When I type “Afghanistan” in google, my spirit winces as “war” is the first word that the automated search comes up with. My mind is far from war; my stomach is growling. This dish is an absolutely amazing treat that was born out of Afghanistan and as my mind wanders even more, I begin to think of Afghanistan’s beautiful, progressive and amazing past so seldom thought of these days. Women wore the latest styles in the 60’s, there were psychedelic rock bands with women as lead singers, Kabul was a haven for hippies, intellects and artists. All this colorful culture and I can imagine the food must have been so tasty as the Middle East is home to some incomparable tastes to the palate. I think of mint, coriander, tomato sauces, onion, raisins, pistachio and the mediator of all flavors, a mild yogurt that tops a lot of their traditional dishes. This is MY Afghanistan search.
So here I bring you one of my favorite dishes to recreate for yourself. Funny enough, on prior tries, I could never get the eggplant right but after some research, I learned why. “Baunjan” which means Eggplant in Persian (Farsi) is a funny creature to fry; it is almost purely water and fiber that for particular species of eggplant (globe eggplants are in most of the main grocery stores of the US, I believe), you have to salt it for a while (half hour at least) to make it become diuretic. But the task doesn’t end there, you really have to squeeze the pieces to allow the water to come out and then make sure you pat it as dry as possible because it’s like a sponge. It really made a huge difference . I felt like I finally handled the eggplant like I should have in the first place. With the pieces of vegetable thinner now, its natural bitter juice can be displaced by the oil (and won’t soak up as much now) and the flavors.
My dish is different than others. I’m basing it off of a restaurant that used to exist near my home. I add green peppers (capsicum) but I also add green chilies (jalapenos and I used pablanos in particular for this). That added another dimension as I had to bake them to get the skin peeled (or you can fire-roast – stove-top-roast). So yeah, it was well worth the wait in the end.
Here are the ingredients I used:
1 Globe Eggplant
3 Cups Canola Oil
1/2 Slice of Yellow Onion
2 Pablano Peppers
1 Green Capsicum
1 Can of Tomato Puree
Salting the eggplant to get the water out: You can choose to slice the eggplant in large pieces to salt or cut it up. I chose to cut it up into smaller pieces to have the sea salt permeate most areas more quickly. Let it sit about half an hour. It gives you time to slice up the onion, capsicum and prepare the chilies as well. Roast/fire-up the chilies to remove the skin. For a directory on chilies, this is awesome: http://www.foodsubs.com/Chilefre.html
Now that the eggplant has been salted, pat it dry really well (I think I used way too many paper towels – not sure how others deal with this). Now it’s time to brown the eggplant. I filled up my frying pan with a half inch of oil and fried but not until brown because eventually, you add the other ingredients and cook more. I didn’t crowd the eggplant in the frying pan as I heard that this prevents the pieces from cooking evenly. I fried on both sides then took them out and set them on a paper towel except the last pieces. I didn’t want the dish to be too oily so I drained the pan then added the onions and capsicum to fry for about 5 minutes. Then, I added the tomato sauce and sliced tomatoes and let it all just stew up a bit (I wanted more gravy to go along with my rice).
Let it simmer – I was figuring the longer the simmer, the more the flavors soak in. I steamed some brown rice and topped it off with my bouranee baunjan! The only item that I lacked was the yogurt sauce (chakah) because I didn’t have time to go to the Persian market to get it. I was still very happy how it came out. Hope you are able to try it too!