Category Archives: Soup

Pumpkin is not just for Autumn: Caribbean Pumpkin – Coconut Soup

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!)

Ingredients:

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

Topping:

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!

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Filed under Soup, Vegetarian

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