I doubt I am alone in my feelings of ambivalence over writing about food given the current cultural and political climate. The disheartening results of last month’s American election* came, for me, in the midst of a particularly trying fall term as a graduate student. I have been spending most of my energy struggling either to keep afloat in a rising sea of academic expectations or to maintain my resolve of confronting the world’s injustices, if only in some small way, through my work, in the face of circumstances that make burying my head in the sand seem a far more attractive option. Ignorance is bliss, as they say. And sometimes indulging in the food media world can feel too much like giving in to ignorance’s blissful temptation. And yet, we all must eat. And the comfort and inspiration that good food can provide, perhaps even in the form of aestheticized media representations, is needed even in times like these.
In the kitchen I have largely stuck with what I know. I am still in the throes of an Asian noodle obsession that has left me kicking myself, wondering where noodles have been my whole life. They are a revelation. I have been whipping up noodles in various forms for dinner several times a week. The other project that has consumed my kitchen time has been a quest to use up an overabundance of overripe bananas. We generally have two or three of these kicking around the freezer, but one day I opened the freezer only to be confronted with an obscene pile of them. Many variations of banana bread have exited my kitchen – including one yeast banana bread with a cinnamon swirl that I am particularly excited about. Did you know yeast bread could be made with bananas? I did not.
In the midst of this comforting repetition of favourite recipes, this pumpkin soup came as a surprise. I whipped it up one night with the intention of using up bits of this and that left over from the previous week's cooking: a bit of leftover pumpkin puree from a batch of pumpkin banana muffins, the scraps of miscellaneous vegetables that had been garnishing Thai noodles, and the very first butternut squash I brought home this fall.
The soup was meant to be quick, easy, and practical but, surprisingly, it also turned out to be one of the best things that I have made in months. It immediately made it onto our meal rotation and I’ve since made it a number of times. It is spicy, vegan, filling, due to the squash and noodles, and the broth has a wonderful creamy texture from the addition of the coconut milk.
* I have been working on a piece about my feelings following the election that I may or may not post.
2tb Olive oil
1 medium-large onion, chopped
1 inch ginger, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 birds eye chilies*, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
½ package firm tofu, cubed
2 cups butternut squash, cubed
4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 can coconut milk
¾ cup pumpkin puree
3 oz Chinese style dried farkay noodles**
2 cups greens***, washed and chopped
Green onions, chopped
In a large stock pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.
Add onion to pot, cook until translucent. Add the ginger, garlic and chilies, cooking for another 2-3 minutes. Add the red pepper, tofu and squash. Add the vegetable broth, coconut milk, and pumpkin puree, stirring to combine. Bring soup to a boil, reduce to medium and simmer until the squash is cooked through, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, fill a medium sized pot with water and bring it to a boil. Add noodles to pot and cook according to package instructions. Drain noodles and set them aside.****
In the last 5 minutes of cooking, add the chopped kale and continue cooking until it begins to wilt. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls, add the noodles and garnish with peanuts and green onions if desired.
*This makes a very spicy soup. Use 1-2 if you want a mildly spicy soup, or leave out entirely.
**Spaghetti noodles would be a good substitute.
***I used collard greens, but any type will do.
***Any leftover noodles should be stored separately from the soup, to avoid them soaking up the broth and becoming mushy.