October 02, 2019

Afghan Inspired Roasted Pumpkin with Spiced Beef and Mint-Kefir Sauces





Ingredients:

for the pumpkin:
1 3-4 lb sugar pumpkin (aka pie pumpkin)
olive oil

for the sauce:
2-3 tablespoons minced fresh mint
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup plain Lifeway whole milk kefir
salt

for the meat sauce:
1 onion, diced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 1/3 lb lean ground beef
8 oz canned tomato sauce (not puree, not paste)
2 tablespoons ginger-garlic paste (or make your own with fresh ginger and garlic)
8 oz water
salt
freshly ground black pepper



Direction:

Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Set aside.



Cut the pumpkin in half vertically. Remove seeds and loose pulp (save the seeds for roasting!).  Lightly oil the pumpkin inside and out and place it cut-side down on the sheet.








Bake for 40 minutes or until a knife easily pieces the flesh. In a small bowl, whisk together the sauce ingredients. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.


Meanwhile, saute the onion until translucent. Add the spices and saute for 1 minute. Add the ground beef and brown, breaking up any large pieces. Add the tomato sauce, garlic ginger paste and water and simmer until the liquid reduces by half.

To serve: halve each pumpkin halve and fill with meat. Drizzle with sauce.

Serves 4.




My thoughts:
If you follow me on Instagram, you've probably seen me post the backstory to this pumpkin. Yes, my pumpkin has a backstory. We've never had luck growing vegetables in our yard, despite have excellent luck with various fruit trees and bushes, so we gave up planting anything. This year, nature had other plans because one morning I realized that we had a mysterious squash plant growing near my back door. It grew bigger and bigger and finally, it fruited and it was clear it was a pumpkin! Not only that but it was clearly a sugar pumpkin made for eating. What should I make?

Long-time readers also know I hate pumpkin pie so that was out. So what else could I do? I got a few good suggestions on Twitter and decided to take one from a fellow Baltimore blogger and make kaddo, an Afghan pumpkin dish. I'd had a sweet pumpkin appetizer at Baltimore stalwart The Helmand that had sugared pumpkin and a creamy yogurt sauce. I think it's pretty much their signature dish, every time the restaurant comes up in conversation somone mentions it. Anyway, I started to google recipes and realized that there is another version out there that adds a meat sauce to the mix. This sounded perfect because my pumpkins are a little bigger than app size and the addition of meat would make it into a more filling meal. I dug a little deeper into the recipe and really couldn't find any real connection to an Afghan dish actually served in Afghanistan. All of the recipes seemed to come back to a restaurant named Helmand in San Francisco, or a restaurant in Cambridge, MA also named Helmand (note to Afghan restaurants, maybe a new name is in order). Even blogs specializing in Afghan recipes admitted they didn't eat the dish while in Afghanistan but at one of these restaurants. So, I'm not entirely convinced kaddo bourani is some authentic Afghan dish. It does use a lot of the same flavors as other meat-based Afghan dishes and there are recipes for sweetened pumpkin so my guess is that some chef combined the two, added yogurt (a familiar addition in Afghan cuisine) and created a new dish. If you know more, please email me! I'm very interested.

So I checked out the menus of the various Helmand restaurants and came up with this recipe. It's almost like making sloppy joes, to be honest, so it is quite quick. The pumpkin takes a while but honestly, that requires no hands-on time so you really could make this on a weeknight and really impress someone.

After cracking the meat sauce, I moved on the yogurt sauce. Since I wanted to make this quick, I wanted to make the simplest sauce possible. I love doogh, a salty yogurt drink that is popular in Afganistan. It's often flavored with mint which reminded me of the sauce you pour over the meat and pumpkin and I wondered if I could just use that but is a little tricky to find in local stores.

I had heard about the Lifeway Kefir blogger contest. Kefir reminds me a lot of doogh, they are both lightly bubbly and of course yogurt-based but Lifeway Kefir is sold at Safeway, Giant, and Shoprite locally and I wouldn't have to track down doogh or make my own. Doogh isn't traditionally used as a sauce anyway, normally you thin out yogurt so using kefir which is already the consistency of thin yogurt was perfect. Less work, great yogurt flavor, and ton of probiotics? Sign me up.

The whole dish really came together. A lot of recipes I found online had you heavily sugaring the pumpkin and baking it for a very long time but I didn't find that either was needed. Sugar pumpkins are quite sweet naturally (it's in the name!) and truly don't need a long roasting time or sugar for them to provide the necessary sweet contrast in the dish. The meat sauce is deeply flavored and is complemented by the rich, minty sauce. The presentation is quite impressive too! I served this for an everyday meal but it would be perfect for a dinner party. You can easily double the recipe.


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