IN SUMMER WE eat lighter, and in doing so often make vegetables the mainstay of our meals; none serves that purpose better than eggplant. Even carnivores who in winter insist on meat as the centerpiece are likely to find eggplant substantial enough to stand in, say, for veal in veal parmesan. Not only is its texture meaty, but it absorbs flavors and therefore tastes richer than most vegetables.
It also, however, absorbs oil; great quantities of it. For cooks concerned with cutting the fat in eggplant dishes there are several techniques to try. Salting the eggplant to draw out its juices will keep it from absorbing quite as much oil in frying. Covering the pan while it is frying also helps. And finally, you can broil or bake it with little or no oil instead of frying it, though admittedly some of the lusciousness is lost in translation.
Once the eggplant is fried, though, comes the question of embellishing it. Nobody does that better than the Afghans, who top it with yogurt, garlic and tomato, then often with mint.
Here is eggplant Afghan-style, in winter a likely appetizer or side dish, in summer a light meal in itself, even better if your garden is yielding mint for you to sprinkle over the finished dish. After a trip to your shelves at home for vegetable oil, salt and red or black pepper, all it takes is a trip through the express lane, preferably in a market that stocks naan, the flat, ridged Afghan-style bread.
Express Lane List: Yogurt, garlic, eggplant, onion, tomato sauce, green pepper, mint, bread (preferably Afghan naan). BURAUNEE BAUNJAUN (Afghan Fried Eggplant with Yogurt) (4 to 6 servings) 2 cups yogurt (sour cream can be substituted) 3 medium eggplants, sliced 1/2-inch thick Salt 1/2 cup oil, more if necessary 1 medium onion, diced finely 1/2 cup tomato sauce 1/4 teaspoon red or black pepper 1/4 cup chopped green pepper 1/4 cup water 3 to 6 cloves garlic, chopped
Chopped mint, preferably fresh, to sprinkle on top
Put yogurt in a strainer lined with cheesecloth or a clean dish towel and let it drain at least an hour. (If you are using sour cream, the draining is not necessary.)
If you want to draw the water from the eggplant, score the slices lightly with a knife, spread them on a flat pan and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt; allow them to stand 10 to 15 minutes, then wipe each slice dry.
Heat 1/2 cup oil in a frying pan and fry eggplant slices, covered if desired, until light brown on both sides; add more oil if necessary. Or brush the eggplant lightly with oil and broil or bake until browned. Set eggplant slices aside.
In the remaining oil in the frying pan--or in another tablespoon or two of oil if necessary--fry onion until lightly browned. Add eggplant slices, 1 teaspoon salt, tomato sauce, red or black pepper, chopped green pepper and water. Cook slowly, uncovered, until eggplant is tender, 10 to 15 minutes, adding more water if necessary but evaporating it down so the sauce is thick when the eggplant is cooked.
In a bowl combine the drained yogurt and garlic, and salt to taste (this mixture is called chaka and is used in many Afghan dishes.)
To serve, spread half the chaka on a serving platter. Arrange eggplant slices on top, then top with remaining chaka. Spoon the sauce from the eggplant over that and sprinkle, if desired, with chopped fresh or dried mint. Serve with Afghan bread.