Happy Ramazan to Muslims around the world who will be fasting to observe the Holy Month of Ramazan.
It occurred to me how fully indoctrinated I am into Afghan cookery when I went to look “eggplant” up in the index of a food reference the other day and flipped instinctively to the B’s. When I couldn’t find “banjan”, the Afghan word for eggplant, it hit me that I was in deep. My intention was to get back up for my belief that salting and draining eggplant before cooking is unnecessary. I’m always looking for shortcuts. The Los Angeles Times Food Editor Russ Parsons says not necessary unless you are planning to fry it. Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame suggests salting only if the eggplant is overripe.
This points to the notion that there are always two ways to skin a cat, or in this case, an eggplant. Borani Banjan, this Afghan eggplant dish, is case in point. Most folks fry the eggplant before baking it. Some versions are very spicy, some are heavily sauced, others barely so. Humaira and I have been messing around with Borani Banjan for a while. This version is adapted from a recipe Humaira’s sister Zohra gave to us. It’s a keeper.
Zohra likes to use the long, slender Chinese variety of eggplant. She finds them more reliably good than other types. You can use any variety you like, just look for eggplants that are firm and use them right away, or store them someplace cool, not cold. According to Alice Waters, long storage at cold temperatures can lead to bitterness. And I believe everything Alice says.
This is a luscious, rustic dish using summer’s best ingredients. As the eggplant and tomato bake all the flavors and textures melt together. When it’s done, the whole thing is covered with garlic-spiked yogurt and served with flat bread for scooping up all the last bits of deliciousness. Next time I plan to turn the elegance factor up a notch by baking these in individual crocks and setting them out as single-serving side dishes. Enjoy.
Luscious Layered Afghan Eggplant
4 medium size Chinese eggplants (or 2 medium Italian eggplants)
2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt , divided
3 medium tomatoes, cut in 1/3-inch thick slices
8 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. ground curry powder
1 tsp. paprika
½ tsp. ground black pepper
2 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 ½ cup chicken broth
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup Greek-style yogurt
1 tsp. garlic salt
Set the oven to broil.
Slice off the ends of the eggplants and cut them in half lengthwise. Cut each halve crosswise in 1/3-inch thick slices. Arrange the eggplant slices on two baking sheets, drizzle with 1 tbsp. of the olive oil and sprinkle with ½ tsp. of the salt. Set the baking sheets under the broiler and cook for a few minutes on each side until they brown lightly. Remove from oven and turn the heat down to 375 degrees.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a medium pan and sauté the garlic over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Don’t let it brown. Add the remaining 1 tsp. salt, turmeric, curry, paprika, pepper, and tomato paste. Stir this mixture together and cook for another minute. Add the chicken broth to the pan, stir, and turn the heat to high. When the liquid boils, turn it down and let it simmer for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
Pour 1/3 of the liquid into a 9x12-inch baking dish (a little smaller is fine too) and spread it across the bottom. Arrange half the eggplant on top of the sauce. Sprinkle half the cilantro over the eggplant and then layer half the tomato slices evenly on the eggplant. Pour on another third of the sauce. Repeat the layering with the remaining eggplant, cilantro, and tomatoes. Finish the dish by drizzling the last of the sauce over the vegetables, making sure to coat all of the pieces.
Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and place it in the oven for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and cook another 5 minutes
Mix together the Greek yogurt and garlic salt. Pour the yogurt sauce over the eggplant and serve with pita or nan bread.
Serves four to six.
Adapted from a recipe by Zohra Ghilzai
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