While I was in Pakistan, I worked on a story for TASTE on Afghan food in Islamabad. Speaking with restaurant owners, students, professionals, I realized how little I knew about a community that had been living in the same city as me for a generation. I wanted to learn more, especially about Afghan home cooking so I reached out to an old student and family friend, Nur.
Nur’s paternal grandmother ("dadi") was from Kabul. She loved to cook and entertain, and showed Nur’s mother, Riffat how to prepare many Afghan classics. Riffat in turn, taught Nur.
When I went over, there was already pulao on the table but Nur said that she wanted to make something a little more special. Inside the kitchen, there was a line of colorful ingredients – bright red roma tomatoes, spring onions, spinach, dill, mint, eggplant, onions, green chilies, red beans, chickpeas – chopped, prepped and ready to go. We were going to be making Ash, an Afghan spaghetti or an Afghan soup (depending on how you want to look at it) and Banjan Borani (or Borani Banjan.) I was thrilled.
Needless to say, I had a blast and left Nur and Riffat's home happy, with a full belly.
As I began to compile the notes and photographs from our cooking session, my story for TASTE, "End of Afghan Cuisine in Pakistan?" got published. When my friend, Mehreen, a reporter shared the story, we were hit with a barrage of xenophobic tweets about Afghans. While this is probably nothing new for Mehreen or any other journalist writing about Afghan refugees or the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, it was certainly surprising for me. As I began to go down the black hole of the #GoAfghaniGo hashtag, my head began to spin.
I was reminded of how I felt during an interview when I had asked a Pakistani restaurant owner and long time resident of Peshawar Mor, often referred to as "mini Afghanistan" in Islamabad, whether he mingled with any of his Afghan neighbors. He gave me a slight smile and then whipped out the Pakistani equivalent of a neighborhood watch committee card, saying “It’s my job to keep an eye on things here. Make sure everything stays safe”. My heart sank.
As I was going through the tweets, I was thinking of my colleague, a young Afghan woman who had spent some time in Pakistan after her and her family fled Kabul. While she told me this smiling, eager to swap jokes in Urdu, I was too afraid to ask her any follow-up questions, afraid of what I might hear. I was also thinking of the 17-year old busboy at Khyber Restaurant, who worked 14-hour days to put his younger brother through school. Or Mohammad Ali, a handsome young server who played football every evening at Jinnah Stadium and spoke of how much he loved Islamabad and how this was his home.
Seeing the “alt right” Pakistan script run alongside the “alt right” American script is dispiriting. But when it begins to get too much, you have to remind yourself to take strength from the love and perseverance of others. So I turned my attention to the amazing staff at the Afghan Studies Center of the Center for Research and Security Studies – Sitwat and Saddam – who went out of their way to help with the TASTE story in order to support their own mission of improving cross-cultural understanding between the two countries.
I reminded myself of Zafar Khan, co-founder of Kabul Restaurant who persevered in making his business grow and succeed; hoping for better relations despite what I imagine were decades of living through anti-Afghan hysteria in Pakistan. I thought of the moment when he stopped me just as I was stepping out the door after concluding the interview to say, “Whenever the article comes out and people overseas learn more about the issue, I really hope it can play a small part in helping improve Pakistan-Afghan relations”.
And then of course, I turned my attention to Nur, a young mother of a 2-year old who chooses to spend long hours in the kitchen to honor her Afghan heritage.
Here’s the first of two recipes, Banjan Borani, a fuller and more colorful variation of the Dahi Baingan my own grandmother would make. You can find the second recipe for Ash here.
Ramazan Mubarak everyone!
Borani Banjan Recipe
- 2 cups full-fat yogurt preferably ¼ of it will be sour yogurt
- 1 ½ teaspoon crushed garlic
- ¾ cup neutral oil canola/sunflower/vegetable
- 3 eggplant sliced crosswise
- 3 red onion sliced in half rings
- 4 roma tomatoes sliced crosswise
- 5 green chilies, preferably bird's eye chili thinly diced
- 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- ½ teaspoon red chili powder, preferably Kashmiri red chili powder
- 1 tablespoon pomegranate seeds (optional)
- 1 teaspoon dried mint (optional)
- ½ teaspoon red chili flakes (optional)
- Transfer yogurt to a flat serving dish and lightly whisk until it has an even consistency. Stir in 1 teaspoon of crushed garlic. Set aside.
- In a non-stick skillet, heat ½ cup of oil. When hot, lower heat to medium and fry the sliced eggplant until medium brown, roughly 1 - 2 minutes each side. Lower heat and add oil as needed. Once fried, pat fried eggplant with paper towels to absorb excess oil. Set aside.
- In a large non-stick saucepan, heat ¼ cup of oil. Add sliced onions and fry on low heat until translucent, about 7 – 10 minutes. Add remaining ½ teaspoon of crushed garlic and fry for a few seconds until fragrant.
- Add tomatoes, green chilies, salt, turmeric and red chili powder. Stir on medium heat until the tomatoes soften. Cover the saucepan and let it simmer on medium-low heat for 5 minutes.
- When the tomatoes release some water, add eggplant. Dial heat to very low, cover, and let it steam for 10 minutes.
- When ready, remove the saucepan from the stove. Layer the eggplant on top of the yogurt and top with the tomato-onion curry. Garnish with dried mint, red chili flakes and pomegranate seeds.
I also prefer to breakdown the tomatoes and stir them on high heat for about 10 minutes before dialing heat to low and adding the eggplant to steam.
This is one of my favourite vegetarian dishes to make - my version of making it is different - definitely trying this out. Thank you for sharing the story behind the recipe and the insight into Afghani cuisine in Pakistan.
Thank you so much Kiran!
Just to point out, Afghani is the Afghan currency. The correct term to use when speaking of something or someone from Afghanistan is Afghan.
We live our banjan borani absolutely delicious 😊
Very special. Very comforting. Making it 3-4 times a year now. This is the last batch with fresh local produce. 🙁😋
Absolutely delicious! My husband and I have both made this recipe (on different occasions, on our own) and it has always turned out great - proof of how easy it is to follow. Bookmarked for life ❤️
I came across your NUr's Banjan Borani.
I had an eggplant, yogurt, leftover tin tomatoes, I loved it. I used 2 cups of yogurt for 1 eggplant.
But I used to much oil or perhaps the slices could have been thicker.
Very nom nom nom. Thank you
This was really delicious, made with eggplant from my local farm stand and tomatoes from my garden. Thank you for the recipe and the enlightening story.
Thank you so much! This made my day.
Wonderful!!! I sliced the eggplant, sprayed slices with oil, and baked on cookie sheet until lightly browned instead of frying. Less oil that way and no oil splatter to clean up. Also added 1/2 tsp cumin and some sesame seeds to the tomato mixture. Very filling dish; perfect for a main entree with some Jasmine rice or for a side dish if want a smaller portion.
This review made my day Sally! So glad you were able to successfully adapt the recipe to your preference. Thank you for taking the time to leave a review x
Very filling and delicious dish!
I followed your instructions and added just a spoonful of coriander powered.
Thank you for sharing this beautiful vegetarian dish!
Greetings from Germany
Really delicious. Light, comforting, full of texture and flavor. New experience in cuisine for me, too.
That's so wonderful to hear. Thanks so much for trying the recipe and taking the time to review it!
Simple yet delightful recipe. Thank you, Maryam!
The best recipe.
I had tried a similar version from another YouTube chef and this recipe was hands down so much more tastier.
I added a teaspoon of dried mint and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to the yogurt.
Thank you for sharing the recipe.
Hi Amy - thanks so much for trying this recipe, and leaving a review! I'm so glad that you enjoyed it.