I learned a new word today: cucurbitacean. It means, “A person who regards pumpkins or squashes with deep, often rapturous love.” Guilty. As. Charged. And let me make this clear if I haven’t done so already: if loving pumpkin is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.
When I went to the Helmand Restaurant in Baltimore, I tried this gorgeous Afghan dish called kaddo bourani. In a traditional kaddo, pumpkin is slow roasted in sugar and oil until it’s caramelized and deliriously silky, then topped with two sauces, one made of yogurt and the other from ground beef. I’ve not had it with ground beef but I assure you, the vegetarian, yogurt-only version kicks some serious ass. The major downsides to kaddo are that it takes like four hours to make (prep time, plus three and a half hours or so in the oven, and ain’t nobody got time for that) and it uses a ton of sugar. Like, three cups worth of sugar. I can’t bring myself to do it unless it’s a special occasion (and I’ve done it and the results have been worth it, I do confess; it’s so not hard, it’s just mega time consuming). Here’s what I used for the lower-sugar, shorter-time, non-traditional baked pumpkin goodness:
- 1 regular-sized (3-5 pound) baby blue hubbard squash, seeded and cut into chunks (more on this in a minute)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons sumac/your seasoning of choice (more on this in a minute)
- 1/4 cup vegetable stock or water
- salt and pepper to taste
- enough oil to coat the pumpkin well
- chopped fresh mint for garnish
And for the yogurt sauce:
- 1 cup unsweetened Greek yogurt
- 1-2 cloves garlic (rein it in here, since the garlic is raw. My cloves were very small inner cloves, so I used two)
- 1/4 teaspoon honey
- a pinch of salt/pepper to taste
So this is based on the idea of a kaddo bourani, sort of, but cooked at a higher temp so it doesn’t take anywhere near three + hours, and only uses a wee tiny bit of sugar. Traditional? Not by a long shot. But still delicious. And easy. As always, the hardest part of this is getting inside the pumpkin. Just go about it piece by piece, use a sharp, heavy chef’s knife, and let the blade do as much of the work as possible. There’s no “easy way” to break down a thick-skinned squash. And as a warning: I will generally use the words “squash” and “pumpkin” interchangeably here, so if I refer to a pumpkin I don’t mean a jack-o-lantern type thing, unless I specify. So a blue hubbard squash? Is also a pumpkin. Dig?
I used a baby blue hubbard squash because I saw it at a farmer’s market and had to buy it; it’s simply what I had on hand (regular, non-baby hubbards can weigh up to 11 pounds, so unless you’re feeding an army, I don’t recommend it). Use whatever you can get your hands on–sugar pumpkin, butternut squash. Acorn or sweet dumpling squash could be interesting, plus you wouldn’t have to peel it, which is a bonus. (I know I’ve said this before but reminder: YES you can eat acorn squash skin. And I digress.) Each pumpkin will impart its own characteristics to the dish. Hubbard squash, for example, is a bit more starchy and floury than butternut, so the end product will have a bit more of a crumbly texture, while retaining its deeply sweet flavor. Did I mention how good and sweet the hubbard smelled just when I cut it open? It smelled like fresh pie. Oh, the joy. I could go on but instead? Next step.
Preheat your oven to 425°. Dismantle the pumpkin and cut it into thick strips. Or you could big-chunk it. Whatever you prefer.
Place your squash in the bottom of a roasting pan that has a lid, or one that you can tightly cover with foil. Coat it with oil, salt and pepper and give it a good stir so it’s evenly distributed, then arrange the squash so it’s got the concave side (the one receptive to holding yummy spices) facing up. Add the sumac and sugar.
Regarding sumac: it’s not a spice found in most US pantries, I get it, I know. If you’re feeling adventurous you might want to buy some and try it; it’s fruity and tart and not spicy-hot at all. If not, then feel free to use coriander or cumin. Fennel would be fun with this. I chose sumac because it’s a Middle Eastern spice and I thought…well, if I can’t make a traditional Afghan kaddo, the least I can do is use region-appropriate flavors. But ultimately, the objective should be to find something that’s kind of fruity and not overwhelming and will blend harmoniously with the sweetness of the pumpkin and the added sugar.
Once you’ve added your preferred spice and the sugar, take the 1/4 cup of liquid and add it to the bottom of the roasting pan. You don’t want to pour it all over the top of the pumpkin because you don’t want to disturb the sugar and sumac, so pour it in along the side. You just want something to create steam and help with the cooking, and create a little bit of a sauce. You could add some more liquid if you don’t feel like you have enough, but don’t go crazy and add any more than 1/2 cup total. Once that’s in, put the lid on and toss it in your nice hot oven. For like an hour.
That’s it. Well, almost. But the hard work is done.
While the pumpkin cooks, make the yogurt sauce. Mix yogurt, garlic that you’ve pressed or grated on a fine grater, honey, salt and pepper. If you can’t eat garlic, some lemon zest works really well instead. Taste, and adjust your seasonings if necessary. Take a moment to be overwhelmed by how good a simple sauce like this can be. Set it aside.
Clean, pat dry and roughly chop some fresh mint.
Hang out and read something while you wait. Or, you know. Cook whatever else you’re eating for dinner.
Check on the pumpkin after about a half an hour, and shift it in the pan. If you don’t shift it, the sugars in the part of the pumpkin that’s touching the bottom of the roaster will start to caramelize and you’ll have a semi-solid lower shell that’s, quite frankly, pretty tasty but can be hard to get your fork through. My boyfriend likes it; I think it’s kind of annoying. Check it at an hour to see how fork-tender it is; the texture will depend on the pumpkin you used, how thick you cut it, etc. I left mine in the oven for 70 minutes total.
Leave the lid on the roaster after you take it out of the oven, while you set the table and do whatever else you need to do to get ready for dinner, as this will add some steamy carryover cooking time, ensuring soft deliciousness. Take the pumpkin out of the roaster and loosen up any thick, caramelly sugar with some additional broth or water; you’ll have a very thin, sweet sauce to drizzle over the pumpkin before serving. Toss on your chopped mint and serve with yogurt sauce on the side.
This is the sort of hearty, beautiful cold weather food that makes me get all a-flutter. We ate this with roasted spiced beets and sauteed beet greens (recipe coming soon), roasted parsnips (recipe coming soon) and polenta that George made and about which I cannot blog (having never made it), except to say that he makes a wonderful polenta and I am a lucky woman.
And really, if you have the time, try making real kaddo bourani some day. (Or make your way to Baltimore and have some at the Helmand.) It’s extraordinary.