Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Helmand

          The Helmand is an Afghani restaurant in East Cambridge, on the same block as the galleria. Never having tried Afghani before I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was excited to try something new. It was a unique (and delicious) experience, but if I had to compare to another type of cuisine I’d say it’s most similar to Lebanese.

          We walked in around 8:30pm on a Monday night and the place was about half full. We were seated right away next to the large stone hearth used for baking bread. The woman who seated us (I wasn’t sure if she was a hostess or manager) told us it was the best table in the house. She was very friendly, asked if we’d been there before, and when we said we hadn’t, she reviewed the menu with us and pointed out some of the house specialties. We ended up trying all of her recommendations and had a great meal.

        We started with two appetizers, the mantwo and kaddo. The mantwo was described on the menu as homemade pastry shells filled with beef. I was expecting more of a crispy shell, but when they arrived it was more like two large homemade ravioli stuffed with braised beef. This was served with two sauces (yogurt and tomato with beef), and chickpeas. The kaddo was about half of a baby pumpkin, pan fried with cinnamon and sugar, and served with the same yogurt and tomato sauces. We enjoyed both appetizers equally, and it was the perfect balance of sweet and savory.

 
Kaddo

Mantwo

         We tried two of the lamb dishes for our entrees, the chowpan and dwopiaza. The chowpan was one of the recommendations and was the only bone-in lamb dish on the menu. It included three lamb chops cooked to a perfect medium, served with a slice of poached pear, pallow rice (rice baked with cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin seed and black pepper), fresh baked bread, and a sautéed eggplant that reminded me of an Italian caponata. This was by far my favorite dish of the night (although the entire meal was outstanding). The dwopiaza was seasoned lamb tenderloin, cooked with onions, split peas, pallow rice, and fresh baked bread. This dish was also very good, but I always prefer the flavor of bone-in meat to boneless.

Chowpan

Dwopiaza

          We were so full we ended up taking half of each entrée home, but couldn’t leave without trying dessert. We ordered the rice pudding based on our server’s recommendation, and were very glad that we did. The only rice pudding I’ve had was Indian, and this was completely different. It was more like a crème brulee without the crispy top, and had a consistency more like custard than pudding. I asked if this was traditional Afghani rice pudding or Helmand’s version, and the server explained that it was completely authentic.

Rice Pudding

          Overall, this was a great meal and I would definitely go back. There were a few seafood dishes on the menu, as well as some interesting sounding desserts (like homemade pineapple cake) I would like to try.

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