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A Dash of Flavor and Culture from Afghanistan

The recipe for <em>borrani banjan</em> calls for eggplant, sliced thick, and then fried until golden.
Andrea Rane/NPR /
The recipe for borrani banjan calls for eggplant, sliced thick, and then fried until golden.

The news from Afghanistan these days is troubling, as often as not. Another suicide bomber. More U.S. troops killed. A new offensive by the Taliban. So perhaps it's understandable why Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States recently jumped at the chance to throw a feast at its embassy in Washington, D.C., to celebrate some good news: A dazzling exhibit of ancient Afghan treasures has kicked off a nationwide tour at the National Gallery of Art.

Ambassador Said Jawad and his wife, Shamim, said they wanted the feast to remind Americans that, despite Afghanistan's monumental problems, strands of its glorious culture endure.

"Afghanistan is the crossroads of civilization from East to West," Shamim Jawad told me as we stood under a white tent amid mountains of pumpkin stews, fragile dumplings, chicken kebabs, spicy spinach and oblong flat breads called nan. Ancient traders crisscrossed the country from Persia and China, India and Pakistan, bringing their own styles of cooking with them. "That's why [Afghanistan's cuisine] is a mix of all these different cultures and ethnic groups," she said. "And I personally think our food is, like, the best."

After the party, she invited me to the embassy's kitchen, where her chef, Nasim Ahmadi, taught me how to make a traditional eggplant dish — which I now pass on to you, with his compliments.

It's simple to make and truly delicious. It's great for lunch with a glass of chilled white wine, or as an appetizer at dinner.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Daniel Zwerdling
Daniel Zwerdling is a correspondent in NPR's Investigations Unit.