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Afghan-style grilled eggplant with tomatoes and yogurt is a summer dish to have on repeat

Serve this Afghani-style eggplant as a main dish or a side.  (Tom McCorkle/For the Washington Post)
Serve this Afghani-style eggplant as a main dish or a side. (Tom McCorkle/For the Washington Post)
By Ellie Krieger Special to the Washington Post

In this dish, grilled slices of eggplant and onion are simmered in a quick, golden-hued, paprika-and-turmeric-spiced tomato sauce, then served layered with garlicky yogurt and showered with fresh mint and cilantro. It’s a sumptuous, produce-packed dish based on the traditional Afghani borani banjan in which the eggplant is typically fried, but grilling it instead works beautifully.

Cooking the eggplant on the grill not only brings a gentle smoky flavor to the plate but also adds appealing grill marks and gives the dish a lighter, more summery flair. The grilled onions in this recipe also contribute a lovely layer of sweetness.

The finished dish can be served warm or at room temperature, and the yogurt sauce and grilled vegetables can be made days ahead, making it amenable to the relaxed summer cooking I’m always aiming for. As a bonus, the dish presents as if it took a lot of effort – enticingly saucy, layered with exciting flavors, fresh and herbaceous, yet filling.

I love it as a meal in itself, scooped up with some grilled flatbread, but it also will make a natural partner to chicken or lamb kebabs.

Afghani-Style Grilled Eggplant With Tomato Sauce, Yogurt and Herbs

¾ cup low-fat or whole milk plain yogurt

2½ teaspoons finely grated garlic, divided

2 tablespoons water, plus more as needed

3 small or 2 medium firm, globe eggplants (about 1 ¼ pounds total), trimmed and sliced 1⅓-inch-thick

½ medium red onion (about 4 ounces), sliced ⅓-inch-thick

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1 pound fresh, ripe tomatoes, chopped, with their juices (may substitute with 1 28-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes with their juices)

½ teaspoon sweet paprika

¼ teaspoon ground turmeric

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

In a medium bowl, combine the yogurt with ½ teaspoon of the garlic and, if needed, add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the yogurt is the consistency of thin pancake batter and can be easily drizzled. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

Preheat the grill or a grill pan over a medium-high heat. Brush both sides of the eggplant and onion with 3 tablespoons of the oil, then sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of the salt.

Working in batches, if necessary, grill the eggplant and onion, until tender and have grill marks, 3 to 4 minutes per side for the eggplant and 2 to 3 minutes per side for the onion. Transfer the grilled vegetables to a plate.

In a large, deep skillet with a lid over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil until shimmering. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons of garlic and cook, stirring, until it turns pale golden, 20 to 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, paprika, turmeric, the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt and the pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes have broken down and have become thick and saucy, about 6 minutes. If the mixture seems dry, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water.

Stir 2 tablespoons of water into the skillet, then add the eggplant and onions, gently nestling them into the sauce and spooning some of the sauce over them. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the eggplant is very tender and has absorbed some of the sauce, but it still retains its shape, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

To serve, spread about ½ cup of the yogurt on a serving platter or divide it among individual plates, with each plate getting 2 tablespoons. Layer the saucy eggplant mixture on top of the yogurt, then drizzle with the remaining yogurt and sprinkle with the mint and cilantro.

Yield: 4 servings

Make ahead: The eggplant and onion may be grilled up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container.

Storage notes: The yogurt sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

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