Calabaza, or West Indian pumpkin, is a winter squash with bright orange flesh and a hard, usually green and deeply ridged rind. The flesh or pulp is more dense and less sweet than that of American pumpkin. You can find calabaza either whole or cut into more manageable chunks at Latino, Caribbean, West Indian and other specialty or ethnic markets. You can sometimes find frozen calabaza puree in such stores, which will save you the work of cutting, peeling and cooking the squash. I highly recommend using calabaza for this soup if you can find it.
If true calabaza is not available in your area you can substitute Hubbard or kabocha squash. If you can't find either of those, then use American pumpkin as a last resort. Canned pumpkin puree can be used only if it is not "pumpkin pie filling," i.e., it must be 100% pure pumpkin puree without any other ingredients and definitely no sugar or other sweetener.
I've provided two cooking methods for my Caribbean pumpkin soup: One starts with whole or cut squash, and the other uses pureed squash.
1 1/2 to 2 lbs calabaza squash (West Indian pumpkin) or 1 lb puree
2 Tbs olive oil
|Flickr photo by Julia Manzerova|
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 medium carrot, peeled & finely chopped
1 jalapeno or other hot pepper, seeded & finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbs chopped fresh parsley (or 1 tsp dried)
5 cups vegetable stock (you can substitute chicken stock for non-vegetarian soup)
1/2 cup white wine (I recommend a Riesling or similar not-too-dry wine)
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
If using whole or cut squash: Peel the squash and cut into small cubes. Heat the oil in a large saucepan or soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, carrot, hot pepper and bay leaves. Saute until the onion is just translucent. Stir in the squash cubes, thyme, oregano and cinnamon, then saute until the squash begins to soften. Add parsley, stock & wine, bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the squash is fall-apart tender when pierced with a fork or pressed against the side of the pot with the back of a spoon. Puree the soup using a stick blender, taste for balance and season with salt & pepper to taste.
If using squash puree: Heat the oil in a large saucepan or soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, carrot, hot pepper and bay leaves. Saute until the onion is translucent and the vegetables are tender. Add the remaining ingredients except the salt & pepper, stir to combine thoroughly, and bring to a simmer. Cook at a simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are fall-apart tender when pressed with the back of a spoon. Puree the soup using a stick blender, taste for balance and season with salt & pepper to taste.
Makes 6 servings as a starter, or 4 hearty "meal size" servings.
PS: For an earthy, smoky variation of this recipe, use smoked pumpkin (you can cook calabaza, Hubbard or kabocha squash on your smoker using the same method as regular pumpkin), and instead of cayenne powder, use chipotle powder or even some chipotle hot sauce, such as Bufalo Chipotle Mexican Hot Sauce, but be careful not to make the soup too hot or overly spicy (start with just a little bit of chipotle and then add more to taste if desired).