Thai-Spiced Pumpkin Soup

October 6, 2011

One of my best friends just moved to California. I am going to miss her so, so much.

Reed and I became friends through our husbands, who are in graduate school together. But we became great friends when we started training for a half marathon.

I learn so many little details about the lives of my running buddies. Many miles require a lot of minutes to be filled with conversation, and we wind up talking about whatever happens to be on our minds. Sometimes we talk about things of great substance. Other times, we talk about why I prefer Jif to Skippy peanut butter. When talking helps each mile tick by, our conversations resemble stream-of-consciousness. It leads effortlessly to close friendship.

Reed taught me to sew my Halloween costume last year. She helped me make jewelry for my bridesmaids. She introduced me to David Sedaris and gin martinis. She taught me the joys of dressing up and popsicles. Last year, she made our friend Kristina and me pumpkin soup on Halloween while we carved jack-o-lanterns.

This is not the same soup she made, but it’s a pumpkin soup, nonetheless. And a delicious one at that. Creamy, hearty, rich-tasting but healthy. And it even freezes well (no cream in this accidentally-vegan soup, folks). It’s a homage to fall, but mostly–in my mind, anyway, its a homage to Reed.

When I run on the bike path alone, I wonder what we’d talk about if she were here. Certainly the foilage, probably the weekend, possibly this pumpkin soup.

More posts involving Reed: Pasta Puttanesca, How to Have a Sick Time in Vegas, Bolognese Sauce

THAI SPICED PUMPKIN SOUP (from 101 Cookbooks)

This recipe is more of a guideline, and less of a formula. The curry paste I used the first time I made this was quite mild, so I used the whole jar! I bought a spicier one the next time, and only used a couple tablespoons.

A bowl of this soup, a crusty hunk of bread, and some salad greens topped with toasted pumpkin/squash seeds, dried cranberries, blue cheese, and balsamic vinegar is a great fall meal!

Serves 6

2 acorn squash, pumpkins, or other smallish winter squash
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
1 teaspoon (or more) red Thai curry paste
water or chicken broth
2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt (or to taste)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put racks in middle of oven.

Cut pumpkin and/or squash into halves. Spread butter over them. Sprinkle liberally with salt. Place on baking sheet and bake until fork tender throughout (about one hour).

Once squash cool down enough to touch, scoop the flesh into a big pot. Add coconut milk and curry paste. Stir together and place on medium high heat. Once mixture starts to simmer, take off heat and puree soup with a hand blender. Soup will be VERY thick. Add water or chicken broth one cup at a time until you reach desired consistency. Simmer again, then taste, and add salt and more curry paste (if you like) to taste.

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OH MY GOD MAKE THIS NOW.

This chili is smoky and spicy. It comes together in a little less than an hour, but it tastes like it took all day to cook. The tomatoes, jalapeno, onion, and garlic are charred under the broiler before being added to the stew.

And it has croutons made of CORNBREAD. (This marks the first time in my life I have been excited about a crouton).

Don’t even get me started (can I hear it from the sistas) on how brilliant Lucinda Scala Quinn was to do that to store bought cornbread. This is my favorite chili or, come to think of it, soup/stew of all time.

And if you make it, it will probably make you all googly eyed too.

More soups and stews: Quick Pho Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup), Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup, Butternut Squash and Ginger Soup

What I’m Reading:

CHICKEN CHILI (only slightly adapted from Lucinda Scala Quinn as published in Martha Stewart Living, October 2010)

Do beware that this chili is SPICY. I’m saying that and I love spicy food. Next time, I’d seed the jalapeno before cooking. My only change was to add a mix of white and dark meat, based on my preference for a mix of meats.

Keeps in the fridge for a week or the freezer for a month

Serves 4-6

Ingredients for Chicken Chili

  • 10 plum tomatoes or tomatoes on the vine, halved lengthwise
  • 1 jalapeno chile, halved (seeded if desired)
  • 1 white onion, peeled and halved
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • Salt
  • 2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, finely chopped
  • 1 3/4 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 can (15 ounces) kidney beans, drained
  • Desired toppings (I like avocado mashed with a little lemon to stop it from going brown and cilantro

Ingredients for Cornbread Croutons

  • Cornbread or Corn Muffins (I just used a Jiffy Mix)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Recipe for Chicken Chili

  1. Preheat broiler, with rack 3 inches from heat source. Arrange tomatoes, jalapeno, onion, and garlic, cut side down, on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil until starting to char, about 5 minutes. Pulse tomatoes and jalapeno in a blender or a food processor until chunky. Chop onion and mince garlic.
  2. Heat a large heavy skillet (preferably enamel cast-iron) over medium-high heat. Add oil. Working in batches, brown chicken in a single layer, allowing to sear before stirring, 5 to 6 minutes; transfer to a plate.
  3. Reduce heat to medium. Add onion and garlic to skillet. Cook until soft and golden, about 8 minutes. Add chili powder and 2 teaspoons salt. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in chipotles, and add chicken. Raise heat to high. Add tomato-jalapeno mixture. Cook, scraping up browned bits, until fully incorporated, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in stock; simmer for 20 minutes. Add beans; simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with Corn Muffin Croutons and other desired toppings.

Recipe for Cornbread Croutons

  1. Cut corn muffins or corn bread into 3/4-inch cubes; toss with olive oil and salt.
  2. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until golden, about 20 minutes.

I have been sick as a dog the last few days. I ache. I can’t breathe. I try to talk and instead I sound like a garbage disposal. When I called out sick to work, I had to repeat my name 3 times to be understood. I haven’t slept. When I am sick, I want something hot (to soothe my achiness), spicy (to clear my sinuses), and nourishing (to prevent me from subsisting on simple carbohydrates). I want Pho Ga.

Pho Ga was introduced to me during my middle school years, when a Vietnamese restaurant came to my New Jersey hometown and brought with it this delicious soup. Pho Ga is something I found earth shattering. It is wonderfully fragrant, smelling of anise and cloves. It allows for a taco-bar-do-it-yourself approach, as you can add as much basil, cilantro, bean sprouts, or chiles as you want. Chewy rice noodles bathe in it. This is my kind of comfort food.

I would love to make Traditional Pho Ga someday, but not when I’m sick. Anything I make while sick must take less than an hour. This version is probably not how someone from Vietnam would make a quick Pho Ga. But it’s what I improvised and I really like it, so I thought I’d share.

My Favorite Chicken Recipe on this blog: Chicken, Green Bean, Corn, Cherry Tomato, and Quinoa Salad

More on Soup: Butternut Squash and Ginger Soup and Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup

What I’m Reading:

QUICK PHO GA (improvised very liberally from Pho Ga by Steamy Kitchen)

Serves 4 as a main course

Ingredients

Soup

2 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, chopped

1 6-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced

6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

3 tablespoons sesame oil

1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes.

1 lb raw, deboned, skinned chicken part of your choice, cut into 1 inch strips or 1 inch cubes (I used thighs)

52 oz low sodium chicken broth

4 tablespoons fish sauce

1 lb very thin rice noodles

Toppings

4 tablespoons julienned basil

4 tablespoons julienned cilantro

1.5 cups bean sprouts

1/2 c chopped roasted, salted peanuts

1 jalapeno, thinly sliced into rounds

Sriracha

2 limes, cut into halves

Recipe

Heat large pot over medium heat. Melt butter, add onion. Cook onion until translucent, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add ginger and garlic, stirring occasionally, cook for an additional 3 minutes.

Push the onion/garlic/ginger mixture to one side of the pot, then add sesame oil to the empty side. Place crushed red pepper flakes and chicken in oil. Brown for a few minutes in the oil, then stir everything together. Stir occasionally, cooking over medium heat for ten minutes.

Add chicken broth and fish sauce and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. While waiting for the soup to come to a boil, set out toppings and let noodles soak in very hot water (about 10 minutes).

Allow soup to boil for 10 or 15 minutes (however long is most convenient for you) with the lid on. Add the soup and noodles to a bowl, garnish as you like.


One of my all time favorite TV moments is from Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations in Rome. As spoken in Italian, with English subtitles.

Roman man: Don’t you have to work?

Roman woman: We have to eat artichokes!

To which Will responded, “It’s difficult to believe the Roman Empire almost conquered the world.”

Of course this lead in is to talk about… Roma tomatoes. Roma tomatoes are the cheapest of all tomatoes. Because they are not juicy but are, instead, meaty. This makes them ideal for long periods of low temperature roasting. Their flavor will become intense and sweet. You will love them.

This soup is about as improvised as they come. It is warm, comforting, delicious, and requires only a spin in the food processor after the initial roasting of tomatoes and garlic. My measurements change based on my mood (I want it a little more garlicky today or I have more than 5 lbs of tomatoes so I’ll just stick them in I guess). You can make it taste richer by adding cream, or keep it fresher by going without.

I’ve made this soup several times already and plan to make it many more times this winter. It is thick, hearty, and comforting. Bring on the cold weather!

More on tomatoes:

What I’m reading: Yeo Valley Organic Ad Has Hip Hop Farmers That Rap About Organic Dairy

ROASTED TOMATO AND GARLIC SOUP (made by me)

Serves 6-8 as a side

If you do add cream, do it at the very last minute, as in, after you’ve heated your individual portion. If you store this soup in the fridge with cream in it, it may curdle. Yuck.

Another note: Since this soup is very thick, you can thin it out with some water or tomato juice, if you like.

Ingredients

5lbs Roma tomatoes

Olive oil (a few tablespoons, for brushing the tomatoes)

2 bulbs garlic

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 cup fresh basil or thyme

Salt and pepper, to taste

1/4 teaspoon – 1/2 teaspoon red peper flakes (optional, if you like a little spice)

Heavy cream, to taste (optional, about 1 tablespoon per person)

Recipe

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a two baking sheets with foil. Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise, then brush them with olive oil. Cut top off garlic bulbs to expose majority of the cloves. Divide butter in half. Smoosh butter in your hands to make it pliable, then pat half into one bulb of garlic, half into the other. Place bulbs on baking sheet with tomatoes. Bake for 2 hours.

Let tomatoes and garlic cool enough to handle. Squeeze cloves out from garlic skin. Place tomatoes, cloves, basil or thyme, and red pepper flakes (if using) into food processor and grind to desired consistency. Season with salt, pepper, and cream (if using). Enjoy.

When I made my Pumpkin Ginger Butter, I realized how little I have been using ginger despite how much I like it. I decided rectify this situation immediately. I found this soup recipe and increased the amount of ginger by a bit. The result is a creamy (but cream or milk free) pureed soup with a mild kick of ginger. I really like it, and anticipate to make this throughout the Fall.

I always think its neat to get multiple uses out of a single vegetable. Though the original recipe gave the option of making Spicy Pumpkin Seeds as a topping for this soup, I wondered if the same could be done with butternut squash seeds. As it turns out, butternut squash seeds are good! I do prefer pumpkin seeds, as they are meatier and easier to gather from the flesh compared with squash seeds, but it is nice to use what you have instead of buying another thing from the grocery store. Since evacuating the seeds from the squash flesh is a bit labor intensive, you should feel free to substitute raw pumpkin seeds if you like.

I think its easiest to pull squash seeds from the flesh by running your fingers through the lines of seeds in the squash, then placing the seeds in a bowl of water. The water will make it easier to pull the remaining flesh off the seeds.

And speaking of getting 2 uses out of one vegetable, I have a neat trick to share with you that my friend Katherine taught me. You can freeze leftover vegetable scraps and chicken bones make your own chicken stock. Use anything that would normally go into chicken soup. Carrot peels, onion tops, celery leaves, chicken leg bones you’ve eaten most of the meat off of. Stick them in a Ziploc in your freezer and wait until the bag fills up. Then, place the scraps in a crock pot with some water, and run the crockpot on low heat for 10 or 12 hours. Strain the stock, then use immediately, or freeze the stock again in individual plastic containers for later use.

For more ginger recipes: Pumpkin-Ginger Butter and Sticky Chicken Wings

What I’m reading:

BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND GINGER SOUP (Soup and Seeds recipes adapted from Martha Stewart’s Pureed Butternut Squash Soup)

Serves 4

Butternut Squash & Ginger Soup Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 piece (3 inches) fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 pounds small butternut squash, prepared and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 3/4 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • Sour cream, (optional)
  • Spicy Butternut Squash Seeds (recipe below)
  1. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook onion until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add ginger, garlic, sweet potatoes, and squash; cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in 4 cups water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer until squash and sweet potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.
  2. Purée soup in two batches. When blending hot foods, allow the heat to escape to prevent splattering. Remove the cap from the hole of the blender’s lid, and cover with a dish towel. Stir in juice and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Serve hot, with sour cream, pepper, and pumpkin seeds, if desired.

Spicy Squash Seeds Ingredients

  • Seeds from your butternut squash (about 1/4 cup) or 1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • Small pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice

Spicy Squash Seeds Recipe

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine squash seeds, chili powder, cayenne pepper, salt, and lime juice; toss to coat.
  2. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet; bake until puffed and browned, about 10 minutes.