Monday, May 24, 2010

RECIPE: Pumpkin or Squash Soup - North African Style

I did not set the kitchen on fire today. Actually, today was TAME in comparison to my first mediterranean experiment (of the culinary type).

And I know it's high summer and that, as such, soup is generally not the number one item on the want-to-eat list. Thankfully, my parents keep the thermostat set at 76 degrees and thus I my adventures are not limited by the external atmosphere. On with the food!

Today I felt miraculously free to exercise my artistic license on the recipe at hand, which was from the same cookbook as last time (The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook by Nancy Harmon Jenkins):

Pumpkin or Squash Soup - North African Style

Because I took such liberty with the original recipe, I feel no qualms about sharing it with you.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin (because the best virgins are extra-virgin) olive oil
1 medium carrot (or, in my case, about 10 mini-carrots), chopped
1 celery stalk (you can include 2 or more, according to preference), coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili pepper (or 1 small fresh red chili pepper, if you have one)
1 + 1/2 pounds pumpkin or hard winter squash, peeled and cubed (about 6 cups––I used a butternut squash and it came to approximately 7 cups ... so I just threw it all in)
1 - 14.6-ounce can chopped plum tomatoes with their juice
2 bay leaves
1 short piece of cinnamon (I did not have this, so I included 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon)
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3-4 tablespoons fresh chopped chives
1/8 cup fresh chopped cilantro or parsley

I also added:
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
about 1 square inch of finely chopped FRESH ginger (I'm a bit of a ginger fan)
1/2 teaspoon thyme

The recipe also calls for:
1 sweet red pepper, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
... but I didn't include these, a) because I didn't have them, and b) I'm too lazy to run to Publix for 2 tablespoons of an herb I'm not even certain I like.

And thus! To the process! It is remarkably brief.

Chop everything beforehand. It will save you the scurrying and frazzledness of my experience.

Throw all of the olive oil, carrot, celery, garlic, and ginger in a large pot––you will make the whole soup in the one pot, so don't think small––set over a medium-low heat. Cook for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are soft but not browned. If you're a better cook than I am and have the peppers on hand, throw them in, too. Add the cubed pumpkin and stir the lot together. When the cubed pumpkin starts to sizzle, add the tomatoes, bay leaves, spices, and 2 cups of water. Bring this to a simmer (which takes longer than you'd think––about 10 to 15 minutes––and then cover the pan. Let the pot simmer for between 20 and 30 minutes, or until the pumpkin is soft enough to blend with a stick blender or a food processor (stick blenders are much less messy, and you don't have to switch pots). If you can, fish out the bay leaves before you blend. If you can't ... eh. Oh well. Add salt and pepper to taste, along with the lemon juice. If you're into cilantro, you're supposed to stir it in right before serving.

A quick note on the crushed red pepper thing: I was reading the back of the crushed-pepper jar and it said something about combining it with equal amounts of thyme and allspice. And, since I was in a mood to experiment, I threw all the spices into a little tiny cup and poured a touch of boiling water over them as I was chopping the butternut squash. The result? I think the rehydration technique brought out a bit more of the pepper flavor––it wasn't as dry and nasty when eating the soup as it normally is. I'm really not a fan of crushed red pepper flakes at all ... but you use what you have, so I tried it out. And it worked pretty well! I don't know if I would recommend rehydrating all your herbs and spices before cooking, but I think it's kind of fun.

Anyhow. The soup tasted pretty darn good. Between the turmeric and gingers and crushed red pepper, it's quite spicy (and would have been spicier if I had included the chopped peppers). It's not a creamy soup like a lot of pumpkin soups are, but there are merits to non-creamy soups. It leaves a faint zing on the back of the tongue, but it cleanses the palate instead of coating it like a cream-based sauce would. I threw around the idea briefly of maybe adding low-fat plain yoghurt to the soup once it cooled down, if one really wanted that creamy texture. It would be better than adding sour cream or heavy cream. I actually think this soup would taste really excellent as a cold soup––it's got enough flavor and spice that the coolness might even add the perfect soothing touch! I'll let you know tomorrow afternoon, when I taste it cold.

VERDICT: A success! (Although, I'm guessing, a little too spicy for some tastes.)

1 comment:

  1. I love cilantro! You should give it a chance. Especially in burritos or tacos or salsa. :) I also like to put them in eggs with cheese.