Monday, November 2, 2009

Peter, Peter

San Francisco is finally experiencing summer. Which is strange, of course, because it's now officially November. Seventy degrees in November? J and other B need to stop delaying the inevitable and move back here already!

Since the weather isn't convincing me, one harbinger of autumn is that Daylight Savings is officially over, and it gets dark so very early. It reminds me of ninth grade when the end of Daylight Savings basically spelled the end of the JV field hockey season. I loved field hockey; I was a midfielder who ran down the field in my plaid skirt and shin-guards and smacked the ball with the stick my dad had hand-crafted in his workshop. The JV squad always played games after the varsity team, which was fine for the first half of the season; unfortunately, by the second half of the season, post-Daylight Savings, the ref would call our games at half-time or even earlier because of impending darkness. Which was so totally unfair.

But enough memories of far away high school past for now. Also reminding me of fall is the pumpkin patch set up in the vacant lot across the street, complete with scarecrows and hay rides for the kiddies (though it will soon morph into a Christmas tree lot since Halloween is over). We bought our pumpkins there before we went to a pumpkin-carving party at V's last week. B went a little crazy with the detail work by using a special little pumpkin-carving hacksaw.

B's eyes are not as bloodshot as the pumpkin's, but the mouth expression is quite similar, no? Everyone else's pumpkins were pretty good too, though there was an awful lot of Texas pride exhibited for a California party. My rather traditional, angry-eyebrowed pumpkin is to the right of B's on the bottom level.

We haven't gotten pumpkin in the CSA box, but we have been getting squash regularly, last week of the butternut variety. Though he likes squash, B starts to clamor for pumpkin every fall. Pumpkin ice cream is pretty good (though there are better options in my opinion), but his favorite is Afghan pumpkin, which I have to agree is pretty delicious.

So, last week, when we bought our two pumpkins for carving at the local pumpkin patch, we also bought a Sugar Pie pumpkin for cooking. I've made pumpkin ravioli in the Afghan style before, but this year I decided to experiment with kaddo bourani, a slab of melt-in-your-mouth pumpkin served with meat sauce and drizzled with yogurt.

It's typically served as an appetizer or a side dish, but it is definitely substantial enough for dinner. I found a recipe published in the San Francisco Chronicle a few years ago from our favorite Afghan restaurant, Helmand. (Rumor has it that the owner is related to Hamid Karzai, but that may not be such a selling point these days.) I was disturbed to find out that it's not all natural pumpkin sweetness that you taste: there's quite a lot of sugar in the dish! The slightly spicy meat sauce and the cooling mint yogurt cut the sweetness; the perfect bite consists of all three components in nearly equal proportions.

When you're cleaning the pumpkin (whether for carving—next October, I guess—or for cooking), save the seeds. Spread them evenly on a cookie sheet lined with parchment, sprinkle generously with kosher salt and lightly with ground cumin, and bake for 8 to 10 minutes at 350 degrees, or until toasted. They're a delicious, healthy snack, best eaten the day you make them.

This pumpkin dish is one of the only ways I've ever seen pumpkin cooked as a main course, and not as a dessert. It's still sweet, like I mentioned, but the sweetness suits the natural flavor of the pumpkin (and I did cut down on the sugar in my adaptation below). The Chronicle describes this as a "weekend recipe" since it takes a good bit of time from start to finish. If you're not willing to invest four hours upfront (though a lot of it is unattended time), go to Helmand or your local Afghan restaurant first to try kaddo bourani. After you do, I'm sure you'll return to this post so that you can try making your own savory pumpkin dish at home. Enjoy!

Afghan-style Pumpkin with Meat and Yogurt Sauce (Kaddo Bourani)
Adapted from a recipe from Helmand

Serves: 4 for dinner, or 8 for appetizer
Time: 4 hours total, 30 minutes active

1 Sugar Pie pumpkin
3 T. canola oil
1 c. sugar

For the meat sauce:
2 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3/4 pound ground beef
1 tomato, chopped
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 t. ground coriander
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
1/2 t. turmeric
1/2 t. salt
1 T. tomato paste
1 c. water

For the yogurt sauce:
1 1/2 c. yogurt
1 clove garlic, smashed
1/2 t. dried mint, or more to taste
1/2 t. salt, or more to taste

First, prepare the pumpkin. Preheat oven to 300 degrees, and line a rimmed cookie sheet with foil. Using a large knife, cut pumpkin in half through the stem end, and clean out the seeds and stringy fibers. Cut pumpkin into quarters, and then cut each quarter in half crosswise. Place pumpkin pieces hollow-side-up on the foil, and coat evenly with oil using your fingers. Cover loosely with another piece of foil. Bake for 1 hour, until fork tender. Remove cookie sheet from oven, and allow pumpkin to cool for 10 minutes or so. When cool enough to touch, use a small paring knife to remove the rind from each pumpkin piece, then place each piece back on cookie sheet. Sprinkle evenly with sugar, and return to oven, loosely covered with foil, for another 2 1/4 hours until very soft. Baste with pan juices once during cooking.

Meanwhile, make the meat sauce. Heat olive oil in a heavy saucepan until hot but not smoking. Saute onions for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned. Add meat, breaking up pieces, and cook for 5 minutes or until no longer pink, stirring frequently. Add tomato, garlic, coriander, cayenne, turmeric, and salt, and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, and add water. Once water boils, turn heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes until a sauce forms. Meat sauce may be made ahead of time, and heated up as needed.

Make the yogurt sauce by stirring all ingredients together in a small bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To serve, place a small dollop of yogurt sauce on a plate. Top with a piece of pumpkin. Spoon 1/4 c. or so of meat sauce over the pumpkin, and drizzle with more yogurt sauce.

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