Periodically we invite friends and colleagues to be Guest Bloggers on Afghan Cooking Unveiled. Today Leslie Gordon, a mother of two, and author of Cheer, a novel, writes about her first taste of Afghan food during a visit to Helmand Palace in San Francisco. Helmand also has locations in Baltimore and Cambridge.
By Leslie Gordon, Guest Blogger
Nothing tickles me more than to hear one of my kids ask, “Mom, can we get Ethiopian food tonight?” Having been raised on noodles with butter and parmesan, I love that I have worldly City kids, who bring sushi in their lunch boxes and argue not about pizza toppings but whether to go to Indian or Chinese.
Sparked solely by Katie and Humaira’s blog, I decided to add Afghan food to our repertoire. I wasn’t at all familiar with the cuisine, but I’d been touched by Humaira’s family stories and intrigued at Katie’s apparent obsession with Afghan cooking. They recommended Helmand Palace in San Francisco.
Walking in there, I was worried that Helmand’s white table cloths clashed with our sweatshirts and Crocs. But the staff was welcoming and unconcerned about our attire.
While we waited for our first course, the kids devoured the bread. My daughter loved the yogurt cucumber sauce; my son couldn’t get enough of the cilantro-walnut sauce. We splurged on two appetizers. Our favorite was gulpea, a truly sensational cauliflower dish sautéed with fresh tomato and hot pepper, with fried onion and turmeric. It was a highlight of the meal. We scraped up every last bit of sauce with pieces of bread long after the cauliflower was finished.
The standout main course was murgh chalaw, which was akin to an Indian or Thai chicken yellow curry. It was rich and flavorful without being heavy or too spicy for kids. Palau rice, Afghanistan’s classic baked rice with chicken and spices was, of course, a huge hit all around. My daughter ate hers topped with the yogurt cucumber dipping sauce.
A further splurge, we ordered four desserts. Mine was Afghanistan’s version of baklava. It was delicious. My son had a wonderful fruit-topped cream dessert. My husband and daughter both ordered the rice pudding. The restaurant kindly accommodated my daughter’s food allergy and left the pistachios off of her dessert. There was something lovely and unusual about rice pudding being served on a flat dish rather than in a bowl.
Even with our “more-dishes-than-necessary” ordering, the meal was reasonably priced. As soon as we got home, I shot off one e-mail to my parents and sister, suggesting they not delay in trying Helmand, and another to Katie and Humaira, thanking them for the fabulous referral. No longer a passive reader of Afghan Cooking Unveiled, I am now perusing the blog for recipes to try at home. I predict I’ll soon hear the welcome chime of, “Mom, can we have Afghan food tonight?”