The funny thing about pumpkin (or squash) is that people seem to associate it with autumn and winter – myself included. It’s all because of those memories we have of Thanksgiving dinner – the pumpkin pie and the roasted acorn squash (okay, and I guess the fact that it is harvested in autumn plays into it as well) -that we think it should be something consumed ravenously in the cold seasons and then abandoned as the asparagus hits the supermarkets in Spring. But truth be told, some of my best pumpkin recipes come from places where there is no autumn – Jamaica, Mexico, Thailand, Goa, to name a few!
The past summer we were discussing pumpkin with our Australian travelling companions in Ukraine. We were talking about the subtle differences in food names between Australia and North America. For example: cilantro is known as fresh coriander in Australia, whereas in Canada, coriander is only in reference to the ground seed. We also learned that what we in Canada call ‘squash’ they call pumpkin, and what they call ‘squash’ we call zucchini. With the help of wifi and an iPad, we were able to pull up pictures and confirm with one another these very important reference points around the world of pumpkin and squash and possibly avert a war.
The recipe I want to share today is born of our recent trip to St. Lucia. We were staying in the overly touristy enclave of Rodney Bay, in Gros Islet and cooking for ourselves and our friends each night. Most of our ingredients came from the IGA next door, but there was one lady who would set up a table off the “highway” each day, selling produce directly from her farm. We decided on our last night of cooking, that we would whip up something completely local. The only thing we had to buy at the supermarket was locally produced ‘Viking’ brand coconut milk, St. Lucian made curry powder, and dried thyme. The rest we were able to buy from this lady on the highway. We watched as she hacked into a giant pumpkin with a machete to pull apart a substantial wedge for us and then split a coconut open, its water gushing all over the ground. We packed a bag with ginger, garlic, onions, yams, potato, cilantro and fresh limes, walked across to the fish market to buy some fresh catch of the day (kingfish and grouper) and returned to our villa overflowing with excitement. Cooking with ingredients this fresh in March is a real thrill – the limes from her garden (much like the lemons and grapefruit we bought) were so fresh that you could smell them from the second floor as Michael sliced them open. The fish had been caught that morning. What a feast we had. Listening to bossa-great Jaobim on my iPod, the fresh trade winds blowing in from the Harbour, it was a perfect evening (I realize that bossanova isn’t exactly Caribbean, but it sounds like the sea, so it counts). While Michael prepared the fish, I cooked up the soup and roasted wedges of sweet yams in olive oil, sea salt and fresh thyme. The only thing better than cooking it all up, was sitting under the stars by the water, with good friends, enjoying the fruits of our labour.
The pumpkin soup recipe I am sharing here is exactly what I made on a whim in St. Lucia – except that I cannot find those huge Caribbean pumpkin around here, so I have substituted a kabocha squash. I also used reduced-fat coconut milk – I can only justify the decadence of full fat coconut milk when on vacation. This recipe is fast and easy to make, and absolutely not an autumn-only meal! It was 36 degrees when we enjoyed it in St. Lucia, and 5 degrees when we enjoyed it in Mississauga (obviously only one of those meals was eaten outdoors!)
Sunflower or olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 inch ginger, grated
1 red bird chili, diced (optional – if you don’t like spice, omit)
1 russet potato, peeled and chopped into cubes
1 kabocha squash, peeled and chopped into cubes
1 to 2 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tsp Caribbean curry blend (Trinidad or Jamaican is most common here)
2 cups vegetable stock
1 can coconut milk, reserve two tablespoons of the thick cream from the top
Juice of one lime
salt to taste
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
2 tbsp grated fresh (or dried) coconut
1 tsp palm sugar or brown sugar
1 tsp grated lime zest
Heat the oil in a soup pot and add onions, garlic, ginger and chili pepper (if using). Stir frequently until onions are soft. Add the potato and squash and toss frequently for one minute, then add thyme and bay leaf. Reduce heat and cook for a few more minutes, then add soup stock. Bring to a boil (you may have to add more water or stock if the squash isn’t adequately covered). Add the curry powder, lower heat and simmer until the potato and squash are tender. Meanwhile, prepare the topping: mix the cilantro with the coconut, sugar, lime zest and half of the lime juice, and set aside. When the potato and squash are ready, transfer the mixture in small batches to a blender and puree until it is smooth. When all of the soup has been pureed, return it to the pot and add the coconut milk, stirring gently over low heat until warmed. Ladle the soup into bowls, then use a tablespoon and scoop up the reserved coconut cream, drizzling it over the soup. Put a teaspoon or two of the lime topping in the centre, and enjoy a taste of the Caribbean – in whatever season it happens to be!