Weight Watchers Friendly, just PointsPlus 3. Low Cal. Low Carb. Gluten Free. Vegetarian.
So. As if there weren't already enough good reasons to belong to a book club. You know, like hanging out with life-long friends talking about books while drinking a nice glass of wine. And now? Discovering Afghan food. WOW.
My book club is a small group of women in our 40s, 50s and now, even 60s. We've been reading together for 21 years! (Here's our book list, for others looking for a great collection of book-club books.) We rarely tie our meal to the book we're reading but for some reason (fate? good luck? I must've done something right?), last month when we read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (he's the author of the wonderful book, The Kite Runner), at the last minute, I decided to try two recipes from Afghanistan.
And it turns out – WOW – both were excellent. I've even made both three times! And both are now on my list of "house recipes". Total keepers! The main dish that night was a dish called Kabeli Palau, it's an Afghan Chicken & Rice Casserole bound together with caramelized onions (I know, I know, what a great concept!) and topped with a gorgeous mix of buttery carrots, currants and almonds. We love it with chicken but also with beef!
But this eggplant? Totally wonderful, an explosion of tastes and textures and temperatures. And the great news is, the two really work together too. So go make this, really.
RECIPE for AFGHAN EGGPLANT & TOMATO CASSEROLE (Borani Banjan)
Time to table: 90 minutes
1 large clove garlic
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup (120g) 0% Greek yogurt (oh I love Fage yogurt!)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh mint (don't skip this!)
1 1-pound globe eggplant
Salt & pepper
SMOKY TOMATO SAUCE
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
2 large cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons curry
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 15-ounce can tomatoes, run through mini food processor
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1-1/2 cups vegetable broth
Salt, to taste
Smoky Tomato Sauce
Broiled Eggplant Slices
2 large tomatoes, sliced about 1/3-inch thick
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Additional cilantro, for garnish
Yogurt-Mint Sauce, for top
YOGURT-MINT SAUCE A few hours or even 24 hours ahead of time, make the Yogurt-Mint Sauce. In a mini food processor, chop the garlic and the salt until fine. (You'll need another couple of garlic cloves for the tomato sauce, I always do all three cloves at once.) Add the remaining ingredients and pulse a few times until the mint is in tiny bits. Transfer to a ziplock bag and refrigerate until ready to use. Makes 1/2 cup.
EGGPLANT Place a rack right below the broiler and set the oven to broil. Cut the eggplant into rounds about 1/3-inch thick. Arrange the slices on a baking sheet, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Broil for 3 or 4 minutes on one side, then flip and broil for another 3 or 4 minutes on the other side – the eggplant should be light brown on both sides. Let cool.
SMOKY TOMATO SAUCE In a large, shallow skillet, heat the olive oil until shimmery, add the garlic and let cook until golden. Add the spices and let cook for one minute until aromatic. Stir in the tomatoes and tomato paste and let cook for two to three minutes, it should be quite bubbly. Add the vegetable broth and bring back to a boil. Reduce the heat and let the sauce simmer happily away until it reduces by about a quarter. Taste and adjust the salt.
ASSEMBLY & BAKING Set oven to 375F/190C. In a large, deep oven-safe dish layer the ingredients in this order:
1/3 Smoky Tomato Sauce
1/2 Broiled Eggplant Slices
1/2 Tomato Slices
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
Repeat the first four layers
Finish with 1/3 Smoky Tomato Sauce
Cover the dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake uncovered for 5 minutes.
Sprinkle the dish with cilantro, then "snip" the corner of the ziplock bag holding the Yogurt Mint Sauce and drizzle over top. Serve hot or slightly warm, either one.
ALANNA's TIPS & KITCHEN NOTES
YOGURT SAUCE Okay so it's "best" to make the yogurt sauce ahead of time because the flavors really meld beautifully. But if you don't? Don't sweat it, really. This stuff is g-o-o-d after even the time it takes to make the rest of the eggplant. You might consider making extra, it's excellent with smoked salmon, as a spread with sandwiches, even a vegetable dip.
EGGPLANT So I tried the eggplant three ways. (1) Not broiling at all, not recommended. (2) Brushing with oil on both sides, then broiling, good (and I did like the crispy exterior texture of the eggplant) but the extra calories just aren't necessary. (3) Broiling the eggplant with just salt and pepper, that where I settled quite happily.
Do pay attention to the thickness of the eggplant slices. Too thin, they kind of melt into nothing. Too thick, they don't cook.
TOMATO SAUCE Do let the garlic turn golden before adding the spices, then let the spices really warm in the oil and garlic.
Why add the stock (that is, more liquid) and then cook the sauce down? Couldn't you skip the extra liquid and just be done with it? Well, no, actually. The tomatoes really need to cook. Adding extra liquid gives them time to simmer away, soaking up the garlic and spices, even while the liquid evaporates.
BAKING DISH I actually use the same baking dish for making this to serve six and when doubling it to serve twelve. For six, I collect the layers in the center; for twelve, I fill the dish right to the edges. You really don't want to overlap the eggplant or tomatoes, at least not too much.
VEGAN DONE REAL To adapt this to a vegan dish, I'd substitute a cashew cream for the yogurt. After that, it'd be the same, sweet!
MAKE-AHEAD TIPS This is a great make-ahead dish! Two ways to do this. (1) Assemble the dish and refrigerate until an hour or so before baking. Bring it out and let warm to room temperature on the counter. Bake for 45 - 60 minutes, then carry on as directed. (2) Bake the dish right away, you can even drizzle on the Yogurt-Mint Sauce, it'll hold up and won't "melt" into the tomatoes and eggplant. Let it rest at room temperature for up to a couple of hours, then re-warm at 200F/100C for about half an hour.
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MORE FAVORITE EGGPLANT RECIPES~ Summer Vegetable Stew ~
~ Eggplant Steaks ~
~ Baba Ganoush ~
~ more eggplant recipes ~
from A Veggie Venture
~ Tourlou Tourlou (Greek Baked Vegetables) ~
~ Mediterranean Eggplant ~
~ Eggplant & Bean Thai Curry ~
~ more eggplant recipes ~
from Kitchen Parade, my food column
famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.
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