Almost Greek Cooking in Corona Times: Pumpkin soup

A question often heard during these lockdown times is: “What will we cook?” You cannot order each day pizza or a giros. Here on a Greek island there is a slim choice of vegetables, because only the fresh products of the season are filling up the shelves in the local shops. Although it always surprises me how many different meals you can cook from such a meagre choice of products.

With autumn finally arrives, each evening I get my wood stove purring The first thing I do is start a a stock on the stove. I do not particularly like soups – if I am in the mood for soup it means that I am ill – but sometimes a pumpkin can seduce me to make soup (the only dish with pumpkin that I like).

This big melon sized fruit arrives in autumn and can be kept for a whole winter, if it has a dry and cool place to hibernate. Originally the fruit comes from the American continent, Mexico the country that was its cradle. The famous pumpkin pie is typically American, although some people say that it originated in Europe, its recipe brought by European pioneers.

I cannot remember ever having eaten pumpkin pie, not even here in Greece, where on Lesvos it seems to be a speciality. I prefer pumpkin soup. To make bouillon you can use stock cubes, but since I know what is in those cubes. I try not to use them, even though I have to admit that there is 1 vegetable stock cube on the list of ingredients for the pumpkin soup. The stock is better drawn from a fat chicken.

As a thrifty Dutch person (or an organized housewife) I make a huge pan of stock, planning to put some bouillon in the freezer for times when there is another delicious soup on the menu. I first remove the legs and fillets to be put in the freezer because it is a pity to cook them so long. Once a butcher gave me such an enormous chicken that when I got home I found there was no pan big enough to cook it. So be sure to have a big cooking pan (or a small chicken), because of course you also have to be add vegetables. Put the chicken in the pan and add: 3-4 chopped onions, 3 garlic gloves, 4 sliced carrots, 1/4 chopped white cabbage, 3 leeks cut in rings and 2 cm piece of ginger, sliced. Eventually you can add a tomato or/and some celery. Fill the pan up with water, until all ingredients are under water. When you use a wood stove, first bring the broth to cook on the hob before putting it on a wood stove. Let it simmer for an evening (or a day) and the next day you will have a tasty bouillon. Now you can start working on the pumpkin.

Nowadays in Greece you may find, even on Lesvos, a great assortment with spices, giving the opportunity to make your own mixes. For the pumpkin soup I make an Indian mix: ½ teaspoon cumin, ½ teaspoon coriander, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, ½ teaspoon paprika, 4 – 6 squashed cardamom pods, ½ teaspoon cinnamon powder, 1 teaspoonturmeric,½ teaspoon black pepper. Mix all spices and add a vegetable stock cube.

Cut the pumpkin in slices or pieces (according to the pumpkin’s shape), remove the skin without removing your fingers, remove the inside fibre and reserve the pips to eventually roast.

The first time I saw pumpkins, I visited a Fête de l’Humanité (famous communist festival) close to Paris, where I was living in those days. The pumpkins were as big as skippy balls and I got the fantastic idea to buy one for my brother, who was visiting me, to take it to my parents back home. I can still see my poor brother hauling that colossus through parts of Paris and Holland. When my mother finally got the enormous pumpkin, she had no idea what to do with it and left it to perish in the garden. To spare your back, don’t buy such a big one (sometimes you can even buy ready-cut pieces): the pieces of pumpkin only need to fill ¾ of your casserole.

Fry 1 sliced onion and ½ a thumb piece of ginger in slices in some olive oil, butter or coconut oil until the onions become transparent. Throw the spice mix and crumbled stock cube in and fry for 1 minute, then add the blocks of pumpkin. Fry while turning for 5 minutes. Add chicken stock until the pumpkin blocks are under water and let it cook. When the pieces are soft (after some 45 minutes simmering) you can puree all. Add a large cup of coconut milk (1 tin), put salt according to your wishes and eventually some spiced paste like sambal. Serve with breadsticks. Kaliorexi!

(with thanks to Dina & Pelloum)