I forget when I had my first pumpkin soup, but it was probably a relatively recent event, as my childhood consisted mainly of Chinese and canned soups (along with the occasional French onion soup at a western restaurant). I do know that my giant crush on it blossomed one day in March when I, a new vegetarian not knowing where to turn during my lunch hour at a new job, tried City Shop’s ¥8 plastic container of bright yellow, creamy sweet goodness. Pumpkin soup and I have rendezvous’ed weekly, or twice-weekly, since then.
And I wanted to bring it home.
After my not-so-gratifying attempt at the simpler carrot soup the other day, I finally decided this weekend to give the real thing a shot. I’d cooked pumpkin once before in Shanghai, and while the peeling and hacking were a bit of a workout, it really wasn’t that huge of a struggle.
Pumpkins are usually associated with the later months of the year, but City Shop has been churning out gallons of delicious pumpkin soup a day for months, so I assumed there must be some growing relatively locally. (I sent them an e-mail months ago inquiring as to the ingredients of their soup, but never received a response…)
As it was a hot day, I opted for the air-conditioned comfort of Trust Mart over the wet market. T-Mart is not known for consistency in their stock — when I was there yesterday, the usual array of Mankattan-brand bread had vanished, and there were no regular sized tomatoes to be found — so I had my fingers crossed as I browsed the produce section. Turns out pumpkins were on sale for ¥1.9/kg (!), which meant I was able to score a whole one for ¥2.6 (0.40 USD!!).
The pumpkin soup recipes I looked at all called for chicken/vegetable stock. Since I didn’t want to use packaged chicken broth and pre-packaged veggie bouillon is generally unavailable, I’d have to make my own (a first!). I threw celery (ugh), carrot, onion, garlic, dried black mushrooms, salt, soy sauce, herbs, and 2 litres of water into a pot and emerged 1.5 hours later with a potful of vegetable stock, some of which I froze for future use.
The recipes said to discard the veggies, but as it seemed a waste, I kept the onions and carrots, reserving a cup for the pumpkin soup and pureeing the rest with 2 tbsp of leftover canned pasta sauce to use later. (I’ve been slowly weaning us off pasta sauce, seeing as it’s somewhat pricey and fresh veggies are so readily available.)
Then I got up close and personal with the pumpkin. No lives (or fingers) were lost in the peeling, seeding, and dicing of the little beast; as long as your knife is sufficiently sharp, it really isn’t that much work considering how much vegetable you end up with.
Once the pumpkin was rendered into bite-sized cubes, I fried up some onion in a pot, added the pumpkin, leftover carrots and onion, cumin, and salt, and covered the whole deal with a litre of vegetable stock. Simmered the mixture until the pumpkin was nice and soft, then cooled it under the air conditioner for another half hour (so it wouldn’t melt our crappy blender).
Once it had cooled slightly, I pureed the pumpkin-broth mixture in three batches, then returned it to the pot, where I added brown sugar and whole milk and gently reheated. I didn’t have ground cinnamon or nutmeg, so had to do without.
Wow. It was delicious — not quite as thick as City Shop’s, but close to it. We had to add a bit more brown sugar and salt to each bowl for a fuller flavour, but the end result was sweet, smooth, creamy, and addictive: Sean, who is not a soup person, had three bowls and couldn’t stop raving. The only thing missing was a crusty loaf of bread.
Was it worth all this time and effort? In short, yes, if only for the satisfaction of having achieved something I’d previously deemed too challenging/bothersome. If I had ready-made veggie stock and a blender not made of flimsy plastic, this would’ve been a much shorter process. At the very least, though, this was cheap: under ¥10 worth of ingredients yielded 6 generous bowls.
The City Shop pumpkin soup will remain a weekly lunch staple for me, but if I’m craving the stuff on a weekend, I’ll be doing this again!
The side dishes
The soup was accompanied by a rather poorly thought out combo of falafel patties and spaghetti with carrot-and-onion-puree pasta sauce.
Most of the recipes I found use canned pumpkin puree, which I thought was a bit of a cop-out (if only to console myself for it not being available here), so this recipe was the closest thing I could find, though I picked up a few ideas from the reviews of this one. The general concept was more or less the same throughout, so here’s my own adaptation (note: measurements are kinda rough):
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 pumpkin (approx. 1.5 kg), peeled and diced
1 litre vegetable stock (see these recipes)
1 cup vegetables (carrot, onion) leftover from veggie stock (optional)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 cup whole milk
Extra salt and brown sugar to taste
1. Heat oil over medium heat and add onion. Cook for 2 minutes until softened. Add garlic, pumpkin, salt, and cumin and cook for another minute. Add leftover veggies and vegetable stock (use less stock if no extra veggies are added) and bring to a boil.
2. Cover and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes, then let cool slightly and blend in batches. Adjust for consistency while blending (it should be pretty thick); if there is too much liquid, discard or put aside excess.
3. Return to pot and add milk and brown sugar. Reheat gently, stirring until heated through (but not boiling).
4. Taste and season if needed. Enjoy!