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Kaddo Bourani (Afghani pumpkin dish from The Helmand restaurant)

Ever eat something at a restaurant and have that dish linger long in your memories? That's how it was when my sister took me to The Helmand in Cambridge, MA, for my birthday. I don't know what food from Afghanistan is supposed to taste like but I loved everything. In particular, I loved the appetizer, Kaddo Bourani, that my sister got. It didn't sound like the sort of thing I would like since it involved a yogurt sauce and pumpkin and I don't care all that much about either of those things. But when I tasted it, I was a convert. The sweet hot pumpkin mixed with the tang of the cold yogurt sauce and then melded with the hot savory ground beef sauce. (They also offered this as a vegetarian option by leaving out the meat sauce.) The blend of flavors, textures, and temperatures made me sigh happily. When I got home, I looked on the restaurant's website to see if they shared the recipe and they didn't. Alas. If you're in San Francisco or Boston, I heartily recommend making reservations to eat at The Helmand.

When I was looking for pumpkin recipes last month, I stumbled upon The Recipe! I read it eagerly and was surprised to see that it required baking the pumpkin for over 3 hours. Not something to make on a whim. Well I finally tried it and it was worth every moment of waiting. The hardest part was preparing the pumpkin. The rest of the recipe is fairly simple and straight-forward. But it did take a long time. I kept going over to check on things. By the time I was done cooking, eating, and cleaning everything up, I lay down and noticed, "Wow...my FEET are sore from all that cooking and cleaning." But you know what? I loved it. I couldn't believe that something that tasted so good had come out of my kitchen. I only regret that the stores around here seem to sell fresh pumpkins only for Halloween. So I guess I'll have to wait until next year to make this again.

(If anyone in Boston or Seacoast New Hampshire knows where I could buy some sugar pumpkins, please let me know!)

Small photo of the kaddo Bourani

Kaddo Bourani


For the pumpkin:
2 Sugar pumpkins, each about 3 pounds [with 3 cups sugar, maybe you could even use a big pumpkin.]
6 tbsp corn oil [I used olive oil since that's what I had.]
3 C sugar [I couldn't do it. I used 2 cups sugar and probably should've used 2.5 cups.]

For the yogurt sauce:
2 C plain yogurt
2 garlic cloves, minced [I used 3 cloves since we love garlic.]
1 tsp dried mint
1/2 tsp salt

For the meat sauce:
(Skip this part if you're preparing the vegetarian version. Or maybe you could use fake ground meat?)
1/4 C corn oil [again, used olive oil]
1 large onion, finely diced
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef [I used 1 lb of ground lamb -- delicious!]
1 large tomato, seeded and finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 1/4 tsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 1/3 C water


Make the pumpkin:

  1. Preheat your oven to 300º.

  2. Wash off the outside of the pumpkins. Cut them in half. Scrape out the stringy stuff and seeds on the inside. (We pan-fried the seeds for a snack while we waited for the pumpkin to finish cooking.)

  3. Cut the halves into 3″-4″ pieces or so. I then trimmed the ends so that I had a main rectangular piece about 3" by 4" and then some triangle-shaped smaller bits. I don't think the shape really matters.

  4. Peel the pumpkin pieces. You can use a vegetable peeler for this, though it helps to have a sharp paring knife to get the stem and hard-to-reach rind bits off. Peel it deeply enough that you get rid of all the green and rind.

  5. Find a baking pan large enough to hold all the pumpkin pieces in a single layer. Use multiple pans, if need be. I lay down a layer of foil in the pans first to make cleaning up easier.

  6. Cover the pumpkin pieces in the oil (yes, really, use all of it), and place them hollow side up in the pan(s).

  7. Pour the sugar evenly over the pumpkin pieces (yes, really, just grit your teeth and use all of it.) [Three cups of sugar seemed like an awful lot of sugar. My boyfriend doesn't even like really sweet things so I went with just 2 cups of sugar. It tasted great but next time, I think I could use 2.25 to 2.5 cups of sugar and still be fine.]

  8. Cover the pan(s) with aluminum foil. Bake for 2 1/2 hours, then baste the pieces with the pan juices, cover them up again, and bake for another 45 minutes. [For timing, I recommend that when you first put the pumpkin in the oven, you then prepare the yogurt sauce and set that aside in the refrigerator until you're ready to eat. After 2.5 hours, baste the pumpkin and then while you wait for the final 45 minutes of baking, prepare the meat sauce and it should be ready about the time the pumpkin is ready.]

  9. The sugar will all melt away and end up partially absorbed. The pumpkin pieces will turn dark orange and translucent. They will have a stunningly novel texture. It is a beautiful thing.

pumpkin pieces in the pans after they were cooked
Pumpkin Pieces in the pans after being cooked

Make the yogurt sauce:

  1. Mix all the ingredients together. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve.

Make the meat sauce:

  1. Brown the onions in the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.
  2. Add the meat and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until it is broken up into small pieces and the pinkness is almost entirely gone.
  3. Add all other ingredients (except for the tomato paste and water) and cook, stirring, for another 5 minutes or so.
  4. Stir in the tomato paste, then add the water and bring to a boil. (Really, it will probably boil as soon as it touches the pan.)
  5. Lower the heat and let simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes.

Hot pumpkin, topped with cold yogurt sauce, topped with hot meat sauce.

close-up of the finished dish
Close-up of the finished dish.

Here's a small plate of the little triangle-shaped pieces
Here's a small plate with the triangle-shaped pieces. Perfect presentation for an appetizer-sized portion.

Strangely, I went back and looked up my photos from The Helmand. This dish tasted so good that I had this shining image of the dish in my head. But when I look at the photo, it was presented in a rather unappetizing heap. Maybe it's just the photo taken in dim lighting but seriously...Mine came out looking so much nicer! (The rest of the food from that night looks much better in the photos.)

Kaddo Bourani from The Helmand
Kaddo Bourani from The Helmand

See? Doesn't mine look much nicer?

One last shot of the Kaddo dish. This one has the bigger pieces.
Here's a final shot of the Kaddo dish. This plate was made with the bigger pieces and served as a dinner entree.

For reference:
Thread in food_porn: http://community.livejournal.com/food_porn/5607717.html

SF Gate recipe: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/1998/10/28/FD78824.DTL

The page I found with the recipe:

Another blogger's version of this recipe:

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Oh MAN. The Helmand is my go-to for semi-nice-y dinners entirely on the strength of the veggie version of this dish. Your rendition is making me really hungry.

Only semi-nice? I thought it was quite a nice place when I had gone. But maybe that was just due to how much I had liked the food. Helmand seemed to have several vegetarian dishes that sounded appealing. (But I wanted to try their lamb.)

Kaddo Bourani is my absolute favorite thing at Helmand. I haven't been there in YEARS -- I need to talk Lis into going back. We went reasonably often back years ago when Lis was working at Lotus, which was, at the time, across the street.

Mm...this would be a nice place to eat at regularly. But didn't you have to plan ahead and make reservations?

Well, for weekday evenings, Lis was usually able to phone in the afternoon.

Oh. My. God.

This was sent from heaven. Of that I am convinced.

It certainly tastes pretty heavenly. I'm still really pleased about having made this dish.

Really!? I just ate in a restaurant by the same name in B'more...I had no idea it was a chain?

Well Helmand is the name of a region as well as a river in Afghanistan. The Helmand in Baltimore isn't part of the Boston and SF ones that I was talking about.

Turns out I'm wrong. The Helmand in Baltimore is run by the same family as the ones in Boston and SF. Did you like the food?

I've had this dish at an Afghan restaurant called Kabul here in the Bay Area. It's wonderful! Kabul serves theirs with lamb, which I'm not really a big fan of, but I usually scrape off the lamb and give it to Neal. I had no idea it too three hours to prepare, but it's worth every second. If you come out to SF for vacation I'll meet you for dinner at Kabul. :o)

Oh no! I LOVE lamb. It's like beef but even better :) (to me anyhow) Definitely want to meet up with you if I head out to SF.

Thanks for the info about the lamb! -- I want to make it with lamb to change up things a bit, but was nervous about making the switch at the same time as making it for other people.

PS: Afghan food seems to share some similarities with Indian food -- if I remember correctly, the two countries share a couple of ethnic groups in common) -- and the names of some dishes are similar.

That would explain why I seem to like both cuisines...

This looks soo sooo soooo sooo soooo sooo good.

Thanks! This dish made me oh so happy. I just finished the last of the leftovers tonight. Very satisfying.

I just realized that I am literally salivating while looking at these pictures. IT LOOKS SOOOO GOOOOOOD. Sadly, I'm not sure I'd have the patience for the 3 hour cooking time. I'll just have to search around for an Afghan restaurant in AZ...

*grin* I hope you get to try this dish some day!

I love the way those countries seem to meld sweet fruit with savory meat. It sounds like it would be awful, but it is always good.

Yeah...I was still hesitant making it even after knowing that it tasted great. Then again, there are some more familiar dishes that mix fruit and meat quite nicely... apples and pork, peach-glazed ham, chicken a la orange...

Recipe looks great. But FYI at Helmand on the menu it says that they first pan-fry the pumpkin and then bake it.

Sugar pumkin

If you make the basic beef korma sause, you won't need sugar pumkins. Take the sause to put over your (butter nut squash or yams, and add sugar to the sause that you will use for kadu dish) I fell inlove with Afghani food a long time ago, I was so taken by it that I thought that my discovery gave me a purpose to live. I would eat so much that I couldn't breath well. I couldn't stop eating. It was like I never knew that eating would be so enjoyable. I couldn't stop trying other dishes. I have a cook book by Asad Gharwal, Check him out. There is a great restaurant in Virginia called Pandjshir, they have 2 locations. Ask for the appetizer platter, which it is not listed on the menu, ask for the lamb chop kabob, many people are picky about lamb, but you and yours will be shocked. Also, Aushak, Aush, Bulanee, Bulannee gandana, Bulanee kachalo, quabili pallow, Firnee and the afghani tea. The Afghani tea has cardoman, you hit it on the nose, cardoman is an aphrodesiac, (not sure I spelled that correctly). I continue to look for recipies. The vegitatrean dishes are so deliceous that if you skip having meat, you won't miss it. The yogurt sause, the korma sause, with or without meat are constanly used for Afghani dishes. Good luck and enjoy, I am happy that you discovered the cuisine. God bless!

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