Use pumpkin as a versatile base for soups

Posted Feb. 05, 2010, at 5:23 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:49 a.m.

Whatever pumpkins we haven’t used by now do begin to get spots on them by this time of year. What to do with them?

I could cook them and freeze the pulp for pumpkin bread or waffles. I could make pie, which would make the other person in this household a very happy camper. My personal opinion is that a person can eat just so much pie, and I think pumpkin is a nice vegetable. I cook it sometimes as if it were a squash.

I really love it as soup and even tried it out on the good folks at the local church’s weekly Thursday lunch. Some were dubious about pumpkin soup, I suspect, because they were thinking sweet with ginger and cinnamon. Instead of the sweet route, I went with chicken broth and curry powder, onions and garlic. Then I added cream cheese. All pureed up, it was as nice a cream soup as you might want. It is also superflexible beginning with the substitution of squash for pumpkin.

For example: If you have a vegetarian in your house, you can use vegetable broth in place of chicken. If you prefer a lower-fat version, you can use low-fat sour cream, plain milk or evaporated milk instead of cream cheese. If you are not fond of curry, you can use cumin, chili powder and coriander instead, or basil, oregano and thyme. It also takes add-ins such as little chunks of chicken, tofu, corn, diced carrots or sausage.

A few weeks ago, Leslie Oster, who works for Aurora Provisions in Portland, treated me to a bowl of wonderful squash soup with tiny smoked Maine shrimp in it. Wow, was that good. It would work in this pumpkin soup, too, as would tiny unsmoked Maine shrimp.

Then for those of us who are exploring Thai flavorings, there is coconut milk, curry paste, cilantro, lime or lemon, and fish sauce. If you have cooked before with Thai seasonings, you will know what to do to vary this soup in the Asian tradition; for those unfamiliar with it, an actual recipe follows. You can find the fish sauce and curry paste in the ethnic food section of most stores. Go really easy on the curry paste, tasting as you go — remember the adage about it being easier to add than to take away.

A soup such as this is a supper with a salad and the trusty loaf of crusty bread and maybe a morsel of cheese. Here are some basic instructions on which you are free to play your own riff; after that, a more standard recipe for a Thai pumpkin soup.

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Pumpkin Soup

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons or so olive oil or vegetable oil

1 pumpkin, cooked and pureed or 2-3 cups cooked pumpkin

Broth of your choice and-or milk to make as thick a soup as you like

4 ounces cream cheese, or half-cup sour cream, yogurt or cream

Your choice of seasonings to taste: curry powder; chili powder, cumin and coriander; basil, oregano, thyme; ketchup or tomato paste

Salt and pepper

In a heavy pot, saute onion and garlic in oil until onion is just soft. Add pumpkin, broth and-or milk, the cheese or sour cream, and seasoning of your choice. Let simmer for half an hour, taste and adjust seasonings. Before serving, add any extra ingredients such as the shrimp, chicken, corn, etc., and bring soup to a simmer.

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Pumpkin Soup with Thai Seasonings

Yields about a half-gallon

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 small pumpkin, peeled and cut into small chunks

2 cups water

1 13½-ounce can coconut milk

1 tablespoon Thai chili sauce or to taste

1 tablespoon grated lemon rind

1 tablespoon fish sauce or soy sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

Fresh cilantro

In a heavy pot, saute onion and garlic in oil until onion is just soft. Add pumpkin, water, coconut milk, chili, lemon rind, and fish or soy sauce. Season with freshly ground pepper. Simmer for half an hour until pumpkin is soft enough to mash. Mash it in the pot or let cool and puree in blender until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning. Chop cilantro and add to soup or use to garnish the bowls.

Send queries or answers to Sandy Oliver, 1061 Main Road, Islesboro 04848. E-mail: tastebuds@prexar.com. For recipes, tell us where they came from. List ingredients, specify number of servings and do not abbreviate measurements. Include name, address and daytime phone number.

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