Dark Days: Southwestern Pumpkin Soup

Dark days, indeed. This is not a political blog; this is a food blog. I know you don’t come here to hear what I think about current events of the day; you come here to find recipes, to hear about my kitchen escapades, maybe for a chuckle or two. But I can’t seem to formulate a happy-go-lucky post about canning, or kitchen organizing, or even soup, in the face of the tragedy unfolding in Arizona.

I am not ashamed to admit that I’ve cried a lot this week. My heart goes out to the victims of the shootings in Tuscon: the families, friends and loved ones of those who were slain, and those victims who at this moment lie in the hospital, either struggling to wrap their heads around the monumentally cruel twist of fate that led them there, or struggling for their very survival. And my heart goes out to all Americans: the seemingly senseless shooting of 20 people on an otherwise bright & sunny morning in Tuscon, AZ seems yet another sign that we, as a country, may well be struggling for our very survival. As so often these days, I find myself dancing the peculiar Internet shuffle of wanting to be informed but not able to stomach the vitriol, the name-calling, the sheer astounding volume of bile that can be spewed across our digital airwaves. So I pick and I choose: I try to avoid any news story about people possessing the initials “SP” or “GB;” as a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, I try not to seek out only articles and stories that will preach to the choir, but struggle to find some balanced reporting on the issue.

But, what do you do when our response to a true American tragedy is to point fingers, bicker, and lay blame? How black is your soul when you respond to a moment of silence observed following a mass murder by mocking it as “nothing but a photo op?” What do you do with a Congressman who, in the wake of the murder of six people by a madman carrying a semi-automatic handgun, calls not for increased gun control, nor for improved health care options for the mentally ill, but for the banning of crosshair symbols? Or with someone who celebrates the attempted assassination of one of our elected officials as a “good example of how guns keep our country safe from liberals?” How long can we live in this climate of hate and still call ourselves “one nation, indivisible?” I don’t know. I don’t know what to do. So I do what I do so often – I turn to the comforting rituals of the kitchen.

I make soup. I peel and chop, I roast and simmer. And because Arizona is at the forefront of my heart and mind, I find myself reaching for flavors of the American Southwest: pumpkin and corn, chiles and cilantro. And because I am who I am, I make it a local soup: because I believe that my actions, as well as my words, can influence others. I believe that homemade soup, crafted from vegetables sustainably grown by my neighbors, in my neighborhood, is more than the sums of its parts. It is soup, yet so much more: a dream, a vision, an ideal. Of a happy home, a thriving community, a vibrant regional food system, a healthy planet. These murders in Tuscon: so many lives, irrevocably altered in the blink of an eye. Tragic, heartbreaking, yet so much more: a crossroads, a warning sign, an opportunity. Will we descend ever further into polarizing rhetoric, vitriol and hate? Or will we, as our President exhorts, honor the fallen, rise above, and create an America of which 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green would be proud? I don’t know. I don’t have any answers. What I have is soup. Soup, and hope for the future. It’s all I have to offer. I hope it’s enough.

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Southwestern Pumpkin Soup

INGREDIENTS

  • one 3 lb pumpkin (or other winter squash), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 tbsp oil (I used StonyBrook butternut squash seed oil)
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large sweet onion (Vidallia or Walla Walla), cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 6 – 8 large cloves garlic, whole
  • 2 cups corn kernels (fresh or frozen: I  used Tai’s grilled corn)
  • 2 small red chiles roughly chopped (fresh or frozen)
  • 4 cups stock, chicken, turkey or vegetable
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 – 4 dried chiles (I used pequin chiles)
  • 1 tsp packed chopped cilantro (fresh or frozen)

 METHODS

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the pumpkin cubes with oil and a generous amount of salt and pepper.  Spread the pumpkin evenly on a rimmed baking sheet (reserve excess oil) and roast for about 25 – 35 minutes, or until just tender when pricked with a fork.
  3. Toss the onion slices and garlic cloves in the remaining oil (or add more oil if necessary).  If not using already grilled or roasted corn, toss the corn in oil as well and roast with the onions & garlic. Make room on the pumpkin baking sheet and add the garlic and onions (or use another sheet if roasting corn).  Roast for another 15 – 20 minutes or until the onions and pumpkin are tender, and the pumpkin is just beginning to brown.  Keep an eye on the garlic to make sure it doesn’t burn.  When done, transfer all the vegetables to a medium stockpot.
  4. Add the stock and fresh chiles to the stockpot and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. 
  5. Meanwhile, toast the coriander seeds and dried chiles in a dry skillet, over medium heat, until they are fragrant, about 3 – 5 minutes. Add toasted spices to a tea infuser or cheesecloth bag and add to the soup.
  6. Reduce the heat under the stockpot to low and simmer the soup, covered, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pumpkin is very soft and begins to disintegrate.
  7. Remove the spice ball.  Blend soup with an immersion blender, or transfer to a blender or food processor and puree.  Return to stockpot and stir in cilantro.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Garnish with a few corn kernels and thin slices of fresh chile or a sprinkling of fresh cilantro. Serve with love.

Serves 6.

OPTIONS

  1. The soup does not have to be blended (I am not a fan of pumpkin chunks in soup) it can be cooked and eaten as a broth soup. Blending does give it a slightly grainy texture from the corn, one that I enjoy, actually, but it will work well either way.
  2. You can substitute ground coriander for the toasted seeds; start with about 1/2 a teaspoon and taste to adjust.
  3. This soup is pretty spicy; remove seeds from the fresh chiles, or decrease the amount of dried chiles, to moderate the heat.

STORE

Refrigerated for up to 1 week. Will freeze well for up to 6 months.

SEASON

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17 comments

  1. Very well said. I immensely hate politics, partly for this reason. They make people crazy, I swear! And lately, they are getting out of hand. The economic state of this country is not what it used to be, and I feel people are just pointing fingers at politicians, when they aren’t solely to blame.

    But enough about politics, about the soup. I’ve come to love squash soups! I could make this with pumpkin puree I have in the freezer, right? It probably won’t have the same flavor since the pumpkin isn’t roasted. I might give it a try anyway.

    • Hi Kaytee,

      The real flavor from this version came from the smoky grilled corn; I think you’ll be fine with pumpkin puree, as long as you roast the corn to a nice deep caramelized flavor. You could try roasting the pumpkin puree at the same time, although I would cover it lest it get a dried-out skin. Use about 2 to 2 and 1/2 lbs of puree.

      As for politics… maybe the true silver lining of this tragedy will be a more meaningful discourse on the best way to achieve “a more perfect union.” Time will tell.

  2. Heather

    Bravo. I love your blog, but have never previously been moved enough to comment. I, too, believe that soups (and stews, braises, and lowly casseroles) are more than the sum of their parts. I remain humbled and inspired by the curious power of local foods and local living. I, too, have struggled to comprehend not only the Tucson tragedy but the reaction (or lack thereof) from those you mention. This fellow upstater (Central NY) will cook this soup tonight in honor of your words today. Happily, all of the (local) ingredients are already in my larder. Thank you — it was more than enough.

  3. Nancy

    The recipe: Seeing how I still have several pumpkins worth of puree in my freezer, this recipe comes not a minute too late!

    The issue: I, too, was disheartened by the response of many Democrats who chose to use the tragedy for political leverage. Just as I was appalled when Republicans used poor Terry Schiavo for the same reason back in 2001. Human tragedy is not a bargaining chip!

  4. Thanks for the great recipe! Our family lives somewhat separated from the mainstream… no television… no network news… and the data we do aggregate from the web is always judiciously taken for what it is… sans the emotional bias and political agendas. So it is refreshing to see a genuine attempt to express one’s point of view on pressing national concerns without blatantly capitalizing on this tragedy for a few extra hits. And I especially love the theme of the dish and how it relates… it just goes that extra step towards helping people understand that there are many ways to “keep someone in your thoughts”

  5. i am with you sister, all the way. i am left feeling as you; in the current state of the nation, and more acutely in the wake of our awful arizona tragedy – i just don’t know what to do. growing food, eating locally & sustainably feels like a healing act. but sometimes, and ever more frequently, i feel a loss of hope.

    • I know exactly how you feel, Tigress; I think my first reaction was on the order of “I’m moving to Canada.” (or Spain or Portugal or Costa Rica or…). But I am lucky to have good friends who reminded me that to stay and fight for the America *we* want, the one we know is possible, is the more noble pursuit.

      If you haven’t watched Obama’s speech, you should: I found it quite healing and it gave me hope.

  6. An eloquent post. You’ve captured in words what many people are feeling. Being north of the border hasn’t absolved me from feeling lost and discouraged in the face of violence and senselessness. Sometimes the best thing we can do is return to the fundamentals and what we know is right: creating, with love, food that nourish and sustains us and our families in a way that honours the earth and all those that tend it. In that basic act of cooking great food with ethical ingredients, we acknowledge that we are interconnected to this earth and its inhabitants and we cannot live this life alone. This post with a dark days meals is a beautiful metaphor that even in the darkest of days, we can still create goodness.

  7. Thank you for your posting. I find it refreshing sometimes to see in these food blogs that people are aware of the current events and not just buried in their pantries trying not to be affected by these tragedies. I have to admit to my addiction to the news, but it goes back to the time when I avoided the news – all news and hid under the covers to avoid it.

    This was a tragedy that needed to be worked out for us all through tears, words or contemplation. Probably a little of all three.

    Thanks for a great recipe too…soup is so healing…as we all know from our grandmothers.

  8. Pingback: {weekend reading} NATIONAL Edition « FROM SCRATCH club

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