Kabocha Coconut Curry Soup
Whenever I try a new food or learn a new trick I like to share it with you on my blog. This week I discovered a winter squash I never had before, kabocha squash. It is a gnarly looking green winter squash like a small pumpkin, and tastes like a blend of sweet potato and pumpkin. Kabocha is sweet and dense like a sweet potato, but with as silkier texture. Compared to a sugar pumpkin, it has a deeper burnt orange color, smoother texture, and a richer sweet squash flavor. It is not a new variety, but one that is gaining in popularity throughout the US. Like most winter squashes, you can substitute Kabocha in most recipes using winter squash.
My curiosity was piqued after reading a recipe for Red Curry Ginger Squash Soup. In the recipe the author described Kabocha squash as the sweetest of winter squashes available. Of course, I had to test her statement and bought it to make her soup. This soup is made up of some of my favorite flavor combinations, Thai red curry paste, coconut milk, fresh ginger, and lemongrass. I have a weakness for Thai coconut curries and love stews and soups made with them. With that in mind, I knew this soup recipe is a winner.
Red Curry Ginger Squash Soup comes from Meyers and Chang At Home, by Joanne Chang and Karen Akunowicz. This is a wonderful cookbook featuring dishes from the restaurant Meyers and Chang in Boston’s South End neighborhood. The book is filled with amazing recipes celebrating Taiwanese food and Joanne Chang’s Taiwanese American heritage. For their ginger curry soup recipe, they recommend using one of three different winter squashes, with Kabocha high on their list. I found soup is a great meal to make when trying an unfamiliar vegetable. In the event you are not totally in love with the flavor, it is easier to doctor-up soup into something preferable. Fortunately, kabocha’s flavor satisfied like I thought it would, and required no doctoring. The rich and sweet flavor, and silky texture of the kabocha was perfect with the fresh ginger and Thai curry paste. This soup is giving my all-time favorite pumpkin soup some competition.
This is an easy soup to make, but there are a couple of considerations.
How to peel Kabocha squash 2 ways
Like a lot of winter squash, Kabocha has a very tough outer skin. Peeling off the skin is tricky. You need a good cutting board and sturdy surface, and a sharp chef’s knife.
First, cut the kabocha squash in half, then pull the two sides apart. Then scoop out the seeds like you would for a pumpkin. Scrape out as many stringy strands too. Once cleaned, cut each half into 3 or 4 wedges depending on how big your kabocha is. Finally, lay each wedge on its side with the skin facing out, and run your knife down along the outer side, slicing along the curve of the wedge.
The alternative method is to roast the Kabocha then slice away the peel. First, cut the kabocha in half, scoop out the seeds, then slice in wedges like the method above. Place the wedges on a sheet pan. Drizzle a little olive oil over the kabocha wedges and sprinkle with some Kosher salt. Place the sheet pan in a pre-heated 400°F/ 204°C oven. Roast the squash until the flesh is very tender, about 40 minutes to an hour. Using a spoon or a knife, scoop or cut out the flesh away from the peel. This method cooks and peels the vegetable at the same time.
More delicious Asian Cuisine inspired recipes:
Tips for making Kabocha Coconut Curry Soup
The other consideration is keeping the coconut milk from separating or curdling. This happens when the coconut milk reaches a certain temperature and the proteins that link the fat to the water change shape, denaturing of the protein, and no longer stay emulsified. It is a natural process and does not cause coconut milk to go bad. It just looks unappetizing. To prevent the coconut milk from curdling it is important to make sure the coconut milk is at room temperature and the ingredients in the pot are not boiling. I work at controlling the temperature, so the coconut milk stays emulsified and smooth. Stirring the soup helps with this as well.
While making this soup, I lowered the temperature after the kabocha became tender and mushy. Then I let the liquids in the pot cool down to barely a simmer. Once the soup cooled, but remained warm, I added the coconut milk while stirring constantly until the coconut milk incorporated. Once the coconut milk is added, the soup needs to cook for an additional 30 minutes. It is important to control the soup’s temperature, so it does not boil. I slightly turned up the heat to a low simmer and continued to stir the soup at regular intervals.
I have yet to determine if Kabocha is the sweetest of winter squashes around, but I am eager to continue testing that theory. My next kabocha adventure might be adding it in my pumpkin pie recipe, or my sweet potato cake recipe. What is your favorite Kabocha or winter squash recipe? Let me know in the comments section below the recipe.
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Kabocha Coconut Curry Soup
- 2 TB olive oil or butter
- 1 small yellow onion chopped
- 2 TB fresh ginger peeled and minced
- 1 TB Thai Red Curry Paste
- 1 1/2 - 2 lbs 750 g - 1 k Kabocha or butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2" chunks
- 1 stalk lemongrass
- Zest from 2 limes (or preferable if you have access to Asian markets 2 makrut lime leaves)
- 1 13.5 oz 403 ml can of coconut milk
- 2 TB fresh squeezed lime juice more to taste
- 1 tsp sugar plus more to taste
- 1/2 - 1 tsp Kosher salt more to taste
Heat a large stock pot over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and heat for about a minute. Add the onion and garlic and gently cook until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. While the vegetables cook, stir frequently to prevent the onions and ginger from sticking to the bottom.
Add the curry paste and stir until incorporated. Cook for about 1 minute.
Add the kabocha, or butternut squash, and 2 cups (500 ml) of water. Bring to a gentle boil and cook until the squash is tender and mushy. About 15 minutes.
Prepare the lemongrass. Peel off the outer papery layer and discard. If your lemongrass is not already trimmed, cut off the top 2/3 of the stalk, leaving about 6-7 inches of a pale and pliable piece. Cut off the dense base of the stalk. Slice the stalk down the center lengthwise.
Turn down the heat to low. Add the lemongrass and lime zest, or lime leaf if using.
Once the soup ingredients stop boiling and cooled to a low simmer, add the coconut milk. Constantly stir until the coconut milk is thoroughly mixed in. Be careful not to allow the soup to a boil, or the coconut milk will curdle. Frequent stirring will also prevent the coconut milk from curdling.
Turn the heat up to medium-low and cook for about 30 minutes. Make sure the temperature does not get above a gentle simmer. Stir the soup at frequent intervals to prevent curdling.
When done, remove the lime leaves (if using) and lemongrass from the soup. Use a fork to help fish out any loose lemongrass strings.
Purée the soup. In a blender, food processor or immersion blender, process the soup until smooth. If you are using a blender leave a vent for the heat to escape. Also purée the soup in batches so the soup does not explode. I used my immersion blender with good results and avoided possible explosions with a blender. However, blenders do a better job at getting a smoother purée.
Once puréed, pass the soup through a fine mesh strainer.
Place your soup back in your stock pot and taste, and turn the temperature to medium low. Add the lime juice and correct the seasoning with the sugar and salt. Taste and adjust the seasoning. When adding the sugar and Kosher salt, start with less amounts then taste. You can easily add more. Add more lime juice if needed. Also, add more water if the soup is too thick. The texture should be light and smooth and not too thick.
Serve warm right away.
Can be made 2 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, or freeze up to 2 weeks.
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