Imagine yourself on an island. The azure water shimmers, the palm trees sway, the cabana person of your dreams brings you a platter containing a jaunty umbrella drink, some pineapple, and….pumpkin soup?
Yep. On a recent trip to Jamaica, pumpkin turned up again and again. Not just in soup, but sauteed alongside fresh snapper, and cubed and fried with other local vegetables to make Rasta Pasta.
Known as calabaza or calabash in the Caribbean islands, the Jamaican pumpkin that I ate resembles in size and shape a Kabocha squash rather than an American jack-o-lantern. It might be green, pale or dark, and it might also be yellow or orange. Winter squash are fairly interchangeable in recipes. It really depends on what you feel like peeling. And if peeling is not your thing, because honestly it’s a chore, you can buy a package where someone’s already done the work for you.
For this soup, I highly recommend that you work with fresh squash rather than frozen. Using a can of pumpkin should really be a last resort. In fact, I’ll be using up my pumpkin cans and going straight to fresh winter squash for my pumpkin needs from here out. A few years ago, I began to approach cooking with a more Zen attitude. Some tasks just take diligent concentration. Practically speaking, that means budgeting the 5-10 minutes that it takes to peel and seed a squash.
Caribbean Pumpkin Soup: The Steps
Once you’ve peeled and seeded your squash, you have a couple of options. You can roast it ahead of time, tossing it in oil with salt, pepper, and some Caribbean spices. Allspice is always great in Jamaican food. Rather than being a blend of spices as the name suggests, allspice is a plant native to the island. When Europeans first encountered it, they thought that it tasted like a whole bunch of things—cinnamon, clove, nutmeg—so took the easy way out with “allspice.”
I like roasting the squash ahead of time because the roasted pieces are a great addition to a kale salad. Here’s a favorite recipe from Tieghan over at Half Baked Harvest, and below is how it looked when I made it.
Whether or not you have pre-roasted your squash, the soup is simple to throw together. Saute a chopped onion in coconut oil; sprinkle with some salt. As the onion begins to brown, add in a cubed potato and a peeled and cubed sweet potato. I don’t bother to peel the potato, but I’m not crazy about the thicker skin of sweet potatoes. It’s up to you.
The reason you use a regular potato is that the sweet potatoes of the Caribbean are not as sweet as the ones we get here. Lately, I’ve seen a sweet potato with golden flesh that is closer to the yams I saw in Jamaica. This soup still has an overall savory flavor. If you make it with only sweet potatoes, it will be pretty sweet. So just a heads up on that.
If you’re using squash that you haven’t roasted, you would add it now as well. Sprinkle with some allspice and nutmeg, as well as a little more salt. Saute for about five minutes, then add a sliced carrot; peel or not as you like. Saute another 3 or 4 minutes. Add a quart of broth and bring it to a boil. If you’re using roasted squash, add it to the boiling mixture. Boil about 12 minutes; test that all the vegetables are easily mashable but not mushy.
Blend the soup until it’s your desired consistency.
Lots of garnishes work: Avocado and lime are the classic tropical accompaniments. You could also do sliced browned sausage, tempeh, or vegetables like eggplant or mushrooms. Croutons of your choice are also pretty great. Serve with a salad for a whole meal, or as a tasty starter for a bigger menu.