Pumpkin time

Thai-inspired pumpkin soup

As a child I really disliked pumpkin. It made me gag. I would rather eat boiled cabbage than pumpkin. My mother used to make a particularly vile (or so I then thought) dessert with pumpkin and rice; it was a variation on rice pudding. I hated it and dreaded those nights when it was on the menu. We always had a 3 course dinner: soup, main, and dessert. And we had to eat all three; even not wanting ice-cream and jelly was not an option – had to sit at the table until we ate it all. Not unusual for those days  post war when so many of our parents’ generation had had either little or no food. Times of scarcity and hunger. No wonder the idea of “more is better” was the overarching philosophy. There was too, the constant cajoling: “eat it up – think of all the starving children/people in Africa”. This never made sense to me – I was happy to send my unwanted dinner to starving people. Surely that would be noble and reasonable?

As a young adult my aversion to pumpkin continued and it always surprised me that people liked it, so I began to try it in various incarnations. I once made an American-style pumpkin pie – surely something so popular should taste good?  Alas, it tasted of pumpkin.  I didn’t even like pumpkin soup.  And then one day at a dinner at a friend’s house pumpkin soup was served and to my surprise, I actually liked it. Essentially because it wasn’t sweet: instead of using milk he used orange juice and had included some chillies. From then on, pumpkin soup became part of my repertoire.

Whenever I made this soup I ensured that I put enough chicken stock to give it some saltiness to combat the sweetness of pumpkin.  (I have to confess that in  those days I used to use stock cubes.  Nowadays I make chicken stock just about every week – it’s practically the only thing I have in my freezer – apart from vodka!) The addition of freshly chopped chillies towards the end and a good cracking of black pepper, grated orange zest and some chopped coriander gave it further depth.  For balance and richness I used to put in a couple of tablespoons of sour cream.  Later on I changed to yoghurt which was just as good, without all the fat and added calories.

More recently I made a pretty standard pumpkin soup with potatoes, carrot, pumpkin and chicken stock and after pureeing added fresh chillies, coconut milk, fish sauce and lime juice.  Delish.  So much so that it has now become one of my passions: variations on a theme of pumpkin soup.

If you’re not a fan of the traditional sweet flavoured pumpkin soup, try this one.  Even my daughter loves this soup and she’s not a soup person.  Nor a pumpkin fan.  In fact, once when she was little (just over 2yrs old) after announcing she was hungry she then insisted – when confronted with pumpkin soup – that she really wasn’t hungry after all.  Despite it meaning that there was no dessert or anything else. Now that’s a serious pumpkin aversion.  Fortunately though, I’m not of the school that thinks kids should eat everything they’re given.  My philosophy is:  if you don’t want to eat it, that’s fine, but there’s nothing else.  My other food rule is:  if you don’t like it you don’t have to eat it, but you have to try it first.  I said this to my daughter when she was around 3 yrs old at Christmas when we were having oysters.  I had assumed she would not like the look of them and therefore not eat them. She loved them.  And they have been her to-go-for special dish ever since.

A couple of days ago with the weather turning cold and having had enough chicken soup to last me a lifetime, I decided it was time for pumpkin soup.  I had some freshly made Thai-style curry paste left over from a batch I made for a chicken and apple-eggplant curry so thought I would use that in the initial stages of the soup together with some finely chopped lemongrass.

First I sweated some chopped  onion and then added the curry paste and the lemongrass and stirred till it became lovely and fragrant and then added the vegetables:  pumpkin, potato, carrot and some ends of a fennel I had,  stirred to coat in the oil and spice paste, poured in freshly made chicken stock, simmered till the vegetables were cooked and left it to cool.

That evening, we went out to listen to some food bloggers at a General Assembly event, coming back home quite late.  We brought some fresh bread on the way home and then all I had to do was puree the soup and put it back in a pot to heat up then add a tin of coconut milk (I use Ayam because it doesn’t have any gum or preservatives.  Its the only one I have found that is just coconut and water so I figure its worth paying more for it), fish sauce and some salt (because it still tasted a bit sweet) and finally, a good squeeze of lime juice.

I have to say, this version of the soup was absolutely delicious.  Fragrant (lemongrass, lime leaves and coriander), spicy but not too much, and deeply aromatic and complex (due to the fresh spice paste mixture). Served with fresh chopped coriander and thinly sliced lime leaves (I have a tree in my courtyard) and the baguette – its was the perfect post-event supper.

While I still haven’t ventured on the pumpkin pie journey, my distaste for this vegetable has turned into an appreciation of how teaming it up with spices and “umami” flavours changes it into a delicious food.
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What to do with adzuki beans

I’ve been seeing an acupuncturist who is helping me adjust my system.  She’s working on my kidneys and suggested a number of food that would help, one of them being adzuki beans.  Because most people (me included) don’t know what to do with them she gave me a recipe – and its really good: pumpkin and adzuki beans in a thai-style curry. Unlike kidney beans, adzuki beans (also called aduki or azuki beans) are small, reddish-brown beans with a cream coloured seam and sweet, nutty flavour.  They originated in China and in Japan are regarded as the king of beans due to their health-giving properties:  benefitting the liver and the kidneys. In both Japan and China, adzuki beans are often puréed and mixed with sugar to make a paste to use in cakes and desserts.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine, adzukis are said to support kidney, bladder and reproductive function. They’re also low in calories and fat and easy to digest 🙂

The beauty of this dish is that’s its really easy to prepare – no need to grind/blend ingredients to make a curry paste, just use a few dry spices and some tamarind.  It makes a lot so you can have leftovers.  In fact, I used this as something of a ‘master curry’ and kept adding to it – extra coconut milk, fish sauce, extra pumpkin, then more beans and one time:some pork- so much so that we ate it – with variations – for 4 days!  Now that’s one good curry.

Adzuki beans are available dried in Asian shops or good health food shops.

Pumpkin adzuki curry with coconut, lime & ginger

If you’re using uncooked adzuki beans, soak them for between one and four hours, rinse them thoroughly and cook for 45 minutes before adding to the curry.
1 medium brown onion
splash olive oil or 1 tbsp ghee
3cm knob ginger, cut into thin matchsticks
2 hot chillies, finely chopped (I find this very mild so if you want to turn up the heat, add more chillies)
1tsp ground turmeric
1.5tsp ground cumin
1tsp ground coriander
1tsp tamarind puree
half a small to medium-sized pumpkin, cut into large 4-5cm pieces (leave the skin on)
1 cup Adzuki beans
400ml coconut milk
400g tin whole tomatoes, chopped
8 kaffir lime leaves, 4 of these finely shredded
juice of 1 lime
splash fish sauce
 To serve: lime wedges, chopped coriander, mint and/or Thai basil

Heat oil or ghee in a large heavy based pot over low-medium heat. Add onion and cook for five minutes, then add ginger and chilli and cook for a couple of minutes. Stir in the turmeric, cumin and coriander and cook for another couple of minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes (or add them whole and roughly break them up in the pot) and tamarind puree. Cook for five minutes, then add the coconut milk and whole kaffir lime leaves. Return to boil then reduce to low simmer.

Add the pumpkin pieces and cook for about 8 minutes, checking on the pumpkin – you don’t want it to turn to mush. Add the adzuki beans about two minutes before you think the pumpkin is just cooked. Sit the lime juice and shredded kaffir lime leaves and a good splash of fish sauce before serving.
Serves 4

If anyone has any other interesting recipes for adzuki beans, do let me know.