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For the love of home & good food

I read The Kite Runner back in 2005 and fell in love. The depiction of life in Afghanistan pre-Russia and pre-Taliban mesmerized me. Khaled Hosseini has this amazing ability to draw you in; I disappeared inside and Amir took me along his journey. It is a book about friendship, kinship, betrayal, guilt and ultimately redemption. The Afghan culture, their language, Amir’s azizam Baba joon and Hassan, everything fascinated me, but the thing that gripped me most was the haunting loss of a country so beautiful and the slow death of a culture so vibrant; it put a constant ache in my heart.

Image Courtesy: Google

Usually I always go back and reread a book that I love but in this case I couldn’t as I had borrowed it from a library so I kind of forgot about it. It all came rushing back to me last year when I saw its movie adaptation for the first time. Obviously it is a much abridged version but I wasn’t disappointed,  I felt the characters were as I’d imagined them and that beautiful gorgeous Dari was as melodious as I had thought it would be. I cried at the scene where Amir’s Baba picks up some of his home soil for safe keeping not knowing when he will touch his mitti again; it was such a poignant moment. More so for me since I had become an ex-pat recently. I was homesick, plain and simple. But my heart cried for Amr, his Baba and the millions of Afghan refugees who had to leave their homes with no hope of returning, their futures uncertain and their loss irreplaceable, all because of pointless and senseless wars raging through their lands.

That movie stayed with me for a few weeks, I downloaded the book on my Kindle and started reading it again. After a few weeks M switched jobs and we had to move from Sharjah to Dubai. When we told our landlord, he invited us over for lunch to his home and imagine my delight when I found out they were Afghans. Our hosts were gracious and couldn’t have been more hospitable. We were worried about the language barrier but we needn’t have because Uncle’s wife was from Peshawar so they all knew a bit of Urdu.  They offered us fresh and dried fruits first and then came the main meal which was definitely a feast fit for a king; their food is divine. If you ever want a taste of authentic Afghan cuisine, then I suggest you make some Afghan friends and ask them to cook for you. No restaurant can ever compete with their home cooking. There were delicious salads, full of flavor,  juicy red pomegranate seeds and apples. The piping hot Kabuli pulao with a generous sprinkling of jeweled sultanas, rich lamb curries garnished with fresh coriander and last but not the least Borani Banjan– a dish that has become so very dear to me; I cannot have enough of it. It is so simple and yet the complexity of its layers gives the most delish explosion in your mouth. The cold garlicky & minty yogurt dip is the perfect contrast to the tangy tomatoes and earthy taste of those royal eggplants. Among all those delicious dishes that day, Borani Banjan spoke the most to me and I begged Aunty to give me the recipe right there and then.

Baingan Borani

Baingan Borani

Now every time I get homesick, I cook it; case in point today, two days after I have come back from Karachi. I know I’m weird, I cook an Afghan dish while missing my home in Pakistan but in the current climate of grief when for the first time ever I didn’t feel like celebrating 14th August, I thought of all those around the world who don’t have a home to go back to and I felt, in my cynicism, I was being ungrateful. I know my country is flawed, exasperating at times (read: A LOT of times), broken down but never beaten. Alhamdulillah for that.

So I suggest you go read The Kite Runner if you haven’t; if you have and are not a fan, I urge you to do the grocery run and start cooking. While cooking, have a listen to the lovely Francoise Hardy’s “La maison ou j’ai grandi”  or “Tous les garcons et les filles” which is what I imagine would have played in the background at Amir’s Baba’s dinner parties. Think of the bright and loud bazaars of Kabul, the colorful kites flying high, the food festivals; think of simple times, sit down with your friends & family, give a little prayer of thanks and mop up that gorgeous Borani with a fresh, warm crusty loaf of French bread. And when you do, you will realize how food is the universal language of love; and how it can effortlessly fuse cultures that on the surface seem poles apart.

Image courtesy: Google

Francoise Hardy






Borani Baingan:
2 medium eggplants
2 tsp oil for cooking
2 large tomatoes diced
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp roasted cumin powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
Oil for frying (you can brush eggplants with oil and bake them)
1 tsp chopped garlic
1/2 tsp dried mint
Fresh mint leaves for garnishing
For Yogurt Dip:
1 cup yogurt
1 tsp crushed garlic
2 tbsp fresh mint leaves
Make yogurt sauce, mix all ingredients and refrigerate
Make baingan:
1. Cut eggplants in 1/2 inch think round slices
2. Sprinkle slices liberally with salt and leave them to ooze water. Then pat them dry
3. Heat oil in a skillet/shallow karahi and fry the slices a few at a time and set them aside
But don’t cook them completely. They should be firm in the middle
4. When they’re done, put 2 tsp oil in the same pan, add in garlic, sauté and add tomatoes before the garlic turns brown
5. Cook until they’re soft, add dhaniya, zeera, lal mirch powder and haldi. Stir and cook till the spices are mixed well.
6. Now arrange half the egg plants in the same pan to cover surface of it
7. Arrange cooked tomatoes on top. Repeat with another layer of eggplants and remaining tomatoes
8. Add 1/4 cup water and cover with a tight lid
9. Cook on low medium heat for 20 min and check if it is done. Should be a soft texture.
To serve:
Spread some of the yogurt sauce on to the bottom of the serving dish
Top with eggplant stack, lift the stack carefully. Top with the rest of the yogurt. Sprinkle dried mint
Heat 2 tsp oil, when hot add 1/4 tsp red chilli powder remove from heat immediately and pour it on top.
Finally garnish with fresh mint leaves.

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14th AugustBorani Baingancultureexpatsfamilyfood diariesfreedomfriendshipKabulPakistanrefugeesThe Kite Runner

Sarah • August 17, 2016

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  1. Sanober August 17, 2016 - 12:25 pm Reply

    The kite runner evokes the same kind of emotions for me as well!! Loved this post and the recipe.

    • Sarah August 17, 2016 - 11:20 pm Reply

      Thanks for the appreciation! Mamnoon mehraboon aziizam Sanober joon ?

  2. FarzanaRijas August 18, 2016 - 1:06 am Reply

    Oh Sarah that was a very nostalgic post for any expat. Well written.
    And The Kite Runner. What an awesome book as you said. It is my favourite too. “For you, a thousand times over..” That haunted me like forever.
    And there is a character with my name too..;-)
    And the dish seems so healthy and refreshing. Definitely gonna try..Thank You for sharing..:-)

    • Sarah August 18, 2016 - 2:00 am Reply

      Thank you so much for your kind words Farzana! I’m so glad to find more fans of this beautiful book; and yes you’re right, that line is the best part of it 🙂 I’ll wait for your feedback on the recipe. Hope you like it ? x

  3. Aisha Id August 18, 2016 - 1:28 pm Reply

    This has to be my favourite article for the day! Books and food all in one. 😀 I have pinned the picture of Borani Baingan so I can remember getting back here for the recipe 😀

    • Sarah August 22, 2016 - 11:57 am Reply

      Aww thank you! Would love to hear which book inspires you 🙂 x

  4. Haya August 19, 2016 - 10:59 am Reply

    Wow! This article is a roller coaster. No! It’s more like entire fun park. I had fun jumping from one ride/ topic to another. 🙂 Recipe in the end is the cherry on the cake!

    Well, your love for home and the ummah as such holds the article together. And I see your concern for Afghanistan and craving for it’s traditional dish to overcone your home sickness, as a sign of a believer caring for one another.

    I liked your narration style. And I really found the flow smooth! May Allah make keep entire ummah safe. Ameen

    • Sarah August 22, 2016 - 11:56 am Reply

      Ameen. Thank you for the appreciation 🙂 x

  5. afreen August 20, 2016 - 10:00 am Reply

    Nice article and nice recipe.

  6. Muslim Mummy August 21, 2016 - 11:05 pm Reply

    I read that book not long ago and must admit it is a great book. I did like A Thousand Splendid Suns more though…have you read that one?

    • Sarah August 22, 2016 - 11:55 am Reply

      Funnily enough I never got around to reading that one(I know sacrilege!) but I have heard it’s better too. I have bought it recently, just waiting for a free day to curl up in my arm chair with a cup of tea and start reading it 🙂

  7. Shahira August 22, 2016 - 12:37 pm Reply

    The kite runner is one if my favourite book. A thousand times over for you – No romantic ode has been as touching as that.

    Book truly help us to learn, know and feel different cultures of the world. There is no way I can step into Afghanistan or Turkey or Japan yet Kite runner, Snow and Memoirs of Geisha have taken me there all… are absolutely correct. .food is truly the universal language of love and is binding force for different cultures.

  8. naila August 22, 2016 - 11:22 pm Reply

    Loved the way you described the Afghani food..The recipe looks scrumptious!! Will try it insha Allah.

  9. Umme Hafsa August 23, 2016 - 8:52 am Reply

    I find learning about different cultures so interesting and completely agree that food can be such a great way to connect with people and infuse cultures together.

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