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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.