garnish with cilantro sprigs.

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