Sunday, November 13, 2011

Nourishing an Occupation 7: Red Curry Pumpkin-Peanut Soup

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This autumn, I find myself in the very happy situation of having an abundance of pumpkins.  Pumpkins are one of my favorite foods and are a wonderful medium for creative cooking.  They are not just for jack-o-lanterns or pie, but are a great basis for both savory and sweet dishes.

This Sunday, I looked at my pile of pumpkins and started a free improvisation soup composition.  The result: a savory Red Curry Pumpkin Peanut soup that was heartily enjoyed by guests from Occupy Wall Street and Vassar College at the Occupy Poughkeepsie encampment.

This soup is packed with protein, fiber, flavor, and thermal inertia.  You might be a nerd if you try to convince someone to try a bowl of soup based on its thermal inertia, but those are exactly the words I heard come out of my mouth, standing on the dark streets of Poughkeepsie.  By that, I meant it 'holds its heat', once warm, it stays warm for a long time and will keep your body warm too.

For this soup, I started with 2 pumpkins of 2 different varieties.  One 'Long Island Cheese' which is shown cut open above with the seeds mostly cleaned out, has a dull pale outer skin and a deep orange flesh.  When you cut into one, you'll get an aroma like a sweet melon.  These pumpkins are as big as the jack-o-lantern pumpkins that most people don't eat, but they have a much more flavorful and dense flesh. 

The other pumpkin was a smaller 'sugar' or 'pie' pumpkin.  It has a deep orange outer skin and pale, but sweet flesh on the inside.

After scooping out the seeds (I'll toast them later for snacking), I laid them face-down in backing dishes, put a little water in the bottom of each dish and roasted them in the oven at 375F.  I tested after about 45 min.  They are done when you can insert a fork into them easily.  The large one took about an hour to be done.  They smell really good while they're baking. When they were done, I set them on the counter to cool.

While the pumpkins were roasting, I soaked 6 oz dried bean thread (a/k/a cellophane) noodles in hot water and rinsed and soaked 10 dried shiitake mushrooms in a separate vessel of hot water.  Dried shiitakes are one of the best ways I've found to provide that richness of flavor called umami into vegan food.

I chopped 1 large onion and 3 large cloves of garlic and sauteed them in hot oil in my largest soup pot.  When they were translucent, I added a couple quarts of water. a couple cups of split red lentils (masoor dal) and a little salt and brought to boil. I cooked this at a rolling boil until lentils disintegrated.  I decided to add the lentils for 2 reasons: first, to add protein to make the soup more nutritious; second to give the soup a smooth, thick texture (and thermal inertia).  Red lentils are about the same color as pumpkin and fairly neutral in flavor so they did not interfere with the overall aesthetic that was developing.

When the lentils were nearly disintegrated and the pumpkin cool enough to handle, I scooped the flesh out of the pumpkin with a large spoon and plopped it into the soup.  The lentils and pumpkin simmered together for a moment while I went upstairs to borrow my landlady's immersion blender.  Being very careful, not to burn myself with molten pumpkin and lentils, I blended until the contents of the whole pot were nice and smooth.

I drained and chopped the softened bean thread noodles....

and shiitake mushrooms, and threw them into the pot.

I seasoned the soup with several Tbs of Thai Kitchn brand red curry paste, about 1/2 cup of smooth peanut butter, a dash of salty ume plum vinegar. a generous dash of soy sauce (I would have used fish sauce but I was making this soup be vegan), a splash of cider vinegar to brighten the flavor, a large dollop of tamarind concentrate and a squirt of Sriracha sauce for a bit of heat.  I was dismayed to find my fresh ginger had given up the ghost in the fridge, so I used some dried ginger, but fresh would have been much better.  As you might guess, this was not a precise process.  I rummaged through the flavors in my spices and condiments and added a bit of this and that, tasting as I went along.  This is the fun part!  I recommend you try it and don't worry too much about conforming to any standard.  Just balance salty, sour, sweet, umami, hot, and bitter and keep going until it makes your mouth happy.

The flavor was nicely balanced and the texture was almost there.  The broth was smooth and rich on the tongue.  The mushrooms were nicely chewy and the noodles were fun, but it needed a bit of crunch.  I had a purple kohlrabi in the fridge from the last CSA pick up of the year.  Kohlrabi is a member of the cabbage/turnip.  It has the texture of a very crisp apple and a flavor like very sweet brocolli.

I cut the kohlrabi into matchsticks and used them as a crunchy garnish with color contrast.

Who says occupation dining can't be elegant?

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