Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It's the Great Pumpkin [soup], Charlie Brown!

I love pumpkin! I really do. And I love coconut milk. And cilantro. And ginger. There's this amazing Thai pumpkin soup (Keg Bouad Mak Fak Kham) in Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. It has pretty much everything I love together at last in one happy pot. As written, the recipe was delicious - silky smooth with small chunks of pumpkin for texture. Then I decided to get crazy with the immersion blender and puree the whole thing. That took it to 11. Oh yes, I went there - and so did the soup. After sitting for a few hours to let the flavors blend, everything seemed more intense. The rich, sweet pumpkin and coconut milk, the spicy ginger, the salty fish sauce, and the refreshing cilantro all made for a multi-layered tasting experience. Mostly, though, it was just plain yummy.

"Wait a minute - fish sauce??" you must be wondering. Oh yes, my friends. Fish sauce. Straight from the bottle, its smell is pungent enough to knock your socks off. The flavor is equally strong. I grew up with this as a common condiment with all the Vietnamese food we ate, but it's not for everyone. That said, you should definitely NOT omit it. If you're unsure, just add it one tablespoon at a time and work your way up to taste. You won't regret it.

Silky-Coconut Pumpkin Soup (Keg Bouad Mak Fak Kham)
adapted from Hot Sour Salty Sweet, by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

3 to 4 shallots, chopped
1 1/2 pounds pumpkin or butternut squash (untrimmed), or 1 1/4 pounds peeled and trimmed
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 can (14.5 oz) of coconut milk
2 cups mild chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup loosely packed cilantro (coriander) leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fish sauce, or to taste
Generous grindings of black pepper
1/4 cup minced scallion greens (optional)

Peel and trim the pumpkin and clean off any seeds. Cut into small 1/2-inch cubes. You should have 4 1/2 to 5 cups cubed pumpkin.

In a large pot over medium heat, melt the butter and saute the shallots, pumpkin, and ginger until shallots are tender, about 5-8 minutes.

Add the coconut milk, broth, and cilantro leaves to pot and bring to a boil. Add the salt and simmer over medium heat until the pumpkin is tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the fish sauce and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Taste for salt and add a little more fish sauce if desired. Serve as is for authentic Thai version. For bastardized Maxine version, puree the soup in a blender (working in batches) until smooth. This soup is best when allowed to sit for at least one hour. I like to make mine the night before.

When ready to serve: reheat soup over medium-low, ladle into individual bowls, and garnish with generous grindings of black pepper and minced scallions, if desired. I never bother, but I know it tastes good and looks pretty.
pumpkin soup


  1. Is there anything I can sub for the fish sauce to make it vegetarian? I, too, adore the above-mentioned foods. :)

  2. Of course you can just omit it completely, but it will lose that one layer of savoury. To compensate, I'd say add some cumin, coriander, or orange zest (or all!) at the end of sauteing the veggies. Maybe even a little turmeric... It's a fun soup for experimentation - I've made several versions and it always turns out pretty yummy. Let me know how it goes if you make it!


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