Once again I have neglected blogging; it has been a long cold miserable winter. And yes my mood reflects that, as does my growing belly which I have been over-indulging with every type of comfort food imaginable. Of course this a great excuse for a favorite Afghan dish: Bonjan Burani. I figured this is kind of healthy since it is a vegetable, though I did eat this with beautiful fresh-baked Sangak bread so maybe I was just tricking myself.
Eggplant is not very typical in western cuisine, but this dish of Bonjan Burani will make you fall in love with this oddly-named vegetable within a heartbeat.
This is a dish that most people don’t find appealing to look at, but from my experience after a bite even the pickiest eaters will beg for more. As a child I was not that big of a fan of Bonjan Burani (I favored Potato Burani which is similar but made of fried potatoes), I remember after I had my tonsils removed the diet of eating ice-cream and popsicles suddenly became a torturous punishment for me one evening. I was stuck in bed recovering from surgery and could smell the distinctive aroma of fried eggplant, so I called down the stairs and asked my mom what she was cooking. She replied that she was just doing the laundry and that I needed to get back in bed and rest. I was a very nosy and meddling child, so when my mom came upstairs I demanded to know if she was frying Bonjan (eggplant). I for some reason felt that since I was sick and unable to eat food, the rest of the family should suffer with me. My mom laughed and assured me she was not cooking Bonjan. A few hours later as I was lying in bed, still heavily medicated, the enticing smell of Bonjan Burani came floating into my room again, so I dragged myself out of bed to the dining room where to my great indignation I saw my parents and other relatives sitting around a table full of Afghan party food, including Bonjan Burani which all of a sudden I decided was my most favorite food in the entire world. I started wailing and crying that despite my bloody throat that had just been operated on, I was healthy enough to eat Bonjan Burani!
Really I was just angry that my family was all sitting and enjoying a great meal without me! I thought how dare they enjoy and eat all of this delicious food while I am suffering upstairs living off of ice-cream (growing up on Afghan food, ice-cream could hardly satisfy me). All of a sudden all I could think about was the taste of Bonjan Burani, that night I remember lying in bed craving the tender oily eggplant, the sweet crisp baked bell-pepper, topped with thick creamy garlicky yogurt. By the time I felt better I had completely forgotten about my craving for Bonjan Burani, but the smell of fried eggplant still brings back memories of my childish indignation that everyone was eating good “mehmani” (party) food while I was stuck in bed.
Bonjan Burani is fried eggplant, baked with a tangy tomato sauce and sliced sweet bell peppers, and topped with thick rich strained yogurt (mixed with lots of minced garlic), and seasoned with dried mint. Though Bonjan Burani is very simple in composition the combination of flavors leaves a very memorable impression. I am always surprised by the most unlikely fans of this dish, even those who swear they will never touch eggplant I have seen converted by this simple dish. It’s just a beautiful combination of flavors, and I have to admit unabashedly it is a quite rich dish as you can see by the lovely use of oil which I forbid you from cutting back on.
2 large Eggplants
1 Yellow Sweet Bell Pepper
3 cups Chakkah (Labna or Greek Yogurt are ready-made options you can buy at the grocery store if you don’t have time to strain home-made yogurt)
-Mix 2 cloves minced garlic and ½ teaspoon salt with the Chakkah
-Chakkah should be thick consistency
-1 medium onion finely chopped
-3 cloves of fresh minced garlic
-1 large minced tomato
-1 can organic tomato sauce
-1/2 can tomato paste
1. Pour some vegetable oil in a sauce pan (I don’t give measurements for oil it should be just enough to fry your onions in) and fry the onion until almost browned. Add minced garlic and fry for about a minute.
2. Add tomato, tomato sauce and ½ can tomato paste. Let simmer on medium for about 10 minutes.
3. Turn the temperature on medium low, cover the sauce pan and let the sauce develop. You will know it is ready once the oil comes to the top.
1. You can slice you eggplant one of two ways.
-If it is smaller eggplant just go ahead and slice round ½ inch thick slices.
-If the eggplant is larger, you can slice once in middle horizontally (so you have smaller eggplants to work with, DO NOT slice in a way that will leave you with two thin long slices of eggplant) and then flip the eggplant and slice long slices (this will be a more rectangular shape)
2. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees
2. Place the eggplant in a colander and sprinkle the eggplant with lots of salt. Leave for about ½ hour. This is supposed to remove the bitterness and extra water from the eggplant.
3. Rinse the eggplant and with the back of a wooden spoon gently press on the eggplant to strain out excess water.
4. Heat a frying pan with about ½ cup of oil (add as necessary), and fry both sides of eggplant until a golden color. Eggplant should be cooked all the way.
5. As you are frying the eggplant prepare the tomato sauce
5. Place the eggplant in a 13 x 9 glass pan. Top with tomato sauce. Add sliced Belle Peppers on top. Cover with foil and bake in oven for half an hour. (You may want to uncover for the last 10 minutes if the eggplant produces too much water)
6. To serve spread Chakkah (strained yogurt) on plate, place baked eggplant on top, spoon some Chakkah on top of eggplant and sprinkle dried mint.
7. Serve with a thinner middle-eastern style bread I personally prefer Sangak, Lavash or Pita.
*Make sure you don’t forget the dried mint it really freshens up this dish and gives it the right contrast
*The best part of this dish honestly is wiping your plate clean with a piece of bread…it’s just heavenly I promise your plate will be sparkling clean by the end of this meal. Once at my mom’s party a dear non-Afghan friend who was very hesitant to eat eggplant actually sheepishly asked her if he could just eat the remaining sauce left on the serving platter with bread…my mom was more than happy to accommodate as it made washing the platter so much easier