Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thai Pumpkin Soup

This was inspired by an outstanding pumpkin curry shared in Australia...  and I think this type of meal is really nice for a cold day.

Though it was something I wanted to take care of before I completely lost the taste memory, it turned out more like one of those spur-of-the-moment-lets-see-what-we-can-do-here things I end up being very glad I happened to write down. Though to be honest, I don't know that I could actually make sense of my notes a week from now if I hadn't made a rapid translation. Even so, it'll probably evolve, but it has to start somewhere.

It incorporates many Thai flavors and includes the lovely blend of sweet/salty/sour/spicy that's important in Thai cuisine, a blend especially well noted when served with the accompaniments.

How are these flavors portrayed? I'm so glad you asked.
Squash has a lightly sweet flavor as does coconut milk, and the touch of brown sugar adds a bit of depth. Fish sauce give an intensely flavorful savory note (yes, it's strong stuff),  and both the broth used and the additional salt in the end add some savor and help balance things out. As far as spice goes, fresh chili adds heat, as does chili paste stirred into individual bowls to accommodate each's taste. I prefer to err on the mild side when making something spicy and use fewer chili peppers in the pot since people can adjust to their own taste and tolerance. Well, I like to err on the mild side if I can help it and I'm attentive- but I'm not always aware or careful enough.

Ginger, cinnamon, and star anise included probably add to both the spicy and sweet categories. The final (sour) squeeze of lime juice in the end right before the soup is eaten really brightens things and helps make the flavors explode.
At least that's my interpretation.

If something isn't quite right to your taste, correct it. A sprinkle of grated cinnamon, a splash more fish sauce, maybe it'd be just right with just a bit more brown sugar.

The pumpkins I chose in this case were two knobby kabocha squash, but acorn or butternut are fairly easy to find and would probably work just as well.
This could be adapted to use as a curry if you would like. Maybe some curry paste goes in with the sauteed spices, the mixture gets thinned with a little more coconut milk, some shrimp or chicken find their way in along with vegetables (perhaps green beans, eggplant, tomato, and mushrooms). Don't forget the steamed rice.


I ended up adding some shrimp to cook in the hot soup during the last few minutes, and they turned out to be a very welcome addition.

Thai Pumpkin Soup

4 lbs. (about 1.8 kg) pumpkin
sunflower or canola oil, coconut oil if desired
1 large onion, diced
4 large cloves garlic, crushed and roughly chopped
1 1/2 T (25 g) freshly grated ginger
generous 1 t (4 g) turmeric
2 sticks cinnamon
2 whole star anise
1 qt. (950 ml) chicken or vegetable broth
1-2 serrano or jalapeno peppers, halved lengthwise, ribs and seeds removed, flesh roughly chopped
1 stalk lemongrass (perhaps 2 if they seem small or a bit dry)
14 oz. (400 ml) coconut milk
1 1/2 T (17 g) packed brown sugar
1 1/2 T fish sauce (22 g)
freshly ground black pepper
chopped cilantro leaves, thinly sliced green onion, chili paste (such as sambal oelek), and lime wedges for serving

Preheat the oven to 400 F/200 C.
Cut the pumpkin(s) in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, rub the skin side with sunflower or canola oil, and place cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the pumpkin at least 35 minutes, or until the flesh feels soft when the skin is poked. Set aside to cool until easily handleable.
Heat 2 T sunflower, canola or coconut oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until slightly caramelized. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant (this maybe takes 10 seconds). Add the ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and star anise and toast the spices a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the turmeric coats the bottom of the pot in a scrape-able layer. Stir in the chicken broth and scrape the spices from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon so they become incorporated into the broth. Scoop the flesh from the roasted and partially cooled pumpkins and add to the chicken broth mixture along with the chopped chili peppers.  Remove the outer dry leaves from the lemongrass along with the dry top of the stalk. Bruise and bend the stalk to help release it's fragrance. Roughly cut the lemongrass into 4-5 pieces and add to the soup. Keep track of how many pieces of lemongrass you've added as you'll later remove them. Bring the soup to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, and place a cocked lid on top. Simmer, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. 
After the soup has simmered and the flavors have blended a bit, remove the pan from the heat and pull out the pieces of lemongrass, star anise, and cinnamon sticks. Reserve the cinnamon and star anise. Pour the coconut milk into the soup and stir to combine.  Blend the soup to a smooth puree with an immersion blender or in a standard blender in several batches (just be careful with the blender, and only fill about halfway since hot liquids expand and you probably don't want a soup explosion). 
Pour the soup back into the pot and stir in the brown sugar and fish sauce. Place the star anise and cinnamon sticks back in the soup pot. Simmer the soup over low heat about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add salt and pepper to taste (maybe start with 1 t or 5-7 g salt). 
Serve soup with chopped cilantro leaves, thinly sliced green onion, chili paste, and wedges of lime.  


  1. Makes me think of the pumpkin/green apple soup.

  2. I think the butternut squash and apple soup is my favorite... I have to make it again. Such good soup weather.
    If anyone would like the recipe, you may have to do a search, but it's here (in February of 2011 somewhere).

  3. Thanks for the reminder -----that WAS good soup!