Thursday, June 17, 2010

Eggplant Heaven

I realize for some of you the title is the biggest contradiction in terms you've ever heard. I beg of you to leave your preconceptions at the door. Eggplant can be heavenly. I mentioned in my previous post the Afghan restaurant we enjoyed on Tuesday. I'll be the first to admit that food is not the first thing I think of when I hear the word, Afghanistan. I, like you, watch the news and see caves, deserts, and lots of sand in the coverage of Afghanistan. I am saddened by the unrest in the Middle East. The obvious and first reason for my sadness is the lack of a normal life, especially for children. Car bombings, gunfights, and the pervasive hate that separate groups hold for each other is not a carefree childhood.

The other reason that the constant conflict is saddening is reflected in the loss of culture. I recently read an article about Lebanon and the fact that the culture seems to be disappearing under the stress of strife. I personally didn't realize that much of the Middle East enjoys a Mediterranean climate, landscape, and diet. I don't know much about the history of most of the countries, but I imagine it to be a colorful, ancient, and beautiful one. How sad that we can't fully realize parts of our world because Abraham didn't trust God. I'm not sure that I would have made a wiser decision, because who would believe you could have a child at one hundred, but still - it's kinda crappy is all I'm saying.

After eating the delicious Afghan food, I wish I could forget that the Bible foretells of constant strife in this rich area of the world. I wish we could just all sit around and eat chalaw banjan. I wish we could dip our pillowy Afghan bread into stewed eggplant and roasted pumpkin and all just get along. I'm not typically a "bleeding heart" kind of person, but to think of culture and the traditions of food and family going by the wayside is pretty sobering.

The stewed eggplant, what can I's amazing. I researched on-line to see what I could find (with the help of the menu and the name of the dish). I found a recipe on a Jewish foods website and the results are pretty darn near close to the restaurant version. I didn't have any Afghan bread, but whole wheat Naan is a very close match. The ingredients are few, the preparation easy, and the reviews from the family - mixed. Rob and I really liked it, the kids - Josh said it was "ok", the girls were not too impressed.

I think it's kinda reminiscent of eggplant parmesan or baba ghanouj. I served it over rice, topped it with plain chobani (sprinkled liberally with garlic powder) and fresh mint (with toasted naan for dipping). We had this roasted cauliflower on the side. Veggie Perfection.

Eggplant, Afghan (Buranee Banjan) (D, TNT)
Source: NY Times
Serves: 8

2 medium eggplants (about 1 pound each)
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium onions, finely chopped
2 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and sliced (or 4 to 5 large plum tomatoes)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
Fresh mint, finely chopped or torn
Naan or lavash bread for serving

Preheat broiler.

Remove the stems from eggplant and cut crosswise into 1/2" slices. Select the 24 best slices (not the puffy ends) and discard the rest. Sprinkle slices liberally with salt, leave for 30 minutes, then dry well.

Brush slices with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and arrange on cookie sheets. Broil until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes per side. (Don't cook the slices completely.)

In a deep 12" skillet, over medium heat, sauté the onions in 6 tablespoons of olive oil for 15 minutes, until reddish brown and juicy but not crisp. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon.

Place 8 rounds of eggplant into the same skillet. Top with half of the chopped onion and tomato slices. Mix 3/4 teaspoon salt and the cayenne in a cup; sprinkle 1/3 over the tomatoes. Repeat with another layer of eggplant and the remaining onions and tomatoes. Sprinkle with half the remaining cayenne mixture. Place an eggplant slice on top of each stack and sprinkle with remaining cayenne. Add 1/4 cup water and cover skillet tightly. Simmer about 30 minutes.

To Serve: Spread half the yogurt sauce onto the bottom of a serving dish. Top with the vegetables, lifting stacks carefully. Top with the remainder of the yogurt, and drizzle with pan juices. Sprinkle with mint. Serve immediately, with naan or lavash.

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