It’s autumn, so obviously we want to cook pumpkin soup. A nice and warm combination of pumpkin, ginger, chilli and orange lentils for instance. Or with Jus de Truffe for a bit of extra umami and exclusivity. Both are excellent vegetarian dishes, perfect for lunch with some crusted bread or as a starter. Having recently prepared kabocha with shrimps, we decided to prepare a vegetarian soup with it. The basis of the soup is Kombu Dashi (made with dried Kelp). The dashi and the soy sauce bring saltiness and umami to the soup, which combines very well with the exceptional sweetness of the pumpkin and the mirin.
You could prepare the soup with the skin of the kabocha, but we love the intense orange colour of the inside.
What You Need
20 grams of Kelp
1 litre Water
Light Soy Sauce
What You Do
Add the kelp to one litre of cold water. Put on low heat and wait until it has reached 80 °C or 175 °F. Overheating it will make the dashi bitter. In the meantime, wash and peel the kabocha, remove the seeds and dice. Remove the kelp from the pan, discard and add the kabocha. Allow to simmer on low heat for 20-30 minutes until the kabocha is soft. Remove some of the liquid and blender the kabocha. Add liquid until you have the right consistency. In our experience you will need one litre of water to cook the kabocha but it might be too much liquid for a nice, velvety consistency of your soup. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of mirin and 1 or 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce. It’s a matter of your preference, ripeness of the kabocha and the kelp. Best to decorate with some purple shiso, or with sprouts (as we did), provided they’re not too spicy.
The traditional Japanese way of preparing Kabocha (Japanese Pumpkin) requires a bit of work but is not overly complex. The result is a combination of delicate, fresh pumpkin flavours with clear umami as a result of simmering the pumpkin in a dashi-based stock. You could replace the Japanese Pumpkin with a more common winter squash or with a red Hokkaido pumpkin.
Combining shrimps and pumpkin seems a bit odd, but it’s actually very nice. The combination is colourful and the various flavours come together nicely, also thanks to the dashi. The first time we enjoyed this combination was when we prepared Takiawase, following the recipe from author and Michelin Award winning chef Akira Oshima. The recipe is included in his book Yamazato, Kaiseki Recipes: Secrets of the Japanese Cuisine. It’s a mouth-watering dish but unfortunately fairly difficult to prepare. Typically, Takiawase is a combination of vegetables and fish. Every ingredient requires its own preparation and is simmered in its own dashi-based stock. Indeed: four different kinds of homemade stock. The recipe of Akira Oshima combines kabocha, eggplant, okra and shrimp.
We prefer a glass of sake with our Kabocha with Shrimps, for instance a Junmai sake with fresh aromas and good acidity. The sake must be dry and well-balanced with a clean finish. You could enjoy a glass of white wine with the dish, provided it’s dry and mineral. Or a more adventurous choice: a glass of Manzanilla or Fino sherry. Manzanilla is a dry sherry with a flowery bouquet, a delicate palate and subtle acidity. It works beautifully with the dashi and the sweetness of both the kabocha and the shrimps.
Start by preparing 500 ml of dashi. Peel and devein the six shrimps. We prefer to leave the tail on. Transfer the shrimps to a bowl, add some sake and transfer to the refrigerator for a few hours. Peel the Kabocha, remove the seeds. Halve and then slice in 6 equal parts. Combine 400 ml of dashi with 25 ml of mirin, 25 ml of light soy sauce and a tablespoon of sake. Add the slices of kabocha and let is simmer for some 10 minutes or until nearly done. In parallel heat a heavy iron skillet, add oil, dry the shrimps with kitchen paper and then fry them quickly, let’s say 4 minutes. Transfer to a warm oven. Remove the oil from the pan with kitchen paper. Reduce the heat to low. Mix 50 ml of dashi with 25 ml of mirin and a small spoon of light soy sauce. Deglaze the pan and let the mixture reduce. Transfer the shrimps back the pan and coat them quickly with the mixture. Serve the slices of kabocha with the fried, coated shrimps and the pickled cucumber.
Such a simple, tasty, inexpensive and vegetarian soup! What more can you ask for? A bit of jus de truffe maybe? Make sure to buy organic pumpkins. This allows you to use the skin; so two benefits: there is no need to peel the pumpkin and the soup will be better tasting. Red lentils will become completely soft when cooked for 30 minutes; very different from green or black lentils. We add the lentils not only because of their taste, but also because they improve the texture of the soup. Give the soup a finishing touch by adding pumpkin seed oil, jus de truffe or truffle flavoured olive oil (for instance produced by Moulins de la Brague).
Pumpkin Seed Oil, Jus de Truffe or Truffle Flavoured Olive Oil
Chop de red onion in smaller but equal sized bits and put in a pan with olive oil. Put on moderate heat and give it some 5 to 10 minutes. Now add the chopped and seeded chilli pepper, the garlic and stir. Continue for 5 minutes on moderate heat. Add the chopped pumpkin and the lentils and stir for another 5 minutes. Peel the ginger, cut in cubes and put on a small wooden stick. This way you can easily remove the ginger later on. Now add boiling water and leave for 30 minutes to simmer or until the pumpkin is very, very soft. When done remove the ginger. Taste the ginger and decide how much ginger you want to add to the soup. We just love fresh ginger so we would add most of it. Blender the remainder into a smooth soup. You could pass it through a sieve to make sure it’s like a lovely velouté. Cool and transfer to the refrigerator for the next day. Warm the soup and add a splash of truffle flavoured olive oil or pumpkin seed oil and lots of cilantro before serving. You can also make a milder version by reducing the amount of chilli and ginger. Then add jus de truffe, a bit of olive oil and maybe some pepper before serving.