Tuesday, 15 November 2011

SmartCooks Spices it up with Thai Pumpkin Soup

November 2011

SmartCooks here.

Quick question:  "What's a pumpkin's favourite sport?  Answer:  Squash!"
(Small joke, :) sorry, not).

Spicy Thai Pumpkin Soup.  I decided to make it and from scratch.  Vegetarian.  Gluten-free.  Calorie-conscious.  Low/no sodium.  Enough for a dozen or so folks. If you decide to do it, you need to put aside the time, but the end result was velvet-y, satisfying, and hopefully not too spicy!

The main ingredient -- Pumpkins -- was the first challenge. Who'd guessed there is a paucity of pumpkin in the stores in Ottawa? Bloblaws said its supply was sold out before Hallowe'en.  No luck at the Metro or Herb and Spice outlets.  I read on the food blogs that there is a shortage of both canned and fresh pumpkin in the US too, thanks to the wet summer and Tropical Storm Irene.  Foodies there are hoarding what they can find for their Thanksgiving cooking fests.  Go figure.  Amazing.   

But ... let's hear it for local supply one more time!  The lone surviving stand at the Parkdale Market had fresh, locally grown pumpkins.  $1 for small ones; $3 for medium size.  For $10, I had the dinner soup.  Can't beat those prices. 

Before Making the Soup

Task Number 1 was to do the vegetable stock -- about 10-15 cups -- from scratch.  I love making my own vegetable stock and almost always have some in the freezer.  The recipe I use is adapted from an old recipe book (one of the few I still own) called Classic Soups.  I found it at Chapters years ago on the bargain table and it seems to be out of print now, but it's a gem.  I've made dozens of soups from this book and it's never let me down.  With a mandoline, key vegetables like celery, fennel, onion, carrot or whatever's around, cheesecloth, Bouquet Garni and a big pot, I make large batches.  No salt.  I had enough in the freezer for this recipe.

Preparing the Pumpkin

I took my 3 medium size pumpkins, cut them in big chunks, scooped out the seeds and other stringy bits (and I did NOT keep the seeds... horrors), and placed them face-down on two large baking sheets that were covered in tin foil and lightly brushed with olive oil.  The baking is done at 350 degrees Celsius for about an hour until skins are soft.  (If short of time, I am sure I could have microwaved them too... but I didn't).  Once cooled, scoop out all the flesh and discard the outer skin. 

The Thai Spicy Soup

This part got tricky.  I could not find a vegan, gluten-free, not highly caloric, slightly spicy Thai recipe I liked either in my cookbooks or on the Internet.  Some recipes looked too bland; others way too spicy (e.g., one Thai recipe called for 6 red Thai chilies, and I found 2 more than enough for company.  So I adapted.  Directions below are based on what I did.  You can eliminate or add to the spices in order to reach the desired level of spicy-ness.  Play around with it a bit and enjoy!

Ingredients (for 12 large bowls, and likely some to freeze or have the next day):

12 cups of diced pumpkin
14 cups of vegetable stock
2 T olive oil (or sunflower or canola)  
3 medium shallots, chopped
3 tsp minced garlic
3 tsp curry powder (medium strength)
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped and smashed
1/2 tsp each of the following 7 spices:  crushed red pepper, coriander seeds, cayenne pepper, cumin seeds, ground turmeric, mustard seeds, chili flakes
1 tsp grated ginger
2 small red chilies, seeded, finely chopped
1/2 cup coconut milk (optional)
Toasted pumpkin seeds, for garnish
Cilantro leaves to garnish (optional)
Salt and pepper (optional at the table)


Use a very large pot.  Cook the shallots and garlic first in the pot for about 4 minutes, or until slightly softened.  Add the curry powder, 7 spices, ginger, lemongrass and red chilies. I smashed the lemongrass slightly first to ensure its flavour was released before adding to the pot. Stir for another minute or so until fragrant. 

Add in the diced pumpkin and vegetable stock and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and let it cook until the pumpkin is softened.  This took about 15-20 minutes for such a large quantity of soup.  

Use an immersion blender right in the pot to blend the soup until smooth.  Alternatively, transfer soup (in batches) to a food processor to blend (that's way messier).  

When finished simmering, add in the coconut milk, and leave for a few more minutes.  Some recipes left this out.  I had half a cup left from another recipe so threw it in and it gave the soup a deeper, richer colour.  More could be added to cool down the spicy-ness.  

Toasted pumpkin seeds and coriander can be added at the table.  Salt and pepper at individual discretion. 

Final Serving Touch (totally optional of course)

The Queens of American-style etiquette, Martha Stewart and Oprah, suggest serving the soup in small carved out pumpkins.  Nice touch.  Too many people and a bit too fussy prep-wise for me.  But a thought for the future.  Here's pictures from their sites and Flickr.


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