Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Helmand - Afghani Food

The Helmand Restaurant in East Cambridge was one of the restaurants on our ever-growing list that somehow we never thought about making the effort to get across the river for.  However, after hearing many rave reviews it kept moving up and becoming more of a priority.  Finally it seemed like we had the perfect opportunity: it was a nice halfway point between Beacon Hill and our friends G and J in Winter Hill.

For those who have never heard of The Helmand, its an Afghani restaurant.  To be honest, I do not have much experience with middle eastern and Indian food, but each time I have it I enjoy it more and more.  The flavors are something so different than what I am used to.   While I knew I wanted to go to the Helmand, when I walked through the door, I realized I had not really looked at the menu and had no idea what to expect!

When the four of us arrived, the restaurant was busy, but we were seated straight away.  We reviewed the drink menu briefly and three of us settled on Anchor Steam while G got a glass of wine.

Shortly after the drinks arrived, while we were still reviewing the menu our server brought over some delicious flat bread cooked right behind us in an open wood fire grill.  The flat bread was delicious, a cross between wheat and white bread.  The texture was perfect and got me excited for the rest of the meal.

Flat Bread
Wood Fire Grill
I really did not do my research like I normally do when going to a new restaurants so I just had to trust my instincts.  With it being fall and all I decided to indulge in a pumpkin dish - the Kaddo, which had pan-fried then baked baby pumpkin seasoned with sugar and served on yogurt garlic sauce, topped with a ground beef sauce similar to a bolognese.  This dish was unreal - I would go back to the Helmand for just this dish.  The combination of pumpkin, yogurt sauce and ground beef was perfect.  

To accompany the dishes, the server brought us a trio of sauces: one spicy, one yogurt-based and one made of cilantro.  All three worked with just about everything that came to our table, especially the bread.

Trio of Sauces
Most of the entree choices come with either Challow, a rice boiled then drained of water, seasoned with canola oil, cumin seed and then baked, or Pallow, rice boiled then drained of water, seasoned with canola oil, cardomum, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin seed and black pepper and then baked.  This helped me narrow my dinner choice because I knew I wanted the pallow - I wanted spice!  

Given the number of lamb dishes on the menu I actually had more than a few options.  I settled upon the Chowpan, which had a half rack of lamb marinated, grilled and served on a bed of Afghan bread with sauteed eggplant and pallow rice.  The lamb was cooked perfectly and there were so many flavors in each bite.  I loved the sauteed eggplant as well.  It was prepared differently that I had ever had before.  

Nick went with the Lamb Lawand, which was a leg of lamb sauteed with onion, tomatoes, garlic, mushrooms, fresh cilantro, yogurt and spices served with sauteed spinach and challow rice.

Lamb Lawand
J went with a special and had the Qoremay Ma-He, which was fresh sea bass pan fried, then sauteed with onion and peeled tomatoes, garlic, ginger and sun-dried tomatoes, radishes and potatoes all served with Challow rice.

Qoremay Ma-He
G also went with a special: the Ma-He Berian, which was a filet of trout pan fried, served with sauteed eggplant and rice seasoned with dates and walnuts.

Ma-He Berian
Just like my dish, the other three in our group really enjoyed their plates.  Again, each of these plates had a combination of spices we don't generally see in much food.  It was fun to get to taste something new and different and explore new regions.

While we were stuffed, we could not resist dessert.  The menu had some good options - too many to resist.  I went with the bucklawa, layers of homemade thin pastry with walnuts, almonds and pistachios, spiced with cinnamon and cloves and then baked and finished with honey caramel.  While similar to balaclava, the pistachios and other components gave this dessert a bit more dimension without the sweet flavor of its Greek relative.

Naturally Nick went with the Sheerberaing rice pudding, which is served with pistachio and cardamom.  While the flavors were excellent, it was a little bit thicker than he would have liked.

Sheerberaing Rice Pudding
G had the Feereney, which was cream pudding topped with fresh kiwi, mango, raspberry, blueberry, and strawberry.  While the fruit was refreshing after a flavorful and rich meal, like Nick's rice pudding, the cream pudding in this dish was also a bit too thick.

Rice pudding aside, The Helmand totally lived up to the hype.  I loved all the fun flavors that each dish had to offer.  However, the shining star for me was the pumpkin appetizer.  That alone is worth the trip across the river.

Helmand on Urbanspoon


  1. LOVE the Helmand! Their flat bread is so addictive, especially when it is fresh out of the brick-fire oven!

  2. I LOVED Helmand, my meal there was fabulous. I love the kaddo.

  3. This has been on our list of places to visit forever! I don't know why we haven't gotten there yet, but the food looks delicious!

  4. I have heard many rave reviews, but still haven't visited this place!! I love getting to experience new flavors, sounds like everything was spot on!

  5. The kaddo is amazing! Let me know next time you want to head to my side of the river! :)

  6. Z took me here for our anniversary last year and I absolutely loved it. I definitely need to go back sometime soon!

  7. I can't get enough of the Helmand! And, it's funny, I don't think I've eaten any of the entree you guys ordered. they all look great!


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