“There was a slight learning curve for Afghan cuisine,” says Helmand. “But how popular is Indian cuisine and Middle Eastern cuisine? Afghan cuisine is such a good combination of the two. Even for more meat and potato eaters, this food does the trick. The flavors are very comforting, and I think that’s why the pumpkin dish was such a hit.
“The pumpkin dish” is the restaurant’s aperitif of Kaddo Bourani pumpkin, which has become the stuff of legend. Traditionally, you’ll find the dish at Afghan weddings and celebrations, in large hotel plates, and it’s usually served with a ground beef, turmeric, and cilantro sauce.
Over the years, Restaurant Helmand has given up on beef sauce and developed a vegetarian-only menu where kaddo bourani was the star. Pumpkin cubes seasoned with sugar, cardamom and cinnamon are drizzled with salted garlic yogurt and it continues to be a menu favorite.
“Pumpkin is one of those things, like when did you never have it in a pie?” Helmand said. “This dish creates such fun flavors on the palate and is exactly what you want before the holidays. Right after Halloween our walk-in is just full of pumpkins and it’s great because they don’t spoil for long.
Helmand says the dish is quite easy to prepare and that he and his wife Naomi even make it for their young daughter. He advises boiling the pumpkin before roasting it for maximum flavor, being careful not to overcook it. Another trick is that you can stick it inside the bolani, or Afghan stuffed flatbread, which makes the possibilities for kaddo bourani really endless.
“We could never take it off the menu and, in fact, I want to expand the way we use it,” he says. “We have been so grateful to see how more open people are to this food and have truly embraced it over the years.”