Heavy air, dew drenched leaves, forests filled with cicadas and fireflies. The east coast can be a magical place. Especially, the south. Salty costal air, wise old mountains covered in blankets of poplar, oak, and pine, summers bring the juiciest tomatoes, crisp pods of okra, and the sweetest peaches. I'm enamored with the world, traveling is a love affair with the experience and the new perspectives it brings. I've been to more continents than I have not, seen many of our states on both sides of the country, and called quite a number of places home. My collection of experiences is far from complete but, slowly, I feel the call and yearning for the east coast. The other day I glanced through a magazine and inside was a set of gorgeous pictures from Charlottesville, VA, the place I was living before Denver. The pictures were taken at the gardens where I use to intern and I remember being there that morning when the photo shoot was in motion. I didn't pay too much attention to the shoot and I glanced through that magazine purely by chance. Yet, it awoke something in me. I took for granted the beautiful views of the rolling mountains fading into a soft blue. I knew I loved it, I just didn't realize how much.
This dish, Borrani Banjan, is an Afghan dish that we regularly ordered from our favorite restaurant back in Virginia. An Afghan restaurant called Arianna's. My version is a bit thicker and less oily but still uses a generous amount of oil. It's the perfect dish for my current mood. Something to remind me of home, but also a dish that draws near a foreign culture, balancing a love for home and a love of the afar. Borrani Banjan is traditionally a friend eggplant dish severed in an oily tomato pureé, drizzled with a yogurt sauce and eaten with warm, Afghan bread called Nan. I made a few modifications so it wasn't quite as oily, and I baked the eggplant instead of frying.
Now a quick word about oils and fats. Oils and fats are good for you, hear me scream it from the rooftops! You need fats, they are essential for your body to process certain nutrient and proteins, good fats do not increase unhealthy cholesterol. Actually, they help lower you unhealthy cholesterol and increase your good cholesterol (HDL). Good cholesterol is needed to build cells and produce hormones. Oils/fats are all different and since most of us use oil in almost everything we cook, even if it is just a little, you need to pay some attention to what oil you are using. So most cooking oils are in the category of good fats which are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats although they aren't all equal. I typically always use organic extra virgin olive oil and I look for oils that have been first-pressed and cold-pressed because this oil will have the highest percentage of monounsaturated fat, the good type of fat. I want it cold-pressed because heat breaks down oils turning them rancid and creating free-radicals, which destroy your body, essentially, by aging you. I don't want my oils to have ever been heated before I use them.
I typically like to use olive oil on no higher than medium heat so I do not break it down. This brings me to coconut oils, which is a saturated fat. Wait? A saturated fat? Yes, saturated fats typically are bad fats, but tropical oils (coconut oil) do not contain or contribute to LDL (unhealthy cholesterol), they are the exception to the rule. Coconut oil is also solid at room temperature, and it takes a higher heat to break coconut oil down. It is why I tend to use coconut oil for all my high-heat needs. Plus, its really tasty. When looking for coconut oil make sure you do not buy a hydrogenated version, and look for a virgin/organic version. I know, oils can be pricey, but really... this one is all about your health, you use it in everything. The very best coconut oil I have ever had is from Mountain Rose Herbs. It is very fragrant, more fragrant than any coconut oil I've had, and tastes fantastic. There is no comparison to the brands found in the store, plus, for the quantity and quality, the price is better than store versions. After I tried their coconut oil (virgin unrefined), I'll never go back, here is the link to their coconut oils.
Enough of me talking about fats... my fat, your fat, all the fat! yay!
Now lets get down to business with this Afghan food! You might want to have the bread made before making the eggplant dish and then reheat before serving. Just lower the oven temperature to 400degrees after making the bread to get ready for the next step.
I slightly modified the recipe from here . Usually this bread is cooked in a tandoori oven so this is an adaption of the traditional version.
Bread flour - 5 cups
Salt - 2tsp
Active dry yeast - 1TB or 1 packet
Water - 2 cups warm water (between 105-115degrees)
Olive oil - 5TB
Honey - 2tsp
Dissolve the honey and yeast into the warm water in a bowl and set aside 5-10 minutes, it should start to bubble and froth up. Meanwhile mix together the flour and salt in a large bowl. After the yeast mixture as frothed up add in the oil. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the water/oil mixture gently. Stir the mixture together with a big wooden spoon working from the center out but the mixture is solid enough to work with your hands. Knead for about 10 minutes. Place into a oiled bowl and cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place for 2 hours. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees with a greased baking sheet or stone inside. Punch the dough down, divide dough into six balls, and flour the work surface. Roll each dough into an oil with a rolling pin and stretching with your hands until they are between 1/4inch - 1/2inch thick. If desired you can mist the bread and then sprinkle over some black sesame seeds. Once the oven is hot, remove the pan or stone and place the bread on top and then return the stone to the oven. Cook for about 5 minutes, check, and then cook 5 more minutes. The break should be slightly golden.
Recipe (Serves 4 as a meal - nice served with a salad)
Eggplants - 2 small/medium, sliced into very thin rounds
Yellow onion - 1/2, slivered
Tomatoes - 4 medium, chunked
Tomato paste - 6oz can
Garlic - 5 cloves, minced
Coconut oil - 1/4 cup plus extra for brushing
Olive oil - Scant 1/4 cup
Good quality curry powder - 3-4TB I used curry from here if I don't make my own.
Yogurt - plain, whole fat, about 1/4cup
Mint - fresh, 3-4TB, minced
Salt - to taste
Chop up all your veggies and have them ready and then mix together the yogurt, 1 clove of minced garlic, mint, and a pinch of salt. Set aside for later.
Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Lay the eggplant slices onto a baking sheet, brushing each side with coconut oil. Bake in the oven for about 8 minutes on each side. Meanwhile, heat the coconut oil on medium high heat in a large, deep, skillet. Add in the rest of the garlic and the onions. Cook for 3-5 minutes until fragrant and beginning to soften. Add in the tomatoes. Cook for about 10 minutes and then add in the tomato paste. Stir until combined. Cook for several more minutes. Pour the mixture into a blender and blend until smooth. Dump back into the skillet on medium heat. Add in the curry powder and generous 1/2tsp of salt. Cook for a few minutes and then taste and adjust for the spices. Drizzle in the olive oil and stir. Add in the baked eggplant and stir to coat.
Pour the eggplant mixture onto a platter and drizzle over the yogurt sauce and then garnish with a bit more mint, if desired. Serve spooned over the nan.