She’s not chewing well (actually, she doesn’t have many teeth left) and can’t eat much. We’ve had many Thanksgiving dinners at restaurants in years past where the creamy pumpkin soup drew oohs and ahhs from Helen. With that in mind, I decided to make a creamy squash soup from a Williams Sonoma cookbook appropriately titled Autumn. The 1997 recipe called for acorn squash but that’s so 20th century. I opted to mix locally grown butternut and red kuri squash (a.k.a. Japanese, uchuri kuri, and Hokkaido squash), two types of winter squash with wonderfully sweet, nutty flesh.
I followed the recipe, roasting the squash to intensify its flavor and then adding it to a base of sautéed onions, bacon, and butter. Chicken stock was added for liquid. As the soup simmered, I tasted it and thought it a little blah. A bit split pea soup-ish. Hankering for a little Southeast Asian punch, I went into the yard, plucked 6 kaffir (makrut) lime leaves, ran back inside and threw them into the pot. I retrieved a chunk of galangal that I’d just thrown into the compost pail, and then quickly rinsed, smacked, and threw it into the pot for earthy depth. (Don’t be alarmed, it hadn’t been in the compost pail for long.)
The soup started smelling and tasting better, reminding me of the Vietnamese dish of pumpkin simmered with coconut milk. That’s a classic vegetarian dish in the repertoire, and my soup with the bacon and stock sure wasn’t; see the recipe intro on how to make the soup vegetarian style.
The recipe called for pureeing the soup and finishing it with cream and orange juice. I opted for coconut cream instead and a touch of fresh lime juice. Oh, there was also suppose to be a toasted walnut butter which I dumped for a small plop of chile oil.
The result of my turning a western dish into an Asian one? Creamy, lovely and fresh. A nice merging of Vietnam, Southeast Asia and America. We’ll start Thanksgiving dinner with this soup and see if Auntie Helen oohs and ahs.
Pumpkin Soup with Lime Leaf and Coconut
If lime leaves aren’t available, use lemongrass. The galangal is optional. For a vegetarian version, omit the bacon and increase the amount of butter to 2 1/2 tablespoons. Instead of chicken stock, use water or a vegetable stock.
Makes about 8 cups, enough for 6 to 8
2 small winter squash (e.g. butternut, kabocha, or kuri), each about 2 pounds
1 tablespoon butter
2 slices bacon, finely chopped
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
6 kaffir (makrut) lime leaves or 1 hefty stalk lemongrass, trimmed, cut into 3-inch lengths and bruised
2-inch chunk galangal, halved lengthwise and bruised, optional
6 cups homemade chicken stock or canned chicken broth
3/4 cup coconut milk
Garnish options: Lime wedges, chile oil, chopped cilantro or Thai basil
1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil and lightly oil. Use a cleaver to halve each squash through the stem end. Then quarter. Put the squash with one of the cut side down on the baking sheet. Bake for about 40 minutes, turning mid-way, until soft enough to be pierced with fork or knife. Remove from the oven and set aside until cool enough to handle.
Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and fibers. Discard. Then spoon the cooked flesh from each section of squash. Set aside in a bowl.
2. Heat a pot over medium heat and melt the butter. Add the bacon and onion and cook, stirring occasionally for about 8 minutes, until the onions are soft. Add the squash, lime leaves, galangal, and stock. Bring to a boil and lower the heat to simmer for about 30 minutes, until most of the squash has disintegrated. Remove from the heat and cool for about 20 minutes. Use chopsticks or tongs to remove the leaves and galangal.
3. Use a blender or food processor to puree the soup until smooth and creamy. Work in batches, passing each one through a coarse mesh strainer into a clean pot. Add the coconut milk, taste with extra salt as needed. Reheat and ladle into individual soup bowls. Serve with lime wedges and chile oil on the side for guests to add their own finishing touches. For a touch of green, garnish with the cilantro or basil before presenting at the table.