Monthly Archives: February 2012

Low-fat Thai Pumpkin Soup

I absolutely love pumpkin, and when I realized that it features prominently in many Thai dishes, I got even more excited. It was a few years ago that I first tasted Thai pumpkin soup at JJ’s in Streetsville. It was one of those “so good but so bad” moments. The soup was thick, creamy, spicy and aromatic – that perfect combination of sweet, sour, salty and spicy. But I knew it was loaded with full-fat coconut milk – it was like eating a bowl of cream.

Over the years, I have experimented with different recipes for Thai pumpkin soup, making cuts here and there, and I have come up with a low-fat version that meets all of my criteria for taste – but doesn’t leave me feeling guilty. Unlike many of the versions you might find in a Thai restaurant, mine is blended. This allows me to make a big pot and freeze it for a warming work lunch later in the week or month. Although every recipe I’ve ever came across warns not to use ‘low fat’ coconut milk, I ignored their warnings and went ahead with my experiments, confirming my suspicion that a switch to reduced fat coconut milk would eliminate nothing other than fat.

This recipe does require a few Thai ingredients that you wont find in the Asian aisle at a supermarket like Loblaw. You will have to head to T&T, Oceans, or another Asian supermarket. But the good news is that Thai chilis, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves can all be frozen, so you’ll only need to go out once. (Just make sure to wash and package them in freezer-grade ziplock bags when you come home). Do not try to substitute any of these ingredients – they are essential components. I have seen people blogging about how they substituted lime juice for the lime leaves, or jalapenos for the Thai bird chilies. This is counterintuitive. Lime leaves have nothing to do with lime juice – so you can’t swap them. You’ll end up with a Mexican pumpkin soup instead (which, come to think of it, might not be too bad  – but that’s not the point of making Thai pumpkin soup!)  Fish sauce and shrimp paste are absolutely necessary, too, if you want that authentic Thai flavour.

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

4 cups good quality vegetable or chicken stock

2 shallots, sliced in rings

1 stalk of lemongrass, either minced or bruised (I hate finding tough chunks of lemongrass in my blended soup, so I usually cut the stalk in half and bruise it, pulling it out just before blending)

1 thumb sized piece of galangal, grated or thinly sliced

A picture of galangal - as it comes packaged from the supermarket

3 cloves garlic

2 Thai red chilies (seeds removed)

3 kaffir lime leaves, whole

1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp coriander (ground)

Lemongrass in packaging

2 tbsp fish sauce

Kaffir lime leaves in packaging from T&T

1 tsp shrimp paste

1 tsp palm sugar, grated (or substitute brown sugar)

1 can reduced-fat coconut milk

1 lime, juiced

generous handful of Thai basil leaves, washed and stemmed

Instructions:

Bring the stock and the shallot, lemongrass, garlic, galangal, chilies and kaffir lime leaves to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to medium heat and add the chopped butternut squash. Simmer until squash is tender.

Add the dry spices one at a time, stirring in between, then add the fish sauce and shrimp paste. Allow to simmer for a few minutes. Remove the lime leaves (and the lemongrass if you used a whole, bruised stalk).

Stir in the coconut milk slowly. (Before pouring the coconut milk, you might consider reserving some of the thick cream – say, 3 tbsp – that has risen to the top of the milk. You can drizzle if over the soup later, as an attractive garnish. This would be pointless if you intend to freeze the soup or eat it at a later time).

At this point, if you intend to serve the soup fresh, you should blend the soup in batches, returning it to the pot to reheat. Just before serving it, add the lime juice to taste: begin with 1 tbsp and add up to 3 tbsp according to your personal taste. You may also have to adjust the fish sauce. The soup should have a perfect balance of sour and salty – with neither flavour overpowering the other. Chop the basil leaves and garnish each bowl of soup.

***If you plan on freezing the soup then I recommend adding the basil before blending. Return the soup to the pot and add lime juice, adjusting fish sauce as necessary.

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Filed under dinner, Gluten free, Soup, Thai

What to do with your Mayan Heirloom Squash

(Because I know you were wondering, right?) Do you have some Mayan squash kicking around? We were at Costco (of all places) and found a bag of Mayan heirloom squash, and boxes of Mayan sweet onions. Although I recognized the onions as being an essential ingredient in the famous Yucatan soup – Sopa de Lima, I had never seen this variety of squash before. We looked at each other and nodded, placing a bag of the pretty little green squash in our oversized Costco cart. Who would think a trip to Costco – and all of its inherent stresses and annoyances – would result in a gourmet meal?

I looked up the squash online and found very little about it, other than a few blogs from foodies in the US who, like me, had picked up a bag of the squash at Costco or Sam’s Club. What I did learn from their blogs was that the squash were similar to zucchini and could be eaten in much the same way. The tag on the squash gave basic instructions on how to steam, microwave or saute the little guys, but I had a desire for something a little more exciting. I decided to stuff the squash, and set to work throwing wholesome and filling ingredients into a pot. A pure, honest experiment with next to no planning. And what a treat these little guys turned out to be. I immediately regretted my decision to terminate my burdensome Costco membership – it would be worth the $70 just to get my hands on these babies again. Okay – that’s a bit of an overstatement, but really, they were that good.

I agree with the other blogger that they are best compared to zucchini, but their taste was sweeter and deeper than a zucchini which can sometimes taste a little bland, especially at this time of year. Baked in the oven they were perfectly al dente – not too mushy, not too crunchy. We ate the peel and all, and they maintained their pretty little shape throughout the entire process.

If you don’t have Mayan Squash on hand – get thee to Costco and buy some! Or…you could easily do this with zucchini. There are a few ingredients you might not have – I am thinking of the epazote, especially (an herb from Mexico, common in traditional Mexican cooking) – but I don’t think that you need to be deterred from making these. You can easily skip the epazote.

Ingredients:

8 Mayan heirloom squash, cut in half
1 cup quinoa (red, black or white – or a mix)
1.5 cups vegetable soup stock or water
1 generous pinch of dried epazote (optional)
1/2 tsp fennel seed
1/2 tsp cumin seed
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 carrot, finely chopped
1/2 red pepper, finely chopped
1 generous pinch of cinnamon
1 generous pinch of chipotle chili pepper
2 tbsp roasted pumpkin seeds
Juice from 1 lime
2 tbsp minced fresh cilantro

Instructions:
Bring the quinoa and vegetable stock to boil with the epazote (if using) in a small pot. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, use a paring knife and scoop most of the flesh of the squash from the halves, reserving both the shell and the flesh. Chop the flesh. Then heat 1 tbsp sunflower oil in a frying pan. Test the oil by dropping a cumin seed in the centre; if the oil is hot enough, the seed will sizzle and start to “swim” in the oil. Add the remaining cumin and fennel seeds. Saute for just under a minute and then add the garlic and onion and toss until the onion softens. Add the carrot, peppers, cinnamon and chipotle and continue to cook until the carrot is just barely soft. Add the chopped up squash flesh. When the quinoa is cooked, add it to the fry pan and mix in juice of half of the lime. Add the pumpkin seeds and toss to distribute. Grease or spray a lasagne dish and line the squash shells up in the pan. Using a large spoon, scoop the filling into each shell and gently press to pack it. Sprinkle the cilantro on top, and then mix the remaining lime juice with a few tablespoons of water and pour it gently around the squash (being careful not to pour it over the squash). Bake the squash in the oven at 400 degrees for approximately 25 minutes and then remove and enjoy – sour cream or creme fraiche is an optional but delicious accompaniment. By the way, there will be lots of left over quinoa mixture, and it makes a perfectly delicious salad to take for lunch!

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Filed under dinner, Gluten free, Vegetarian