Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pumpkin Soup (with a Thai twist)

With all the abundant pumpkins and squash about, we have been eating a little more pumpkin of late. Beyond Pumpkin Pie and Jack o'lanterns, pumpkins are not such a regular food item in the US. Pumpkin Soup, however, seems to be gaining popularity.

My favorite pumpkin for soup is the Butternut Pumpkin (as it is known in Australia, but referred to as Butternut Squash in the US). I generally make my soup with onions fried with cumin seeds, cubed pumpkin, chicken broth, and cream. I make this dish more kid-friendly by sprinkling with crisped bacon bits (bacon cut into small squares and cooked in the microwave between sheets of paper towel for 2 to 3 minutes or until crisp), and/or serving soup with cheesy garlic bread (crusty bread slices spread with garlic butter and grated (sharp cheddar) cheese and baked in the oven for 10 minutes or so).

I have been frantically searching for a recipe I used several years ago that used Thai flavors including coconut milk and a very pungent 'blachan' or shrimp paste. I had little luck in my search, but happened upon two recipes that 'kind-of' were like what I was looking for. The recipes are here and here. I combined these into my own version below...


1 ½ pounds peeled and cubed Butternut squash/pumpkin
Vegetable oil / spray oil
1 tblsp chopped lemongrass (soft white, internal stem only)
3 red fresh birdseye chillies, seeded and finely chopped (or less, to taste)
2 tsp shrimp paste (Blachan)
4 cups water (or vegetable / chicken broth)
1 small onion, chopped
1 (13½ oz / 400ml) can coconut milk (unsweetened)
2 tblsp lime juice
1 tsp salt

Cilantro / kaffir lime leaves / basil / grated lime zest to garnish

Preheat oven to 400℉. Peel pumpkin and cut into cubes. Very lightly coat with vegetable oil and spread onto baking tray in single layer (spray olive oil is good for lightly coating pumpkin). Bake in oven for 30 minutes or until cooked and very slightly browned.

In large pot, fry onion, lemon grass and chilies in 1 tblsp vegetable oil until onion is translucent. Hold your nose and add shrimp paste. Cook for one minute.

Add water or broth and cooked pumpkin. When heated through and pumpkin is soft, puree using a stick mixer. (take care not to splash yourself with hot soup).

Mix in coconut milk and salt to taste.

Reheat soup to serving temperature. Stir through lime juice. Serve soup garnishing with choice of chopped cilantro, torn basil leaves, finely shredded lime leaves or lime zest.

If time is tight, pumpkin can be added to soup raw (roasting helps to intensify flavor).
Shrimp paste is highly pungent and can knock your socks off. It is available in Southeast Asian grocery stores. The Cooks Thesaurus suggests using Anchovy paste or anchovy fillets mixed with a bit of water as a substitute.

If available, Kaffir Lime leaves are perfect to add to the soup as it cooks - and make a nice garnish if sliced very finely

The soup was a little 'hot' with 3 chillies. Perhaps one would have been sufficient for younger palettes although Little Miss loved the soup and ate three servings! Master 3 ate his without (too much) complaint while Master 5 complained of burning lips and demanded water be on hand (but still ate it!)

Use approximately half the water/broth to begin with. Add more after coconut milk has been added if soup is too thick .

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