Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Hokkaido Pumpkin Soup

I’ll just come right out and say it. I took pumpkin for granted. Guilty as charged. I refer to my pre-Denmark days when I could go to any supermarket and buy as much canned pumpkin as I wanted. This was also a time when I had yet to discover just how delightful and soul-satisfying a steaming bowl of pumpkin soup could be. Never a fan of pumpkin pie--I enjoy it more as I get older--in my kitchen pumpkin strictly had been relegated to baked goods, such as muffins, cookies, and pancakes.

A year or so ago I grew excited upon spotting a jar of “canned” pumpkin in my local Danish grocery store. It was a large jar that contained brightly colored orange spears...in some sort of clear liquid. Okay, well, not the kind of canned pumpkin I was used to, but pumpkin nonetheless. Even though I was put off by the orange flesh floating around in the jar, not so unlike animal fetuses in formaldehyde, I bought it anyway. When I got up the nerve to remove the lid I pierced a piece with a fork. It had a mysterious odor and it became clear that it was pickled in some sort of brine a la sweet pickles. I loathe sweet pickles. I plugged my nose and took a bite but the texture--rotten banana? overcooked cauliflower?--stopped me dead in my tracks. Let’s suffice it to say that the jar of pumpkin was short lived.

From that moment forward I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I would lead a pumpkin-less existence, at least when it came to food.

That’s when I discovered the hokkaido (also known as red kuri, also known as potimarron). Oh thank heavens for Hokkaido. Hokkaido...let me count the ways. I was visiting a friend who served mugs of warm and spicy hokkaido soup. I about died. That’s dying in the good way. I seriously suspect this soup has medicinal qualities. It has depth. It has texture to end all textures. And the color? I could stare at it for hours. Okay, maybe I need more to do.

Hokkaido is small in size. It’s a bright, bright orange. It’s flavor is sweet and nutty. It’s easy to peel and less watery/more flavorful than big pumpkins. We’re not so far into October and I’m on my third batch of soup. Hokkaido starts to appear in the stores (and on roadside stands) here in mid- to late-September. Yesterday was another big day for me, along with a new hokkaido, I picked up the last two butternut squash at the veggie market. These are a bit of a rarity in my town. I rejoice simply because when one is living far from what one knows, it’s the little things that make a difference.

Hokkaido Pumpkin Soup

800-900g (one biggish sized) Hokkaido, skin removed and flesh chopped.
3T olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
2t curry powder
2t cumin powder
2t koriander powder
2t nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
3c chicken or vegetable broth
1 can coconut milk
the zest and juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper

Using a sharp knife, carefully remove the skin of the hokkaido and cut into pieces a bit larger than bite sized. Saute curry and garlic in olive oil. Add broth, pumpkin and spices and let cook until pumpkin is soft, 20-30 minutes. Puree using a hand blender or in an upright blender. Return to pan. Add coconut milk and lime juice. Serve.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Lemon, Olive, Parsley Quinoa Cakes

I’ve wanted to share this recipe for months. Months. That’s how fast time has been flying. It gets away from me all the time. Get back here, time. Right this instant. This meal has become a staple at our house. Here are the top five reasons you should hurry to your kitchen and whip some up:

1. They’re delicious. Duh.
2. Quinoa...whole grain, protein.
3. Green olives. The kind you use in Martinis. Kalamata are also a good pick.
4. They look pretty.
5. Excellent leftovers.
6. Bonus: vegetarian.

Don’t let the semi-involved instructions deter you. On the surface, it might seem time consuming, but forming and shaping little patties in your hands is sort of meditative. Sometimes I break the recipe into three steps: cook the quinoa up to a day ahead; prepare the patty mixture and refrigerate up to 24 hours; shape the mixture into disks and pan fry.

These are wonderful served warm on a bed of fresh baby spinach. I’ve had success spooning over either a mustardy vinaigrette or homemade basil pesto - both are amazing with these quinoa cakes.

I also like them cold. The one tip I have is to make your mixture moist enough before cooking. There is a fine line between a moist and tender texture and hockey pucks.  You want to strike a nice balance between patties that are wet enough to stick together and keep their shape and those that fall apart when you put them in the pan. 

Lemon, Olive, Parsley Quinoa Cakes
Adapted from Super Natural Every Day

3c cooked quinoa
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2c grated parmesan
1/3c coarsely chopped green olives
1/3c chopped parsley
1T lemon zest
3/4c bread crumbs
1/2t salt
1/2t pepper or red pepper flakes
1-2T water
2T olive oil

In a large bowl, toss together onion, garlic, cheese, olives, parsley, lemon zest, bread crumbs, salt and pepper, and cooled quinoa.

Add beaten eggs and stir until all of quinoa is moistened. If necessary, add more water, 1T at a time, to thoroughly moisten mixture. Err on the side of wet because the quinoa dries out during cooking.

Scoop mix by 2 tablespoons. Use clean, moist fingers to form into a patty.

Cook 4-5 minutes each side in hot olive oil. Brown and remove to a paper towel lined plate. Serve warm or cold.