Once in a while my fiance and I will look on the internet for a new cuisine, use yelp.com to find a new restaurant, and head out for an entirely new experience. This time we found a small Afghani restaurant and I read that the pumpkin was one of the must have dishes on the menu. There are times when just a bite is enough to create a last food memory. The longer I work in the food business the harder it is for me to experience something entirely new and when it does happen the rush is something I never forget. The ambience, the smells, tastes and textures as well as the company get seared in my memory. The pumpkin dish is one of those moments.
I was determined to find the recipe to recreate it at home. I came across a recipe based on Helmand in Cambridge. Tonight I tried cooking the recipe with a few alterations to improve the healthiness of it.
It came out exactly as I remember! Each bite a delicious juxtaposition of sweet, savory, creamy, tart and earthy. What I love about this recipe is it's seasonality. Sugar pumpkins are only available for a short time during the fall months peaking in October. This past weekend I grabbed 4 while at the farmer's market. Two for pie filling and 2 for this recipe. Here is the recipe as it was written and I will indicate the changes I made as well. You choose which one you make and let me know how it turns out for you! I halfed the recipe as it was for only 2 people and it still make a great deal of food, the recipe here is as I stated, the original recipe.
For the Pumpkin:
2 Sugar Pie Pumpkins, approximately 3 lbs each ( I used just 1 pumpkin)
6 Tbsp Corn Oil (I used 3)
3 C. Sugar (I used 3/4 C) I felt the sugar in this recipe was ridiculously excessive and a significant waste of calories
2 C Plain Yogurt (The recipe was insistant not to use lowfat yogurt but I used non-fat greek yogurt and it turned out great)
2 Garlic Cloves, Minced
1 tsp Dried Mint
1/2 tsp Salt
I chose to skip the entire yogurt step and just used plain yogurt. It tasted exactly as I remember.
For the Meat Sauce:
1/4 C. Corn Oil (I just used a Tbsp)
1 Large Onion, finely minced (I used 1/2)
1 1/2 lbs Ground Beef (I used 3/4 pound 93% lean)
1 Large Tomato, Seeded and and Finely Chopped (1/2)
2 Large Garlic Cloves, Minced
1 1/4 tsp Coriander
1 1/2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper
2 Tbsp Tomato Paste (I used 1 at first but it didn't get the taste or texture right so I found it needed 2 even for the half quantity)
1 1/2 C. Water (I used 2/3 C)
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
Wash the pumpkins skin and using a large knife cut in half. Scrape out the guts and seeds. I was able to peel of the skin and any green portions with a standard vegetable peeler. Then cut each half into 6 pieces and place them in a single layer hollow side up in a baking dish. Brush each piece lightly with oil and spread the sugar evenly over the pieces. It will look like an excessive amount even if you cut it back but it will work out in the end.
Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 2 1/2 hours. Baste the pieces with the pan juices, cover again, and bake an additional 45 minutes.
The sugar will have all melted away and a small part will be absorbed. The pumpkin will be dark orange and translucent. You will need a slotted spoon or spatula to transfer it to a plate.
For the Yogurt Sauce:
Mix all ingredients and refridgerate
For the Meat Sauce:
Brown the onions in the oil. Add the meat and brown over medium-high heat. You will want to break the meat up in small pieces. Add all the other through turmeric and cook, stirring, a few minutes. Stir in tomato paste and water. Lower the heat and cook until it has a thick texture.
Put a portion of pumpkin a plate with the curved side up. Place a small portion of meat sauce across the center with a dollop of yogurt on top. The largest portion of the meal should be the pumpkin.