It’s often said a picture is worth a thousand words, but they never say whether those words are good or bad. This picture cannot be worth a thousand good words. I never seem to take good pictures of soups, nor when I’m in the middle of a family dinner. And both of those factors came into play here. Tell me, does anyone actually set up their light box studio in the middle of a holiday meal, or do you have kitchens with such fantastic lighting that it doesn’t matter?
Anyway, despite the lack of a great picture, I will tell you that this was one of the best winter squash soups I have ever made. It took me a while to decide on this and you may be wondering why I didn’t just make matzoh ball soup because it’s a must during Passover. The truth is I wanted something that would truly compliment the Sephardic-influenced meal I was going for and matzoh balls are just so… Ashkenazic. I wanted something with depth and spice, and this soup fit that bill. I based the recipe off of one I found in one of my favorite cookbooks, Jewish Traditions. So it turns out that, yes, Jews traditionally eat spiced pumpkin soup – at least the ones from North Africa. This book is full of surprises because it chronicles Jewish cooking and food from around the globe, not just the dishes that many American Jews have grown up with. I altered the recipe by adding what I thought were a few appropriate extra spices, and increased it in volume to serve my dinner guests. When making a pureed soup of any kind, I recommend simmering the vegetables in just enough broth to cover them, then pureeing, and then adding more broth to reach the consistency you like. This way you don’t end up with a soup that’s too thin, and you can achieve a deliciously thick soup without any cream at all.
North-African Spiced Pumpkin Soup
Adapted from Jewish Traditions
6 lbs peeled, diced pumpkin or butternut squash
2-3 tbsp olive oil (a few swirls around a large pan)
1 small or medium onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small habenero pepper, minced
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
freshly ground salt & pepper
10-12 cups chicken broth
fresh chopped cilantro, to garnish
Heat a large soup pot or dutch oven over medium heat and add the olive oil. Saute the onions and the pepper until the onions are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add the ginger, cumin, cinnamon, salt and pepper; stir to combine. Add squash along with enough broth to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and summer until squash is soft, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender (or transfer in batches to a food processor). Add additional broth to reach desired consistency, adjust seasonings to taste, and heat through. Garnish with chopped cilantro.