Thursday, January 5, 2012

Pumpkin, Tomato, & Jalapeño Soup: In search of winter squash recipes

The world needs more savory winter squash recipes.

Back up for a second. Last fall, I joined a six-week CSA program from Genesis Growers, which was pretty much the only CSA I could find that had a fall program and also delivered anywhere close to me in the North Chicago suburbs. (My former CSA, Nevermore Farm back in California, had a year-round program; I have clearly been spoiled.) Now that those six glorious weeks are over, I'm back to buying questionable produce from the Commissary and the local grocery stores. But I shouldn't complain; six weeks of fresh local produce is better than nothing, right?

Anyway, pretty much every box that I received during those six weeks contained some variety of winter squash. Pumpkin, acorn squash, buttercup squash, banana squash... I was inundated with squash faster than I could conceivably cook with it, primarily because my repertoire of squash recipes is lamentably small.

This is about half of what I used to have.  Admittedly, that pumpkin did not come from the CSA; it's a leftover Halloween pumpkin from the Wal-Mart.  Could you resist buying a 2¢ pumpkin?

My usual plan of attack when it comes to any variety of winter squash is to roast in the oven, mash into purée, and then save for future baking endeavors. Does this make me a bad vegetarian, the fact that I don't really know many main-course-type recipes for squashes? Sure, I can make a mean pumpkin soup, but it's not something I make very often, as the straight pumpkin-ness of such a soup can be a little overpowering. I also have a fabulous recipe that my mama sent me for a butternut squash lasagna that I'd like to try out one of these days, but it hasn't happened yet.

Most other winter squash recipes that I've seen tend to involve baking them with butter and brown sugar or maple syrup and spices, and then eating it straight. Personally, I've never been a huge fan of the quintessential sweet baked winter squash. I mean, most winter squashes are plenty sweet on their own; is it really necessary to add extra sugar? (This is the same reason why I've never been a fan of most traditional Thanksgiving recipes for candied yams... is it really necessary to add marshmallows and brown sugar to an already sweet vegetable? Sugar overload for sure!)

On top of my general dislike of sweet baked winter squash dishes, I face the additional issue of having a very low tolerance for consuming sugar right now. One of the ongoing themes of my pregnancy has been an on-again, off-again aversion to overly sweet things. Seriously. Aren't pregnant women supposed to crave ice cream and chocolate? Not me; for the majority of my first trimester, the very smell of chocolate made me nauseous, and even now I can only eat it in small amounts, if at all. I've generally had to cut the amount of sugar in my own baked goods in half if I want any hope of actually eating them. My husband and I received a goodly amount of sweet treats for Christmas, mailed by family and friends back in California, and I had to unfortunately burden him with the task of eating most of it. (The horror! Thank goodness I'm married to such a considerate man!)

Thus, my dilemma. I love winter squash, but I've been looking to avoid having bags and bags of frozen purée in my freezer, awaiting future baking projects. Not that I think D would really object if I spent copious amounts of time over the next few weeks baking pumpkin bread and scones and such. Honestly, I'm less than two months from the estimated due date of my baby; surely the mythical “nesting” instinct will be kicking in soon. But I'd love to add some variety to my squash adventures.

So not surprisingly, I was thrilled to find this recipe for Tangy Pumpkin, Tomato, & Jalapeño Soup in one of my newer cookbooks, New American Vegan by Vincent J. Guihan. This soup is described as being “rich and full-flavored,” which I found to be very true. I initially cooked up a batch yesterday and finished up the leftovers for today's lunch. I loved having an excuse to finally use the immersion blender that I received as a holiday present from my in-laws; it worked like a charm, and D was thrilled with the perfectly blended texture. I served it up with a cheese and avocado quesadilla for a perfect winter meal.

A perfect soup for a chilly Illinois day.

Tangy Pumpkin, Tomato & Jalapeño Soup
from New American Vegan by Vincent J. Guihan, reprinted with permission

2 cups water or vegetable stock
2 cups pumpkin purée (canned saves time, but if you want to work from scratch, go for it!)
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced (about 1 tbsp, or less if you don't like it spicy)
4 medium tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped (about 2 cups)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil or the nut butter of your choice
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon cloves, ground
½ teaspoon coriander, ground
¼ teaspoon sea salt

This is a spicy soup. You can always add ¼ teaspoon black pepper instead of the jalapeño pepper if you prefer something quite a bit milder. Swapping the oil for a tablespoon of macadamia or cashew butter will add some richness to this soup. Tahini is also good, but it will provide a nuttier taste. If you really want to taste the pumpkin, macadamia is preferred. Add 1 tablespoon minced cilantro for a little green flavor and extra color for garnish.

Begin by preparing ingredients. Bring 2 cups water [or vegetable stock] to a boil. Prepare your vegetables and spices. Once the water has come to a boil, add the chopped tomatoes and spices [this includes garlic and ginger]. Decrease the heat to medium and simmer uncovered. Reduce by ⅓. This shouldn't take more than 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Add the pumpkin and oil or nut butter. Stir to combine, then blend with the hand blender until smooth. Decrease the heat to medium-low. Cover the pan and return the soup and cook for another 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Taste and add salt as necessary. Ladle into bowls.

My Notes:
I am generally incapable of making a recipe as directed. I used one (14.5 oz) can of tomatoes instead of fresh, since it's January and any fresh tomatoes the store might have would probably taste like cardboard. I only used about ¾ of the jalapeño, since I'm not a huge fan of spicy, and I cut the amount of pumpkin down by half, since pumpkin can be really overpowering to me. Next time I might try bumping the pumpkin amount up to 1½ cups, but I do think that using the full 2 cups might be a little bit much for me and my husband. Also, I didn't actually use pumpkin; I used purée from a red kuri squash. In my world, most winter squashes are interchangeable.

One tablespoon minced fresh garlic turned out to be about two good-sized cloves. I was admittedly a little wary of the addition of ground cloves at first, but just go with it here; the end result is worth it! I used water instead of stock, and oil, since my kitchen doesn't usually contain fancy (and expensive) things like macadamia nut butter (although I sincerely wish I could afford some).

As I noted earlier, (finally!) having an immersion blender made preparing this super easy, although you could just as easily use a regular blender if that's all you have. Overall, this soup was very quick and simple to make, and could be easily made more so with the substitution of canned pumpkin and even pre-minced garlic. The recipe doesn't indicate how many servings the recipe makes but for me, it made about four.  

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