Immediately after writing that elaborate ode to pumpkin a few weeks back, I knew I needed to make this dish. I mentioned it in the very first sentence of that post, setting off a worldwide chain of events culminating in The Best Combination Ever.
Of course, I knew that this dish should constitute, technically, The Best Combination Ever. I first tasted it at the deservedly popular Afghan Helmand Restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And everyone who’s ever been there knows about this dish. My mother is, naturally, a huge fan and, in great form, promptly decided to make it the moment she was reminded of its sweet, savoury, tangy goodness in the aforementioned ode.
Some back story: kaddo bourani is an Afghan dish of sugared roasted pumpkin topped with garlic-mint yogurt sauce and beef ragù. In some extraordinary alignment of the stars, this just happens to be The Best Combination Ever.
But even though I knew how good sugared pumpkin coated in garlicky yogurt and rich beef sauces could be, I was tentative. Why mess up an untarnished food memory? My most recent exploration, while edible, was, as I mentioned, no New York City hot dog. And besides, if I mess up pad thai, there’s always the Thai place down the street to wash away the memories of my own mediocre results. But, as far as I know anyways, there are no Afghan restaurants in Sydney. If I screwed up, I’d have nothing to fall back on.
When my mom called to rave of its perfection – despite the fact that she left out the beef sauce – I clearly had no other choice. I had decided to cook outside my comfort zone, and I needed to stick to my plan. Kaddo bourani here I come.
I was nervous, I’ll admit. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly (it called for THREE CUPS of sugar. Do you realize how much THREE CUPS of sugar is?!), which can sometimes lead to disasters (like this especially delicious one). I made the pumpkin (which needs to roast for a couple hours) the day before but it didn’t get too soggy. (I made the beef sauce the day before because meat sauces are always better when made in advance). I also don’t keep dried mint around, so I had to knock on my neighbors and ask for some of the fresh stuff, which worked perfectly.
By far the hardest part of the whole thing is cutting and peeling the pumpkin. Once that’s over, the rest is a breeze. Each component on its own is really outstanding. I could eat any of them on its own and be very, very happy. But man, when you put them together, they really equal more than the sum of their parts.
When all is said and done, I’m not sure if I have enough mastery of the English language to adequately describe how good this kaddo bourani was. Good enough to justify the annoyance of peeling and chopping a big hunk of pumpkin times one million. Good enough to that my orthodox-palated Italian actually suggested that we eat the scrumptious leftover (and decidedly not Italian) ragù on pasta. Good enough that I can’t help but dream up new ways to use that amazing yogurt sauce. Good enough…
Sweet Pumpkin. Savoury Beef. Tangy, Garlicky, Minty Yogurt.
Best Combination Ever.
KADDO BOURANI (Afghan Pumpkin with Yogurt & Beef Sauces)
This is a stunningly delicious dish that’s also beautiful to serve. I adapted it from bits and pieces I found all over the internet, but mostly from here and here. These measurements will feed six as an appetizer (you’ll probably have some beef left over), but you can easily make larger portions and serve it as a main course. It’s perfect for a dinner party because you can prepare everything the day before and just heat and assemble before serving.
If you are (or associate with) a vegetarian, feel free to leave out the beef sauce. It’ll result in The Second Best Combination Ever. But that’s still something.
1/3 large pumpkin*
1/4 cup oil
1 cup sugar
Preheat the oven to 300°F/160°C. Chop pumpkin into half-moon shaped slices about 2″ wide (removing all seeds). Peel each slice so that only orange flesh remains. That was the trickiest part, so once that’s done, you’re home free. Now, line a baking sheet or dish with tin foil and arrange slices on top. You may need more than one tray. If you’re lazy/time-pressed, just chop the pumpkin into largish pieces and use a knife to remove all peel and rind.
Use your hands to rub the oil all over the pumpkin slices, then rub in all the sugar. Yes, it’s going to seem like waaaay too much, but just go for it, coating all over each slice. Bake for about 2 hours, basting once with the pan juices that form. They’ll be ready when the flesh has turned a deep orange. You can make this a day in advance; keep on the tray under tin foil at room temperature.
* Ideally, you’ll want to use sugar pumpkin. I used a Queensland Blue pumpkin, which is probably not available outside Australia, and, as its named indicates, has a bluish peel. You can use squash if that’s easier for you, but pumpkin is ideal. As far as quantity goes, just buy as much as you think you need. And remember: too much is better than not enough.
FOR BEEF SAUCE:
1/4 cup oil
1 onion, chopped
1 lb (450 grams) ground beef
1 tomato, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground tumeric
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
a big pinch of cumin seeds (I didn’t have ground coriander, but use it if you do)
1 cup tomato purée (or 2 tbl tomato paste + 1 cup water)
In a large pot, fry the onion in the oil over medium-high heat until browning, about 10 minutes. Add the ground beef and break it up with a wooden spoon. When meat has lost its pinkness, add the chopped tomato, garlic, salt, tumeric, pepper and ground coriander (or cumin seeds). Stir around for 5 minutes or so, then add the tomato purée (or tomato paste and water). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the sauce has lost much but not all of its liquid. You can make this up to a few days ahead (store in the fridge).
FOR YOGURT SAUCE:
1 1/4 cup good-quality plain yogurt
2 garlic cloves, minced
10 mint leaves, finely chopped (or 1 tsp dried mint)
1 tsp salt
In a small bowl, mix all the ingredients together at least 1 hour before serving (and up to one day). Store in the fridge until about 20 minutes before ready to use.
On each individual plate: hot pumpkin slice (or pieces), cold yogurt sauce, then hot beef sauce. Sprinkle with fresh mint if desired.