Whip Up the Delicious Pumpkin Appetizer Kaddo Bourani
Helmand Karzai shares a recipe for this special Afghan dish.
When the Karzai family opened their first Helmand restaurant in Chicago in 1983, they weren’t sure how Afghan cuisine would be embraced. The Chicago Tribune food critic Phil Vettel lauded the “exotic cuisine” at the time, impressed with the decor of elaborate tapestries and immaculate service. Four years later, Qayam Karzai and his brother Mahmood opened another Helmand location in Baltimore, in a cultural neighborhood near art museums and the city symphony.
“It was a hit in the right neighborhood at the right time,” says Qayam’s namesake son, Helmand, who runs the restaurant today. “From what people have told me, to have ethnic cuisine in a white tablecloth environment with tuxedoed waiters, was a bit different at the time. It’s not that formal anymore, but it was always affordable. So that made it pretty popular.”
Helmand started out as a busboy in the summers when he was 14 (the Chicago location ended up closing around that time), and he remembers the restaurant always being busy. Despite political turmoil in the Karzai family’s home country and prejudices unfairly lofted towards the community after September 11, the Helmand has persevered and been embraced for 32 years.
“There was a slight learning curve for Afghan cuisine,” Helmand says. “But how popular is Indian cuisine and Middle Eastern food? Afghan cuisine is such a great combination of the two. Even for more meat and potato eaters, this food fits the bill. The flavors are very comforting, and I think that’s why the pumpkin dish has been a success.”
“The pumpkin dish” is the restaurant’s kaddo bourani pumpkin appetizer, which has become the stuff of legend. Traditionally, you’ll find the dish at Afghan weddings and celebrations, in big hotel sheet pans, and it’s typically served with a ground beef sauce with turmeric and coriander.
Over the years, the Helmand restaurant nixed the beef sauce and developed a vegetarian-only menu where kaddo bourani was the star. Cubes of pumpkin seasoned with sugar, cardamom, and cinnamon are drizzled with salty, garlicky yogurt and it continues to be a menu favorite.
“Pumpkin is one of those things, like when do you ever not have it in a pie?” Helmand says. “This dish creates such fun mouth flavors and is exactly what you want leading up to the holidays. Right after Halloween, our walk-in is just full of pumpkins and it’s great because they don’t go bad for a long time.”
Helmand says the dish is pretty easy to make and he and his wife Naomi even make it for their young daughter. He advises to boil the pumpkin before roasting it for maximum flavor, being careful not to overcook it. Another tip is that you could stick it inside bolani, or Afghan stuffed flatbread, making the possibilities for kaddo bourani truly endless.
“We could never take it off the menu and, in fact, I want to expand how we use it,” he says. “We’ve just been so grateful to see just how people are more open to this food and really embraced it over the years.”
Kaddo Bourani Recipe
- 1 pound pumpkin, approx ¼ small pumpkin (a lot of farms call them spookie pumpkins)
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 cups sugar
- ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1¼ teaspoon ground coriander
- ¼ cup plain yogurt
- ¼ teaspoon granulated garlic
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. De-seed pumpkin and peel off skin. Cut the pumpkin into five pieces, and put in a five-quart stock pot.
3. Fill it three-quarters of the way with water, add 1½ cups of sugar, boil for 30 minutes or until tender but not falling apart.
4. Heat a pan with canola oil, place pumpkin inside, sprinkle sugar and salt on top.
5. Stick the pan in the oven at 375 for 10 minutes, flip it, sprinkle additional sugar, coriander, cinnamon, and salt, and put back in the oven for 10 minutes.
6. While the pumpkin is cooking, mix together yogurt, salt, and garlic really well. (You can also do this in advance and refrigerate for best results.)
7. Serve pumpkin warm with yogurt sauce on top.