Fall is nostalgia.
The change of seasons ignites a flurry of wistful memories. I think back to 4th grade, waiting for the bus sporting brand new Keds, scrunch socks, and side pony tails. Comfort meals such as pasta and lentils would frequent our dinner table. Red candy apples and costumes (I was a Hershey Kiss one year- thanks mom) also come to mind.
For now, winter will be tempered by colorful autumn leaves. But it’s hard to ignore that feeling in the air… along with the familiar smell of pumpkin soup.
This year I’m going Thai with creamy coconut milk and tangled scallions.
Yes, tangled scallions.
All you have to do is slice or julienne your scallions into very thin strands. Plunge them into an ice bath. After about 10 minutes they will begin to change shape. Don’t be disappointed if they do not curl at first, it takes a couple of minutes to get going. Allow them to bathe in their polar pool until ready to use. That’s what the fancy restaurants do. Combined with cilantro I use this to garnish the soup.
Lentils are the ‘it’ thing in my kitchen at the moment.
Oddly enough, I grew up hating them. My mom prepared them in the cold winter months, with pasta and broccoli rabe topped with hot red cherry peppers. If you are a small child that is the worst possible combination of your life; earthy, bitter, and flaming hot. All I wanted was plain pasta with butter and parm!
I use the convenient steamed French lentils from Trader Joe’s. A reader turned me onto them. They are small, firm, and ready to use. Add them to your soup right before serving for a quick dose of protein.
And finally, rice cakes.
Stuffed into my lunchbox and usually in a million pieces by snack time, I ate these as a kid. Rice cakes were not planned to function as a ‘crouton’ but this soup needed crunch. I had nothing. Nothing that even resembled crunch. On a whim I crumbled some of my own kids’ rice cakes over the top. So good! (and I’m not just saying that). They’re instant texture, salty, and do not become soggy. I’m going to do this with tomato soup…
Is it just me, or are you feeling fall nostalgia too?
- This recipe is reminiscent of Thai coconut soup, Tom Ka Gai. The key is to achieve a good balance of salt, sweet, and acidity. Make adjustments as you go. In a pinch, I’ve prepared this with only coconut milk and lime juice ( no ginger, roasted chili paste, lemongrass, and fish sauce). It produced a bright and fresh alternative to the original version.
- Pumpkin soup can be made with either fresh pumpkin, pumpkin puree, or butternut squash and these names are used interchangeably. I’m using butternut squash here, however any of the above will work. I went with ‘pumpkin’ to avoid a really long title!
- 1 small red onion, diced
- 1 tsp. grated ginger
- 2 tbsp. roughly chopped lemongrass (about 2 stalks)
- 1–2 tbsp. roasted chili paste (not curry paste) or Nam Prik Pao**
- 2 1/2 c. butternut squash, peeled + cubed into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1x 14 oz. can of coconut milk
- 2 c. organic chicken or vegetable stock, + more as needed
- 2 tsp. fish sauce
- 1 lime
- 1 c. prepared French lentils*
- olive oil
- salt + pepper
- 1 scallion
- handful of fresh cilantro
- 4 brown rice cakes
- lime wedges
*I use Trader Joe’s steamed lentils. Canned will work too.
** Look for Thai Kitchen brand roasted chili paste or traditional Nam Prik Pao sold in Asian grocery stores.
- In a large, heavy bottom pot warm a splash of olive oil over moderate heat.
- Add the onions, ginger, lemongrass, and 1 tbsp. of chili paste. Saute until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the butternut squash.
- Pour in the coconut milk and just enough stock to cover; start with 1 cup of stock and increase as needed.
- Bring the soup to a gentle boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the squash is tender.
- Ladle 1 cup of the cubed squash (no broth) into a bowl and set aside to add back to the soup later.
- Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender with the lid vented so that the steam can escape. Add more stock if it’s too thick.
- Pour the soup back into the pot and warm over low heat. Taste, add more chili paste (if you prefer), fish sauce, and the juice of 1 lime.
- Add the reserved cubed butternut squash.
- Add the lentils.
- To prepare the garnish, trim the scallion into one 5-inch piece, reserving the white and light green part only. Thinly slice or julienne lengthwise into very thin strands. Plunge into an ice bath. The scallions will begin to curl, about 10 minutes.
- To serve, ladle the soup into bowls. Top each portion with tangled scallions and fresh cilantro. Crumble the rice cakes over the top. Serve with lime wedges on the side.