Portuguese pumpkin soup

It’s grey and damp outside, a dull October day. It’s only a few weeks since I returned from the sunny skies of Portugal, but it already seems like an age ago. But the memories are still bright and clear and all the photos transport me back to sunnier climes.

The fresh fruit and vegetables were gorgeous in Portugal. Blessed by the hot days, the flavours were intense after ripening in the bright sun. One of the things that surprised me about the local produce was the amount of squashes grown in home vegetable gardens. Driving along the narrow country roads, having a nose at people’s gardens, I could see the squash plants spread out over their patch, the bulbs nestling in the fading leaves; some were even grown as climbers, clinging to walls or trestle. I’m not sure why I was surprised, as there were plenty grown in India, but butternut squash and similar always strike me as something for a cooler, more Northerly climate.

But hey, what do I know? There are lots of Portuguese recipes using this lovely, nutrient-packed vegetable, including jam, fritters, cake (that one has to be tried!) and, of course, soup. This recipe is delicious and the veggies are the star, naturally plant-based and dairy free – perfect!

The ingredients are very simple, the technique super-healthy and it tastes gorgeous. The difference to the way I normally make soup is that none of the vegetables are sautéed at the beginning, everything is just simmered together. No oil is added, and nothing can get burnt (which can create potential toxins in altered fats, or excess carbon). With the right seasoning, it tastes clear and fresh.

And instead of throwing away the seeds hiding in the centre, use them as a garnish for the soup. These fresh seeds offer a good amount of fibre and healthy fats as well as minerals like magnesium and iron, plus vitamin E and K. On top of that, whole pumpkin seeds contain more zinc than the shelled variety. Zinc is vital for good immunity, perfect for warding off winter colds. Remove any excess flesh, rinse and pat dry, then pop on a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes or so in a hot oven. You can sprinkle paprika or chilli powder over the top to give an additional kick.

I made this out on my friend’s covered patio, cooking it on her trusty camping gas stove – simplicity all the way! Now back in the UK, it’s not really the weather for outside cooking, but give this lovely soup a go and let the sun shine on the inside even it it’s not out the window!

Portuguese pumpkin soup (serves 4 big portions)

1 large onion, chopped
1 small pumpkin or butternut squash
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 courgette, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 handfuls parsley
1 litre vegetable stock
salt and pepper

Peel, chop and deseed the pumpkin or squash – cut into medium chunks. Keep the seeds for decoration (optional, see above). Place all the prepared vegetables into a large pan. Cover with the stock, add a little salt and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes or so until all the vegetables are well cooked.

Leave to cool. Remove a couple of ladles full of vegetables, then blend the rest until smooth. Add more stock if too thick. Return to the pan with the reserved vegetables, season and reheat. Serve with a glug of flaxseed oil and toasted pumpkin seeds.

Autumnal delights – pumpkin and squash

This is the first year I’ve tried to grow squash in my little vegetable patch. A bit late in planting them out, they’re still not quite ready despite the weather beginning to change. They seem happy where they are though, for now, and will hopefully grow and ripen a little more than this!

You will find a number of links to different pumpkin or squash recipes on my blog – I have a bit of a thing for this wonderful veg! During the autumn and winter months, it’s a staple in our house, appearing in recipes at least twice a week. Apart from their versatility, sweet flavour and smooth velvety texture, these wonderful vegetables are an amazing source of nutrients, bringing a burst of veggie sunshine in the long, grey months.

Pumpkins and squash really can help to keep the body healthy during winter. You only have to look at the amazing orange coloured flesh to know it’s packed full of goodies. Winter squash have been found to have the highest percentage of beta-carotene of any vegetable. Beta-carotene is the plant form of vitamin A (easily converted in the body), essential for healthy eyes, skin and immune system. There are many types of beta-carotenes, wonderful little phytonutrients that acts as co-enzymes and catalysts for metabolic processes – all things that keep us functioning properly. On top of that, pumpkin and squash also contains an amazing array of anti-oxidants, including vitamin C, that help mop up harmful free-radicals, and a great selection of B vitamins, and essential minerals like magnesium, manganese, potassium and calcium.

And it doesn’t stop there. The sugars in pumpkin and squash are super-healthy too. Not only are they full of fibre, they also contain a specific type of polysaccharide sugar called homogalacturonan (I haven’t just made that name up, honest!) that has special anti-inflammatory effects on the body particularly for heart disease and diabetes. The fibre also contains pectin, a favourite food for friendly gut bacteria, so benefiting gut health too.

So what’s not to love? Unfortunately, all good things have a not so good side – with pumpkins and squash, it’s how they’re grown. These water-loving veggies can be used to de-contaminate land, as they readily absorb anything in the soil and water. So if there is a lot of soil pollution, that will end up in the final product – and inside you. So it’s best to buy organic whenever possible, or from a reliable source. There is a small organic farm near me that always has a wonderful selection – here’s their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/lainesorganicfarm/.

To celebrate this pumpkinlicious time of year, I’m going to add some extra recipes over the next few week. In the meantime, why not check out one of the yummy recipes already here on the blog? They’re all fully plant-based, dairy free and really tasty. Here are the links to take you there.

Pumpkin pancakes, perfect for breakfast, lunch or any time! http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/pumpkin-pancakes/

These tasty pumpkin scones are easy to make and freeze well https://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/savoury-pumpkin-scones/

How about this tasty dish that matches squash with the nutrient power-house of brussel sprouts! https://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/roasted-squash-red-onion-and-brussel-sprouts/

Pumpkins and squash work wonderfully in soup. Here’s two to try – a gorgeous soup to warm you through http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/happy-earth-day-have-some-gorgeous-squash-soup-to-celebrate/ and a filling winter warmer https://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/roasted-squash-and-barley-soup/

Try this stuffed squash for a satisfying and filling supper http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/stuffed-squash-for-thursday/

This hubby-inspired curry is a winner every time http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/steves-saturday-night-squash-curry/

Watch this youtube video about a family friendly dip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HuweHV24ao&t=16s

Happy eating!


Steve’s Saturday night squash curry

As much as I love cooking, it’s always a treat when someone else does it for a change. Because of work and travel commitments, my hubby Steve doesn’t get many opportunities to get creative in the kitchen, so when he offers to cook it’s always a treat, especially as I was out all day yesterday, so it was a real relief to come home and be served with a piping hot dinner.

Steve does what I call ‘man’s cooking’ – lots of ingredients all prepped before hand (often with lots of washing up!), loud music and always a beer on the go. Not that this is a criticism, just a little observation – whatever is needed to maximise the cooking experience (although the number of beers could potentially be directly linked to the outcome of the dish – “hic!”).

Having lived in India and spent time in South Africa, Steve has picked up a few tricks and makes a mean veggie curry, all dairy free of course. Aware of my veg box blogging challenge, he did check what I had planned to make – a sweet mama squash and chickpea curry – so now I’m writing about his version of what I had planned in my head!

Squash and chickpeas go together really well in terms of flavour, texture and nutrition. I’ve already talked about what nutritional powerhouses they are (Thursday stuffed squash and Friday’s pancakes), as well as fabulous sources of fibre that your gut will love. They also both work wonderfully with spices, and complement each other superbly.

Of course, spices add more than just colour and flavour to a dish; they contain amazing healing properties that have been used for thousands of years, but science is only just beginning to understand how.

Cumin, for example Turmeric has long been used for it’s anti-inflammatory and anti-septic properties, but the active ingredient – curcumin – has only recently been identified and researched. It seems that the amazing properties in turmeric can help relieve all sorts of ailments from period problems, to IBS, to joint pain to cancer. In fact, there is so much to say about turmeric, there’s no way enough room here, so let’s just say it’s amazing and should be included in your diet as much as possible!

Steve likes the base of his curry sauces to cook down over a period of time to concentrate the flavours; this doesn’t take that much longer, but really does deepen the flavour.

There are a couple of interloper ingredients again, but from the veg box he used an onion, two of the carrots and the second half of the sweet mama squash. There was (and still is!) loads, so this recipe feeds a hungry crew easily.

Play around with the spices to get the heat level you desire – I’ve only given approximations here, as I’m not really too sure exactly how much was put in! Needless to say, it was super tasty, and all the more special as I didn’t have to cook!

Steve’s Saturday night squash curry
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, diced
2 cm piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
1-2 red chilli, chopped
3-4 tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon curry powder/garam masala
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 sweet mama squash cut into smallish chunks
2 carrots, diced
1 courgette, diced
1/3 small cauliflower, chopped (optional)
400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper
Heat a dash of olive oil in the bottom of a pan and cook the onion for a couple of minutes until soft. Add the garlic, ginger and chill and cook for another couple of minutes, stirring all the time so it doesn’t burn. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and let it cook down for a few minutes. Stir in the spices and add some water to make a thick sauce. Cook down on a low heat, adding a bit more water for 15 minutes or so until the flavours have developed.
Add the squash and carrot chunks, covering them well with the sauce, adding a little more water to almost cover. Pop on a lid, bring to the boil, and simmer for 5 -10 minutes until the veg begin to soften. Add in the courgette, cauliflower and chickpeas and simmer until all the veg are soft and the sauce has thickened up nicely. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve with popadoms and steamed brown rice.

Stuffed squash for Thursday

Second day of my veg box challenge, and the beautifully voluptuous sweet mama squash just had to get on the menu! Like sweet potato, pumpkin and squash are high on my list of ‘important foods to eat each week’ list. Their bright orange flesh is just packed full of betacarotene which converts to vitamin A in our bodies, necessary for beautiful skin, hair and eyes (get that sparkle!) and readily available in a plant based diet.

Finding different varieties of squash and pumpkin in the supermarkets can be a challenge at times – often butternut squash is the only one on the shelf, so getting a veg box means variety in the squash department! I’ve sometimes bought a pumpkin box from Riverford which contains an amazingly eclectic mix to experiment with.

Sweet mama squash has a really hard outer skin, so needs attacking with gusto and a sharp knife! The flesh inside is dense and very orange, so you know it’s going to be good for you. Once cooked, it’s very sweet and works well with spices (spoiler alert – I’m saving half for a Saturday night curry!).
My decision on what to cook every day is influenced by what’s going on in the house, and what I’m doing work wise. This Thursday, everyone was coming home and going out at different times, and as I actually had a little extra time for cooking, I decided to do stuffed squash. Once all the prep has been done, it sits in the oven quite happily and so can be eaten as and when needed.

I tend to use brown rice for my stuffing, usually because there’s some left over in the fridge, and of course there’s so much more nutrition wise in wholegrain. But you could use quinoa, millet or even couscous if you’re not going gluten free.

You can see from the photo that there are a few interlopers in the stuffing ingredients – celery and courgette are still left over from last weeks box. Going away for a couple of days left me with more goodies to use up this week, although sometimes I do buy extras that are not in the box, just for variety. Trying to balance what we need with what we’re doing and what we’d like is tricky at times!

All these different lovely ingredients provide a whole array of fabulous nutrients that our bodies love. The squash alone has more than just the betacarotene I’ve mentioned above. For a start, it has masses of fibre formed from good starchy carbs that have a beneficial effect in the body and also help to keep the gut healthy. There’s a mix of B vitamins, and minerals, as well as a lovely dose of vitamin C, which will be retained better by being baked. Vitamin C is water soluble so is easily lost by boiling and even steaming.

My top tip for the stuffing is make sure you get the seasoning to how you want it. I used thyme as my herb of choice as I like it with squash, but mixed or Italian herbs would have worked too, along with a lengthy grinding of black pepper. Keep tasting your mix until you’ve got it right for you – the sweet and savoury flavours are seriously satisfying.

Stuffed sweet mama squash (served 3)
1/2 onion finely chopped
1 leek, diced
1 stick celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
handful mushrooms, chopped
handful chard leaves
1/2 courgette, chopped
1/2 sweet mama squash, deseeded
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon tamari (optional)
salt and pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC and lightly grease a large piece of tin foil. Heat a dash of olive oil in a pan and sauté the onion, leek, celery and carrot until soft. Chop the stems of the chard and add them to the pan with the mushrooms and courgette. Cook for another couple of minutes until they start to soften, then add the garlic, stirring well so it doesn’t burn. Stir in the thyme, chopped chard leaves, rice, tamari, salt and pepper and cook for another couple of minutes. Sprinkle in the parsley, stir well, turn off the heat and leave to cool for a moment.
Wipe out the squash half with a damp piece of kitchen roll and season with salt and pepper and sprinkle a little extra thyme into the cavity. Pack in spoonfuls of the rice stuffing until full. Place the stuffed squash onto the tin foil, wrap it up loosely then place on a tin and into the oven for about 45 minutes. Once the squash flesh is soft and tender, it’s ready for eating. Remove from the oven and slice into 3 equal portions. Serve with accompanying vegetables of choice (we had potato wedges and peas – yum!).

Squash soup to celebrate Earth Day

Whilst every day really should be Earth Day, it is good there is a day once a  year which highlights the absolute amazingness and beauty of this gorgeously unique planet we live on.  We need a reminder to pay attention to something that we just take advantage of and abuse every moment. If there was a galactic Social Services, I think our precious Earth would have been taken into care by now!

Even though there are those who still refuse to acknowledge the existence of global warming (like those in the past who refused to believe the Earth was round…..), it’s difficult to escape the effects that we, the human race, have on our eco systems. As Brits, we just love discussing the weather, and there’s been lots of that going on to raise a few questions! Most of us try to make adaptations to help the environment – reduce plastic, recycle, shower instead of bathe etc – but these actions will only have a small impact on a global scale. 

However, changing to a plant based way of eating is the single more important change we can make that can have a direct impact on the environment. Whilst this may seem like a huge claim, you just have to look at the environmental impact of meat production to see where vast amounts of natural resources go.

Bearing in mind less than 50% of the world’s population eat meat in the first place, the shear number of livestock which need supporting is immense – 17billion! Just check out these other statistics:

   * 30% of the world’s land mass is used for raising animals for food
   * 11 times as much fossil fuel is needed to create meat products compared to plants
   * In the US, 70% of the grain grown is for animal feed
   * It takes 2400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat, whereas is takes 25 gallons to 
   produce a pound of wheat
   * By not eating that pound of meat, you could save as much water as not showering for 6 months!

A plant based whole food diet is not only good for our health, but our environment’s too. Even making small changes will have an impact – if everyone reduced their meat intake by a few pounds a week, look how much water alone could be saved. But don’t replace processed meat with processed meat alternatives, rather care for yourself as well as your environment and eat real food, complete with all the nutrients and gorgeousness that our wonderful planet provides.

So to celebrate, have some gorgeous soup that’s just bursting with flavour and nutrients – a tasty reminder of what our Earth so generously provides.

Roasted butternut squash, ginger and coconut soup

500g butternut squash, peeled and cut into large chunks (or any small squash or pumpkin, preferably local if possible)
few drops olive oil1 onion
good thumb sized bit of ginger
2 cloves garlic
400g tin of coconut milk
salt and pepper
First, roast the squash chunks in the oven for 25 minutes or so until soft but not crispy brown. Roughly chop the onion, ginger and garlic, and pop in a small food processor. Blitz until very finely chopped. Heat the oil and add the onion, ginger and garlic mix, gently frying (add a little water to stop it burning). Cook for 10 minutes or so until soft, then poor in the coconut milk and heat through well. Add the roasted squash, salt and pepper to taste and lower the heat right down. Leave to simmer gently for another 10 minutes or so then turn off the heat. Once cooled a little, puree with a stick blender, adding a little more water if it’s too thick, reheat gently and serve. 

Pumpkin-licious dip

Over the last few years, pumpkin has become a regular component of our family meals. There is so much you can do with it – steam, boil, bake, roast. Each method brings out a different pumpkin characteristic – steaming keeps the water content as well as the nutrients, making it ideal to mash or puree, whereas roasting concentrates the flavours and the nutrients by removing some of the water content and caramelises some of the natural sugars.

Being pretty sweet, it’s great for both savoury and sweet dishes; it works brilliantly with spices too, creating a sweet and spicy base for various Asian dishes.

Generally, pumpkin and squash can be interchanged in recipes, although some varieties do have slightly different flavours and levels of sweetness. Depending on the time of year, supply in the shops may be limited to one type – often butternut squash over here in the UK – unless you can find a local farm that grows a wide variety and manages to store them well throughout the year.

Pumpkins and squash are part of the same family of gourds, and of course are really ‘gourd’ for you!! Despite their sweet flavour, they are pretty low in carbohydrates, contain no fat or cholesterol and are packed full of fibre, vitamin A (it’s back again!!), B vitamins, vitamin C and a little vitamin E. It also contains a pretty good whack of potassium and iron to complete the package. So, alongside sweet potatoes and tomatoes, pumpkin is great for maintaining eye and skin health, as well as fighting off signs of ageing and attacks by carcinogenic substances. Recent research also suggests two phytochemicals contained in pumpkin helps improve diabetes.

There are so many amazing pumpkin recipes – my favourites include my warming dairy free squash soup http://foodiesensitive.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/warming-dairy-free-squash-soup.html, pumpkin scones and pumpkin and spinach curry. Seems like I have a lot of pumpkin posts to come! As yet, I haven’t managed to create a good dairy free pumpkin pie recipe, although I’m sure it’s possible.

One dish I have created is a Moroccan inspired pumpkin dip. Eating dairy free can create some lunchtime challenges; as much as I love it, there are only so many times in a week I can have a hummus and salad wrap for lunch. This dip is a fabulous alternative.

The sweetness of pumpkin works brilliantly with coriander, cumin and cinnamon. Using sesame seeds as the base continues with the Moroccan theme, as well as adding in a good dose of manganese, magnesium, calcium and amino acids. If sesame seeds are not your thing, try using cashew nuts instead – it needs something to give the dip some structure, as pumpkin by itself creates a slightly watery dish.

Play around with the flavours, the spice amounts are just a guideline. Every time I make this, it’s slightly different. What doesn’t change is the overall yumminess of the dish – it is gorgeous! Serve in wraps, as a dip, with salad or just eat indulgently straight out the bowl with a spoon!

Moroccan style pumpkin dip
1 medium sized pumpkin or squash
dash of olive oil
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, coriander and cumin
>Heat the oven to 180oC. Chop the pumpkin or squash into slices, deseed but leave the skin on and place in a baking tray. Using your hands or a pastry brush, lightly cover the flesh with olive oil – you really don’t need much. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or so, until the flesh is soft to touch but not over roasted – you may need to turn the heat down a little if you have a fan oven. Once done, remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Place the sesame seeds (or nuts if using) into a blender and blitz until fine. You can roast them before hand if you like; this creates a richer, deeper flavour to the dip. Remove the skin from the roasted pumpkin and place the flesh into the blender with the ground sesame seeds. Blend again for a few seconds until loosely combined. Add the salt, spices and fresh coriander and blitz again until everything is well combined and smooth. Check the flavouring and add more spices if you need to. That’s it – it’s ready. Tip out into a dish and enjoy (this goes really well with the chickpea and sesame seed dippers –

Warming dairy-free squash soup (updated 10/2018)

Soup is an all year round staple in our house, but particularly during winter. And at the moment, I need all the help I can get to warm up, on the inside as well as out! When my children were small, the vegetable eating battle commenced as they started to express their opinion over what they would or would not eat.  I discovered that soup didn’t seem to count as a problem. As long as it was smooth and didn’t look like it might be too good for them (ie: not green!), they guzzled down fresh vegetable soup with no problem.

Over time, certain soups have become associated with specific events. There’s ‘Holiday Soup’ – red lentil and tomato soup taken away in a big flask to eat on the journey to our holiday destination. ‘Lunchtime With Friends Soup’, a marvellously hearty vegetable and tarragon soup which never fails to impress. So feeling cold and missing the warm, sunny days of a Bangalore winter, I’ve turned to one of my favourite soups I’ve made over the last couple of years whilst we’ve been away – pumpkin (or squash), ginger, garlic and coconut soup – ‘Warming Soup’!

Eating soup in India may seem a little odd, and I must admit it wasn’t on the menu during the extreme summer heat, but somehow it didn’t feel out of place. Small pumpkins are readily available all year round, as of course are the other main ingredients, so it was easy to buy and simple to make. And it’s utterly delicious as well as dairy free, and pretty much free of any allergens which makes it suitable for anyone.

It’s the perfect soup for a cold winters day, as the ginger warms you from the inside and the coconut makes you think of warmer climes! In ayurvedic medicine, ginger is used to fuel the body’s ‘fire’, so it really does warm you up on the inside. It’s well known for aiding digestion and apparently helps improve circulation, reduce inflammation and ease colds. Garlic also has warming properties and is great for helping to improve circulation and fighting off colds. Ginger and garlic together are the perfect winter pairing!

I used butternut squash for my soup but this works with any orangey pumpkin or squash. Butternut squash is pretty good for you too, with no fat, low in carbohydrates and offers a good amount of vitamin A and C along with  potassium, manganese and a tad of magnesium.

The weights and measurements for this recipe are approximates – it all depends on what squash you are working with, how much you have and how much ginger and garlic you like. I do like my ginger fairly pungent, so you may want to use less to start. It’s important to add the coconut milk at the end and don’t let it boil otherwise it may split. The soup tastes ok, but doesn’t look as appetising! If your accidentally put in too much stock and the soup ends up too runny once the coconut milk has been added, don’t worry – serve it in a mug instead of bowl, it still works brilliantly.

Warming winter squash soup
1 butternut squash/small pumpkin, skinned, deseeded and cut in to small chunks
1 onion finely diced
3 cm chunk of ginger, peeled and finely chopped (add more or less as desired)
2-3 cloves of garlic (varies according to size or taste) finely chopped
800mls – 1 litre vegetable stock (or water if you have a yeast intolerance)
200ml coconut milk (omit if you follow the Overcoming MS programme)
salt and pepper

Heat the a couple of tablespoons of water in a large saucepan and sauté the onion until it starts to soften. Do not brown. Add the ginger and stir constantly for a couple of minutes, making sure it doesn’t burn. Add the garlic and fry for a minute or so. Tip in the squash, stir to incorporate then pour over the stock or water until the squash is covered (you may need more or less water depending on how much squash you have).

Bring to the boil then reduce the heat, cover with a lid and simmer until the squash is soft. Add the coconut milk If using and heat through without boiling. Turn off the heat and leave to cool slightly, then pour into a blender and blitz until smooth. If it’s really thick, add some more water or stock. Season with salt and pepper then reheat gently.

Serve with a glug of flaxseed oil and swirl of dairy-free cream if you haven’t used coconut milk.