Stormy January Weather and Simmering Pumpkin Soup!
A thick and nourishing cauldron of soup is a wonderful thermal surrogate to have simmering on the back burner. Furthermore, a mug of soup never talks back to you, rudely inquires if my hair is really red, or what is the state of my taxes or my political view. What a true friend! When the local electric company can’t be counted on, moths have munched holes in your favorite sweater, and your favorite person in the world is many miles away, hot soup can become your most precious ally—almost as comforting as a doting mother!
This is a delicately flavored pumpkin soup with beautiful color…
Soups simmered with the winter solstice in mind make some of the most versatile cold-weather fare. Today I am talking about huge crescent slices of glaringly bright orange kabocha pumpkin. Also known as Calabaza, West Indian Pumpkin, Zapallo, Toadback, or Cuban Pumpkin, these pumpkins are a memorable sight at markets.
Kobacha pumpkin is daily fair throughout Central and South America and in the Caribbean Islands, and most often found in Latin markets here in the United States. However, cultivated these days especially here in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, I can find a variety of strains at my local farmer’s markets especially in the fall months and over the wintertime (put in cold storage by farmers). The flesh promises to be ravishingly orange in color, fine-grained, sweet and moist—not watery. Let me mention, though, that kobacha pumpkin can also be as small as a honeydew melon, round, or slightly pear-shaped, and the mottled skin can be evergreen, buff or speckled, but smooth and hard-shelled when mature–-yet when young, the skin is eaten along with the flesh. Again, note that mature pumpkins store well and will keep in a cool, well-ventilated spot for over 1 month.
Many markets also sell wedges of kobacha in addition to whole pumpkins…read on…
Wedges should be covered with plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator where it will keep for a week. Cooked, pureed kobacha will keep in the freezer for a year, packed in air-tight containers.
Kobacha pumpkin develops a pleasing flavor and texture when pureed or cooked with other foods. It is at home in soups and stews, custards, cakes, quick breads, cookies and puddings. Low in calories (about 35 calories/cup) and an excellent source of vitamin A and vitamin C, kobacha is also a fair source of potassium, folic acid, is low in sodium, and contributes a good amount of fiber.
At Home…and basic cooking instructions
Mature kobacha pumpkins can be rather large and have a tough rind, so you will need a heavy cleaver or giant knife to cut one open. If possible, buy in wedges, scoop out the seeds and fibers, remove the rind with a sharp paring knife, and cut into small pieces or to recipe-specific size. For the simplest of recipes, put the peeled chunks of kobacha in a saucepan and cover with lightly salted water; this pumpkin has a very mild taste, so add a small amount of butter, olive oil, goose fat or bacon fat and spices and herbs as desired. Simmer the pumpkin until tender (about 15-30 minutes), drain and serve with more butter and seasonings.
If intending to use kobacha pumpkin as an ingredient in other dishes–do not season while boiling—one can also steam chunks which takes about 30 minutes. Cool, cover, then refrigerate or freeze.
The following is a my recipe for a wonderful, easy to make and very filling soup, that also happens to be vegan in nature. The coconut milk adds wonderful creaminess and the kobacha pumpkin adds a pleasant color. Crisp, hot garlic bread goes well with it, and this soup tastes even better the next day, re-heated gently.
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Creamy Kabocha Pumpkin-Apple Soup (vegan recipe)
Makes 6 servings
This thick soup is a good way to begin work with kabocha pumpkin. Huge crescent slices of bright orange pumpkin (also referred to as Calabaza pumpkin) are pureed and combined in this case with diced apples, soft tofu and coconut milk, and make a lovely vegan soup that is nutritious and filling. Any sort of apples will do—I used Fuji in this recipe.
2 pounds Kabocha pumpkin, peeled and cut into small chunks
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 large Fuji apples, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
3 cups vegetable broth
8 ounces tofu
1 cup coconut milk (full fat)
1 teaspoon each: sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
½-teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½-cup unsweetened toasted coconut (optional)
- Put the pumpkin, onion and apples in a soup pot and add the vegetable broth; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce to medium-low, and simmer until the pumpkin is tender, about 15 minutes. In the meantime, puree the tofu and coconut milk in a blender until creamy, and transfer to a dish. (It is not necessary to rinse the blender at this point)
- When slightly cooled, puree the pumpkin/onion mixture in the blender until smooth, and pour back into the soup pot; over medium-low heat, stir in the pureed tofu and heat gently—do not let the soup boil or it will curdle; add the salt, black pepper and nutmeg, taste, and adjust the seasonings if necessary.
- When hot ladle the soup into warm bowls and garnish with toasted coconut. Serve immediately.
Accompaniments: Warm garlic bread; baked potatoes; roasted root vegetables; fresh fruit; a green salad or pickled vegetables of any kind.
Variations: One can certainly substitute chicken broth for the veggie broth and omit the tofu, but I encourage everyone to try the recipe as it stands—I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
NOTE: Any good recipe that calls for pumpkin, acorn, butternut, buttercup or Hubbard squash will be fine for kobacha.
Happy New Year to Everyone! Blessings on your plate!