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Healthy Cooking: Use pumpkin puree for more than just pie

Pureed white beans give this dairy-free pumpkin soup its creamy texture. It’s garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds. CONTRIBUTED BY KELLIE HYNES
Pureed white beans give this dairy-free pumpkin soup its creamy texture. It’s garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds. CONTRIBUTED BY KELLIE HYNES

Creamy, dairy-free pumpkin soup is seasonal comfort food

Every fall, I buy cans of pumpkin puree as if I am the kind of person who makes homemade pies. And then, every winter, I become the kind of person who donates cans of pumpkin puree to the holiday food drive. It turns out, my calendar isn’t conducive to seasonal baking. But since I can’t resist the aspirational inspiration of a good grocery store endcap display, I wondered, what other festive foods can be made from a can of pumpkin (but in less than 30 minutes)? I found the answer a million metaphorical miles away from the kitschy commercialism of my grocery store: in a friend’s quiet Jamaican countryside kitchen.

Pumpkin soup is traditional Jamaican fare, simply made, and simply delicious. An inviting first course, or a satisfying lunch, it fills you with the rich warmth we associate with friends, family and fall. And lots of vitamin A — a single cup of pumpkin provides a whopping 197% of your daily requirement. Pumpkin is also a splendid source of vitamin C and potassium, all without a drop of cholesterol. My friend’s soup is flavored with sugar and thickened with coconut cream; if pumpkin soup were to become an autumnal staple for my family, I’d have to find a less-indulgent source of sweet, creamy deliciousness.

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I started by sauteing carrots and onion. Both caramelize when cooked, so no additional sugar is necessary. I used my favorite vegetable broth as the base; chicken broth will also work unless you prefer your recipe to be vegetarian or vegan. You can make your own broths from scratch if you have the time; otherwise, snag one off the shelf when you grab the pumpkin. Many prepared broths are sodium-heavy; for the sake of healthy cooking, choose one labeled low or no salt. And before you stir in your can of pumpkin puree, double-check that you are, indeed, adding 100% pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling. Otherwise your soup might taste a lot less like pumpkin and a lot more like a pumpkin spice latte.

If you are so inspired, you can flavor your soup in the traditional way, with a Scotch bonnet pepper. Simply place the whole pepper in the broth while the vegetables simmer, then remove it before serving. I actually prefer to use ground chile powder instead of the pepper, because I can control the heat level better.

My soup was delicious, but without the fat-laden coconut cream, it lacked the bisque-like texture I craved. Enter my favorite healthy cooking hack: a can of white beans. Yes, a can of beans that has been whipped up in a blender or food processor creates creamy goodness without high-fat dairy. As a bonus, you also get a healthy dose of plant-based protein and fiber. You can blend the beans on their own and then add them to virtually any soup, stew or gravy. To streamline my recipe steps, I simply added the whole beans to the soup, and pureed them with the vegetables all at once.

Finish your soup with a splash of lemon juice for brightness, and a sprinkle of toasted pumpkin seeds for fun. Then make it every time you find a spare can of pumpkin in your cabinet. As for the holiday food drive, my friends at the food pantry tell me cans of chicken and chili are vastly more appreciated.

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