One evening while in Baltimore, some colleagues and I decided to share a meal at The Helmand. This was my first time trying Afghan food, and I loved it. The dishes are similar to Indian cuisine, but also very different: Afghan cooking incorporates much more vegetables, fruits and nuts, for one thing. They also don’t seem to use curry (at least not as much), leaving you with a nice mild heat instead of that ever-building sweat you get from traditional Indian dishes. We ordered several different dishes and shared family-style, which seemed to be the best way to sample it all. And if you ever find yourself out that way: the kaddo borawni was to die for (stewed pumpkin, sweet as can be but also with a garlicy bite and cool yogurt sauce. Wow).
Now, I want to add here that I made some major adjustments to the recipe I found: I traded in the lamb shoulder for ground lamb, for one (the butchers were gone from the grocery store when I went shopping and I wasn’t buying the $50 pre-packaged shoulder, so ground lamb it was going to be). Also, I didn’t buy rosewater. I adapted the recipe a bit to make up for the changes, and from what I can tell it was still fairly successful: lamb chunks with sweet sauted carrots and plump raisins, in a brown, spiced rice. Mmmm. This recipe uses a few pots and pans and has a few more steps than your usual casserole, but I still love it and will probably put it on regular rotation at our house.
(Adapted from Saveur magazine, no. 109)
1 1/4 c. basmati rice
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
1⁄2 tsp. ground cardamom
1⁄2 tsp. ground cloves
Put rice into a large bowl and cover with water; let soak for 20 minutes. Drain rice and reserve. Combine coriander, cinnamon, pepper, cumin, cardamom, and cloves in a bowl, and set aside.
Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Season lamb with salt and about 1/4 of the spice mixture. Brown meat (breaking up so that it is medium-sized chunks), about 8–10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer lamb to a plate; set aside.
Reduce heat to medium, add onion, and cook, stirring, until browned, 12–15 minutes. Return lamb to pot with 2 cups water; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, about 15-20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer lamb to a plate; set aside. Reserve cooking liquid in pot.
Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add carrots, season with salt, and cook, stirring, until tender, about 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer carrots to a plate; set aside. Add raisins; cook until plump, 2–3 minutes. Set raisins aside.
Add rice to reserved pot; stir in half the spices and 1 1/2 cups water; season with salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, without stirring, until liquid is just absorbed, 8–10 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle remaining spices over rice. Scatter lamb, carrots, and raisins over rice. Cover; continue to cook until rice is tender, about 25 minutes. Stir rice, lamb, carrots, and raisins together and season with salt and pepper; transfer to a serving platter. Pig out.