Sunday, November 20, 2016

Pumpkin soup with tahini and sumac-roasted pumpkin seeds

Hello friends. It’s been a while, I know. I missed you too. I missed coming here to share my food and thoughts with you, and I would like to thank all of you who emailed me or left me messages here asking if I am okay. I am okay. I am more than okay. I am great actually. Better than I’ve been in a very long time.

What I’ve been up to these past few months? Well, for the whole of September I was on vacation in Greece having the time of my life. When I returned, my hair still smelled of the Mediterranean Sea, my face was still warm from the Greek sun —with small freckles that I always get and had missed seeing on my face—, and my kitchen smelled of dried oregano, mint, and quince spoon sweet while I savored each precious bite of the walnuts and honey I brought back from the mountains of North Euboea.

I returned to the Netherlands feeling re-energized, rejuvenated and excited for all that life had to offer. Vacation does that to you; makes you see life more clearly, set new goals, find the strength and courage to try new things.
Being with my family and loved ones in Greece made all the difference for me. I needed their kind words, their love and attention. I needed their wisdom and the belief that they have in me.

I had a fabulous time, with ups and downs —it wasn’t a drama-free time, let me tell you— but life happens, you know, life, with all the good and the bad. What you take from any experience and what you choose to keep close to your heart is the important part.
I chose to retain the positive feelings and relaxing mood, and the beautiful images of the places I’ve seen and of the faces I love and cherish.

And then worked happened, too much work to be exact, but the kind that makes you feel good about yourself, about your achievements and capabilities.
A positive vibe, a feeling of hopefulness and sweet anxiousness of what’s to come has been prevalent in my life these past few months and I cherish it.

As for this blog, I have neglected it, I am aware, but life is more important than any blog. Living life out there is what can make this right here more interesting. Not the other way around. So I don’t regret not being here but I promise to return more often and share with you all the delicious things I cook, eat and enjoy, because as I’ve said a myriad of times before, good things need to be shared.

Many recipes that I have cooked and shoot these past few months never made it on the blog because I didn’t have time to sit down and write or edit photographs. I will slowly post them, one by one, so that you can make yourselves some yummy foods to share with your family, friends or significant others.

I’ve made a version of this soup about four times this autumn, and now that winter is fast approaching, I thought it was a good time to share it with you. This is my final version of the soup, the one that for me is the best interpretation of the classic pumpkin soup with deeper, richer flavors.

More spicy, more vibrant, more earthy, more wintery. A soup capable to soothe your soul and comfort your body; warm you up and calm you down. With sweet carrots and leeks, pungent onions and garlic, a few mushrooms for their unsurpassed umami flavor and fresh thyme for its woody, grassy flavor; with creamy, earthy tahini that thickens the soup and adds a wonderfully smooth nutty flavor; with turmeric, coriander and a good amount of pul biber —the Turkish red chilli flakes that you may know as Aleppo pepper— giving a pungency and heat that I adore; with a topping of roasted pumpkin seeds flavored with cinnamon and sumac imparting a slightly sweet, sour, sharp and smoky flavor to the seeds and in effect to the soup.

I hope you enjoy it.
I am so glad to be back!

Pumpkin soup with tahini and sumac-roasted pumpkin seeds

I used the classic, orange-colored pumpkin but you can also use a butternut squash or even a kabocha squash.

The spicy, roasted pumpkin seeds can be eaten on their own as a snack.

Yield: 6 servings


for the soup
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion (150 g), roughly chopped
1 leek (150 g), white and pale green part only, sliced thickly
3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
Freshly ground black pepper (20 grinds of the pepper mill)
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp turmeric powder or 1.5cm-long piece of fresh turmeric, grated
½ tsp pul biber (aka Aleppo pepper / Turkish chilli flakes)
600g peeled pumpkin, cut into pieces
2-3 carrots (300 g), peeled and sliced thickly
100 g fresh white or chestnut mushrooms, sliced
3 small sprigs of fresh thyme
750 ml chicken or vegetable stock
350 ml hot water
⅓ cup (90 g) tahini, well stirred before measuring

Fresh lemon juice, for serving, to taste
Grated lemon zest, for topping the soup
Sumac-roasted pumpkin seeds, for topping the soup (see below)

for the pumpkin seeds
80 g whole pumpkin seeds (retrieved from the pumpkin you use for the soup)
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¼ tsp sumac
⅛ tsp ground cinnamon

Special equipment: immersion or regular blender, medium-sized, rimmed baking sheet


for the soup
In a large, heavy bottomed pan (I use an enameled cast-iron pan), add the olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the onions and leek and sauté for 2-3 minutes, until soft. Add garlic, salt, pepper, ground coriander, turmeric and pul biber, and cook until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute, stirring continuously.
Add the pumpkin pieces, the carrots, the mushrooms and the thyme, and stir well. Cook stirring continuously for 2-3 minutes, so that the vegetables are coated with the spices and oil.
Pour in the stock and hot water and stir well to mix. Bring to the boil over high heat, then immediately turn heat down to low and cook for about 25 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

While the soup is bubbling away, roast the pumpkin seeds (see instructions below).

When the soup ready, remove from the heat, let soup cool for a while, remove the thyme sprigs and add the tahini. If you’re using an immersion blender, blend the vegetables in the pan until smooth and creamy. Then, if you have a regular blender, transfer the vegetables little by little to it and blend until you have a smooth and creamy soup. Return soup to the pan, give it a taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Serve in soup bowls, top with the roasted pumpkin seeds, grated lemon zest and add lemon juice if needed.

As with all soups, it will taste better the next day.

for the sumac-roasted pumpkin seeds
Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Use the seeds from the pumpkin you are using in the soup.
Scrape the seeds from inside the pumpkin with a spoon and pull away any strings that are attached. Rinse the seeds well under cold, running water to remove all the pumpkin strings and place them in a bowl.

Take a medium-sized, rimmed baking tray and spread the seeds on top. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle the sumac, cinnamon and a generous amount of salt on top. The amount of salt depends on your taste; I add about 1 tsp for this amount of seeds. Mix the seeds with the olive oil and spices using your hands and spread them evenly on the baking sheet.
Bake on the lower rack of the oven for 6 minutes and then transfer to the middle rack and bake for a further 6 minutes, or until lightly golden brown and crispy, being careful not to burn them.

Leave them to cool completely on the baking sheet and then put them in a clean glass jar with a lid (or other airtight container).
You can keep them at room temperature for a week.