Pumpkin Soup Curries Flavor – I Mean – Favor

I will not lie: I love pumpkin. In bread, in muffins, in ravioli. In stuffing, biscuits and of course, pie. But one of my favorite ways to use pumpkin is in a hearty yet tender soup perfect for these wintry evenings. Curried Pumpkin Soup is not only tasty, it’s quick and simple. Six ingredients and 30 minutes, along with a hunk of lusty crusty bread and a simple salad, gets you a perfect weeknight meal.

Curried Pumpkin Soup
2 tbsp olive oil or coconut oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
Your favorite curry blend, to taste (I use about 2 tbsp of Penzey’s Curry blend)
1/2 cup peanut butter, preferably the all-natural, unsweetened kind
2 cups pumpkin purée
32 ounces chicken broth or vegetable broth

Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the onions and cook over medium heat, fairly gently, until the onions are soft – about 5 minutes. Add the curry powder and peanut butter. Stir for a minute or so to soften the peanut butter and mix the curry powder with the oil and onions.

Gradually add the broth, whisking as you add it, to break up the peanut butter if it is lumpy. Add the pumpkin and whisk until the soup is smooth.
Heat through until piping hot.

Serve with your favorite bread. Garnish the soup with a little chopped parsley and/or a sprinkling of roasted pumpkin seeds.




Soup Jerk

I’ve been making a Jerk Chicken dish for several years now.  It has transitioned from a grilled dish to an oven-baked one, with good results.  The original idea got me onto an epidosode of “The Splendid Table” with Lynne Rosetto Kasper. She even took me seriously, which was a thrill.  I say that because the marinade is a little on the strange side, especially if Caribbean cooking is not something you’ve done often.

The Original Jerk Chicken recipe starts with a tangy, spicy, nutty paste made with:

  • 1/2 cup of plain yogurt
  • a very ripe banana (I put overripe ones in the freezer for just this reason – well, and muffins, too)
  • 1/2 cup of your favorite peanut butter
  • a tablespoon of soy sauce
  • as much of your favorite Jerk seasoning blend as you like (Penzey’s has a great one)

Mash it all into a paste and coat some boneless, skinned chicken thighs with it.  I prefer thighs to breaimagest meat.

As I mentioned, this started out going on the grill.  I realized, though, that I lost half the good paste to the grill, since I had to turn the chicken so often to keep the paste from burning.  It can be done, though.

I recently started baking the dish in the oven out of convenience, and found I like it even better.  The sauce thins out as the meat exudes broth, but the flavors move deeper into the meat.  And it is easy; a dish of six thighs cooks in about 25 minutes – just long enough to pan fry some plantain in a bit of coconut oil and sauté some chopped greens, like the last of the Swiss Chard I picked before last weekend’s surprise snow.  What a great warming meal!

Then, last night, as I was putting away the leftovers, I looked at that baking dish with the rich brothy sauce, the remaining three thighs and a nice pile of braised chard and thought “SOUP!”   It was half done, already.

Here’s what I did to finish it this morning.

  • I cut six or seven smallish Yukon Gold potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes and put them in the bottom of the slow cooker.
  • The leftover sauce went in next, followed by:
  • the remaining thighs, which I tore into bite-size pieces
  • a good solid cup or more of the cooked Swiss Chard (any greens, including limp Romaine Lettuce would work just as well)
  • and a quart of chicken broth. In this case I used Earth Fare Organic broth in the carton, but homemade is even better, if you have it
  • Just for fun, because it is a Caribbean-influenced dish, after all, I added about 1/4 cup coconut oil.

It simmered on low all day.  It would have been just fine as it was, but I felt like boosting the richness just a tad, so just before serving, I softened about 1/4 cup cream cheese and tempered it with hot broth – ladling the broth into the cream cheese while stirring briskly to eliminate lumps.  This mixture went back into the soup, which was then ladled into warm bowls.

Fantastic stuff. The first bite of those tender, seasoned potatoes and we swooned.



Indian-inspired Quick Dinner

Mr. Dewey woke up with the beginnings of a cold.  I’ve had a stuffy head for a week or more, and have just felt wrung out.  It seemed some warm, head-clearing, blood-cleaning spices were in order.  I often will make a slow cooker chicken and lentil dish with Buryani paste, tomatoes, onions, and a few other seasonings.  I like to cook the lentils separately in the rice cooker, with lots of cumin, cilantro, and ginger in the lentils, and the other seasonings in the chicken.

I didn’t have everything on hand that I needed for that dinner, so I just started pulling stuff from the fridge.  Here’s what I ended up with:

2 chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 Leek, trimmed of tough ends, chopped, rinsed and well drained
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 -10 ounce package of frozen spinach, thawed
2 Tbsp curry powder
2 Tbsp Coriander Chutney*
1 tsp Ginger, minced
1/4 cup creme fraiche, buttermilk, yogurt, or 1/2 and 1/2
1-2 tsp honey**

Sauté the leeks and onions in olive oil until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté another minute.  Add curry powder and chicken; sauté another 5 minutes.  Add about 1 cup of water, the coriander chutney and ginger; cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, another 5 to 10 minutes.  At the end, stir in the creme fraiche or whatever dairy you have on hand.  Serve.  We ate it just like that, but it would also be good over rice or lentils, or even with boiled potatoes.

**I used creme fraiche because I had some on hand and needed to use it up.  Only after I had stirred it in did I realize that I had sweetened it with honey when I served it with breakfast the week before.  Yikes!  Turns out, it was perfect.  The sweetness from the honey perfectly balanced the slight bitter edge from the curry powder.  It was really good!  So, if I make it again and use some other dairy, I will remember to add honey.

Swad Coriander Chutney

* I am in love with Swad Coriander Chutney.  I found it at the local Kroger and keep at least two jars of  it on hand at all times.  I could eat the stuff with a spoon!

This meal was delicious, healthy, quick, and did the trick of opening up stuffed heads and warming us up from top to bottom.




A Glorious Ride on the Cholesterol Carousel

Are there any Department Stores out there that still have their own restaurants inside?  I haven’t seen one in a long time.  Many years ago, when little cafes, delis, and restaurants were still found nestled into the corners of the Dayton’s, Marshall Field’s, and Goldblatt’s stores, I worked at such a place.  It had some wonderful little dishes – some quirky, such as a jelly omelet, and some delightful, such as their signature soup, cream of mushroom.  That stuff was so thick you could stand a spoon in it, and full of earthy mushroom flavor.  And yes, cream.  It was garnished with a swirl of unsweetened whipped cream that spread like a velvet carpet across the top of the steaming bowl.  I was obsessed.  So much so that, after I left there, I took it upon myself to create my own version.  It is now a favorite, but one I only dare make once or twice a year – usually for the church soup suppers.  We have one just before Advent, after the sanctuary has been cleaned and decorated, and once at Easter, for the Maundy Thursday.  It’s simple, really, but delicious and soul-satisfying.

Snad’s Cream of Mushroom Soup

Cream of Mushroom Soup

2-4 Tbls unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 pound white mushrooms, cleaned and finely chopped (I use the pulse setting on the food processor)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 -1 cup roux*
1 quart heavy whipping cream
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste

Melt butter in the bottom of a heavy soup pot.  Sauté the onion until tender.  Add mushrooms and garlic and continue to sauté until mushrooms are tender and have released their juice.  Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat and add the roux, stirring constantly, to thicken.  I use a China hat or sieve and whisk to incorporate the roux, to avoid creating lumps.  At this point, you could season the soup and serve it, if you are really trying to watch your cholesterol.  It’s pretty tasty as is.  Or you could use milk, or even 2% milk, if you insist.†  But, if you want that velvety, luscious mouth-feel and oh-so-decadent taste, you really need to go with cream.  If you are going to go all the way, be sure to thicken the soup enough so that another quart of liquid won’t make it too thin.  This is supposed to be a substantial soup, after all.

So go ahead.  Add the cream.  Add the whole quart, gradually, while whisking, to ensure it doesn’t curdle.  Gently warm the soup to serving temperature and season with salt to taste.  That’s really it.  Serve this soup with a small salad of field greens and some crusty, lusty bread ( with butter, of course) and enjoy.

* Roux

A roux is essential for making many soups and sauces.  I keep some on hand.  It is shelf stable for a long time.  Simply melt some butter in a heavy skillet.  I use a cast iron skillet for the evenness of the heat.  Once the butter is melted, add an equal weight of all-purpose flour.  Stir to completely combine and return the skillet to a medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.  Or, place the skillet in a 250˚F oven for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how much roux you are making.  I used 8 ounces of butter and flour each and it took about 40 minutes to get just slightly brown and nutty smelling.  Use what you need to use for your recipe, and put the rest in a container with a tight-fitting lid, once it is cooled.

† Using Lower Fat Dairy Instead of Cream

If you insist: it’s probably a good idea to temper the milk to prevent curdling, before you add it to the hot soup.  Place your milk in a large bowl and add a few ladles of the hot soup.  Whisk to combine, then add this mixture to your large pot of soup, while whisking.  Carry on.  But it won’t be as much fun.  You have been warned.