I don't know how many years I've been making this soup. At least 10 I suspect. I've been very devoted to it, and it has repaid me well. It's luscious, and unctuous, and tastes fabulous. For some reason I've always used Queensland Blue as the pumpkin in this soup, while my favourite pumpkin variety is actually Jap. I must try this one day with Jap, or even butternut I suspect.
As with any soup that you've made over and over things are often a little different each time. This time I used a different brand of coconut milk. I spied some organic light coconut milk at the supermarket that I hadn't tried (in anything) before. It was actually quite a bit creamier than the brand of light coconut milk that I normally buy, and to my horror I found this weeks version of the soup almost too creamy in the end! That brand would be fantastic in the coconut rice pudding I've been making this winter though. Oh, now there's a thought.
I'm not an organic devotee, but will buy organic when I can. It's got to be good for us, and the planet, not to be using dreadful chemicals and insecticides to grow our food. I also bought some local saffron when I saw that in the local produce shop. Again, I do like to support local people, and try to avoid food miles whenever I can. I won't buy asparagus flown in from Peru for instance, or cherries from America in the middle of our winter. It's so much nicer when it's our local asparagus, in season. It tastes better. It's not always cheaper, but often is. But local produce does have a much better flavour, from being fresher, and not having flown half way around the world at great cost, and great use of resources. Australian law requires that our fruit and veg shops label all their wares with the country of origin. I think that's a great step forward for helping us to buy seasonal food, that nutritious, fresh and cheap, and also low on air miles. And even though thinking about this is a quagmire, the BBC advises that local is greener than organic.
So I was quite pleased to find locally grown saffron in the shops. Most of the saffron available in Australia is from the Kashmir or Iran. Not totally around the world, but far enough. I guess saffron is as light as fairy dust so the fuel usage wouldn't be all that much to transport it here? I was vaguely unhappy about paying $9 for a very small packet, but indeed it did seem the only source of saffron available in my small town last weekend. I was even more unhappy when I got home and realised that my packet weighed 100mg. So my $9, whilst not completely over the top, meant that I was in effect paying $90,000/kg! I nearly choked when I worked that out. So how much is the Kashmiri stuff that I normally buy from Herbie's? (And if you don't buy your spices from Herbie's you should, they have wonderful stuff). I was again rather shocked to work out that it was $23,000/kg. But that does pale into insignificance against $90,000/kg. Indeed, it almost seems cheap....Is Australian saffron the most expensive substance on earth? I see that gold is a mere $43,568.73/kg today. So this saffron was twice as expensive as gold. I wonder how much a kilo of uranium goes for? OMG. It's about $100 USD per kilo! How can that be? Why isn't uranium $90,000/kg, and saffron for soup makers a paltry $100/kg? Given the extraordinary price tag of this saffron I decided to soak it in water to release the flavour and colour (I don't usually do this step, though it does plump it up and make it look nice).
This soup is from Dorinda Hafner's Dorinda's Taste of the Caribbean. It is the only recipe that I have made from this book. There is a rather tempting Blaff (Caribbean Fish Soup) on the facing page, but I've somehow never got around to making it. The pumpkin soup is in the Guadeloupe section, and Dorinda introduces it thus:
Pumpkin is one of the vegetables I saw used most often in the Caribbean. The thick-skinned vegetables with vivid yellow insides are everywhere in the Caribbean. They are so fresh and sweet, it is little wonder they are so popular in many local dishes. This one is a simple soup with a spicy touch.
Spicy Cream of Pumpkin Soup
1/4 cup (57g/59ml) butter or vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tsp seeded chopped Scotch bonnet chilli
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp powdered saffron
1/4 tsp allspice
4 cups coconut milk
2 cups vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 carrots, cleaned and chopped into bite-sized chunks
4 pounds (1.8 kg) pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and cut into bite-sized chunks
4-6 sprigs parsley, for garnish
2 tbls light (single) cream, for garnish
In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter or heat the oil over a medium heat and saute the garlic, onion, and chilli until the onion looks transparent, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Stir in the spices and coconut milk (or stock, if using). Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the carrots and pumpkin, partially cover the pan, and bring the mixture to the boil. Cook over a low heat until the vegetables are soft and cooked, about 40 to 50 minutes.
Remove from the heat, leave to cool down a little (about 10 minutes), then puree in a blender until smooth. Return the soup to the pot to gently heat through. Do not allow the soup to boil.
When the soup is heated through, remove the pan from the heat and ladle equal quantities into warmed soup bowls. Place a small, decorative sprig of parsley in the centre of each bowl and swirl a little cream in a small circle around the parsley. Serve hot with bread.
I make quite a number of changes to this soup, in method mainly, not ingredients.
I always saute the onion first, then add the garlic later. Why is it home cooks have trouble with garlic burning, but chefs don't?
I alwas add the spices and stir until fragrant before adding the coconut milk. And why wouldn't you, this smells amazing:
Mr Soup doesn't like spicy food, and neither does Soup Jr, so I've never added the chilli.
I do use the stock as well as the coconut milk.
I've never bothered garnishing it with anything. It's good enough by itself. So good that I forgot to take a photo of the finished soup!