Monday, October 13, 2014

The best pumpkin soup around

Southern China is home to a host of sweet soups that are meant to be enjoyed all through the day. One of my favorites is this one: It features pumpkin in all its glory. The only seasonings are some coconut milk, sugar, and a touch of salt, so you really get to taste the pumpkin. This is a breeze to make, and is especially wonderful during autumn, when hard squashes are at their best.

Pumpkins and squash are from the New World, but they have been adopted throughout southern China with delight. Sichuan, for example, has a whole range of dishes that simply are better with pumpkin, like underneath rice crumb pork and in pastry dough. In Cantonese cooking, hard squashes usually show up in sweets like this.

You really can use whatever kind of pumpkin or orange squash you like here. Kabocha squash (which is what is pictured to the right) has a dry, starchy edge to it that is delicious. Pie pumpkins are juicier and have a much sweeter taste. Butternut squash is equally good. So, use whatever you like and looks best.
Kabocha squash

This makes a lot, but it will disappear fast. I refrigerate it in smallish plastic containers that I can microwave for fast breakfasts or late night snacks. You can also use condensed milk instead of the coconut milk and sugar for a more traditional Cantonese taste.

Sweet pumpkin coconut soup with tapioca
Nánguā yèzhī xīmǐlù 南瓜椰汁西米露
Southern China
Serves 6 to 8

1 (3 to 4 pound) pumpkin
Water, as needed
3/4 cup tiny pearl tapioca (not Western-style tapioca)
1 (13.5 ounce) can coconut milk
Sprinkle of sea salt
Sugar or agave syrup to taste

Seed the wedges
1. Use a cleaver or heavy knife to cut the pumpkin into easy-to-handle wedges. Remove the stem end and all the seeds. Use a potato peeler to remove the skin. Chop the flesh into 1-inch (or so) cubes. Place the pumpkin in a large pot and barely cover it with water. Bring the water to a boil over high heat and then lower it to a simmer.Cook the pumpkin until it is cooked through, but not mushy.

2. Reduce the heat to its lowest setting. Sprinkle the tapioca over the pumpkin and gently shake the pan so that all of the tapioca becomes submerged, but do not stir it in. This will help prevent the tapioca from lumping up on the bottom and burning. After 10 minutes, remove the pan from the stove and shake it again gently to mix in the tapioca. 

Then remove the skin
3. After another 20 minutes, add the coconut milk, salt, and sugar, and then gently stir the soup, adding more boiling water as needed to thin it out. Serve this hot or warm. To reheat, use a microwave to avoid burning the tapioca and breaking down the pumpkin too much.


− The tapioca will plump up quite a bit if you refrigerate the soup, so add a bit more water to the container if the soup is on the dry side.

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