My lovely friends Julia and Lindsey held a potluck dinner party last night with a Middle Eastern theme. I knew everyone would be bringing stuff like couscous and hummus and tagines, but I wanted to do something different and unexpected. That’s when I thought of Helmand, an Afghani restaurant in both Cambridge, MA and San Francisco, CA. I’ve been to each branch, and I’ve largely adored everything I’ve eaten there, but the big standout is a pumpkin dish called Kaddo Bourani (or Bowrani). It’s a sweet and savory combination of pumpkin, yogurt, and meat that works divinely together. In fact, after having done some research, it appears that Kaddo Bourani (or Kaddy B) is actually a signature dish for the restaurant AND the recipe is widely available online. Oh happy fun times. All I had to do was procure a pumpkin.
Turns out pumpkins are impossible to find out of season; so I turned to that other reliable gourd: the butternut squash. Reviews online said that the dish works fine with butternut squash, but pumpkin’s really where it’s at. Alas, this would not be a faithful recreation, but I’d have to do my best.
My Afghani journey after the jump. Be warned: this is not a healthy dish. You might see some things that will turn your stomach just a tad…
First up: the squash. Please note that I doubled this recipe. Hence, two butternut beuts.
I’d never prepped butternut squash before, but after having watched a YouTube video about it, I felt confident I could handle the challenge. First step: stab the gourd IN THE HEART.
After a little maneuvering, I’ve split my squash — and no, that’s not some country saying for ‘Had a great time’ (although, I certainly did).
The squash, peeled. To all those assholes on the Internet who said to just peel the skin with a standard vegetable peeler, you are all LIARS. My peeler was most certainly not up for the task; so I had to spent twenty minutes with a knife shaving the skins off. UGH.
Next I cut the squash into wildly inconsistent pieces (sorry, Tom Colicchio) and place them both on a baking sheet and in a dutch oven. It all gets tossed with — cringe — three quarters of a cup of canola oil (recipe calls for corn oil, FYI).
I used the dutch oven only because I didn’t really have anything better for the squash overflow.
Now it’s time for the next step…
Sugar! Health fiends, look the other way…
Is it Christmastime because I think it certainly snowed in my kitchen. Yes, this recipe calls for mucho sugar. THREE cups to be exact. And doubled, that means SIX CUPS OF SUGAR. Every recipe said “Yes, yes, just do it,” but I couldn’t. I cut it off after a mere FOUR cups.
Methinks that with all the sugar present, the difference between pumpkin and butternut squash shall be negligible.
Also, I learned after the fact that the pieces were not supposed to be cubes but rather large chunks. Between the non-pumpkin, the reduced sugar, and the incorrect cutting, this dish was certainly headed in a strange direction.
The squash goes into the oven at 300 degrees where it will stay for the next two hours. Meanwhile, I assemble the yogurt sauce: yogurt, dried mint, garlic, and salt. Honestly, the yogurt alone is massively delicious. Make this for a snack, and you won’t be disappointed.
With about forty-five minutes of baking time left for the squash, I get to work on the meat sauce. First I must brown two onions in canola oil (again, it’s supposed to be corn oil, but I don’t have that shizz).
Some sloppy mis-en-plÃ ce: diced tomatoes, coriander, garlic, and tomato paste.
When the onions are browned, I add the meat. The recipe calls for 1.5 lbs; so here are 3 whopping lbs of ground beef. It’s like half a baby in the pan.
A few stirs and folds later, and I have a neat sloppy joe situation going on.
Once the beef is cooked, I add the tomatoes. Note all the charming liquid that’s emerged from the meat.
A few stirs later, and the tomatoes are all incorporated. The garlic and coriander enter the fray also, as does pepper, salt, and turmeric.
Five minutes later, I add the tomato paste. I’m also supposed to add water, but the pan already has plenty of liquid in it. I decide to keep as is. Look at me thinking on my feet! (as I veer from the recipe yet again)
Soon I have to cover the pan and simmer on low for fifteen minutes. One problem: I have no cover!
Some ingenuity on my part.
At the two hour mark, I take the squash out of the oven. I’m supposed to baste it in its own juices, but that seems redundant as it appears to be swimming in them. Probably would’ve made more sense if I had cute the pieces the correct way.
Things look lovely in the other pan too. The original recipe calls for basting at the two and a half hour mark, but with the small cuts, I feel like two hours is appropriate (further improving. I fear a disaster on my hands).
Meanwhile, the meat sauce is done. Looks good.
The yogurt is in its to-go container. Let me reiterate how delicious it is.
Uh oh. So after basting, I’m supposed to cook for forty-five more minutes. I decide to halt the process at twenty-five minutes. It’s too late for this pan though. The butternut has over-caramelized, and while it’s certainly delicious and goopy, the piece I try is on the chewy side. DISASTER.
The squash in the dutch oven, however, is perfecto. I debate tossing the bad batch, but I decide it will still taste great, even if it is a little chewy. Onwards and upwards!
At the dinner party, I assemble the dish: a layer of squash, a layer of yogurt, and a layer of beef sauce. The bowl winds up weighing about fifteen pounds.
I would not call this the most charming presentation, but for a potluck it will have to do. Normally, the dish is far more composed and lovely
A fine array of the dishes. This was only about half of what eventually people brought.
One of the hostesses, Lindsey, mugs for the camera.
The other hostess, Julia, in the red.
I’m happy to report that the Kaddo Bourani was a big hit, even if it did look like vomit by the end of the night.
The verdict: really delicious. This was a tricky dish and probably not one I’d make often, on account of all the sugar, but even despite my snafus and departures from the recipe, it turned out amazingly. Definitely a big hit, and should you get invited to a potluck, it’s definitely an item that will impress people. The sweetness of the squash is perfectly balanced by the tart tanginess of the yogurt and the savory punch of the beef. When Autumn rolls around, I’ll certainly be giving this dish a whirl with actual pumpkin…
If you’re interested in trying it yourself, check out the recipe here.