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Culinary Creations: Sweet and spicy pumpkin soup

There’s nothing wrong with a little healthy fear. At least that’s what I keep telling my wife this time of year. She doesn’t like haunts, but it has to be true, right? Why else would horror movies be as popular as they are? Why are there haunted houses? Why do roller coasters exist? Heck, we even have a holiday devoted to fear. (Candy and costumes might have something to do with it, too.)

To a certain extent, human beings enjoy fear. Maybe not fear itself, but the exhilaration and burst of adrenaline that accompany it. Still, fear, like sauerkraut, trips to the dentist and “Friday the 13th” movies, are best enjoyed in small doses. Too much of anything is a bad thing, and fear is certainly a great example of the accuracy of that adage. That desire for a finite amount of fear (also candy) is the reason I enjoy Halloween.

I can still remember the joy and anticipation of Halloween as a kid. It’s the one day a year you can be someone else and get free candy for it. I got to be a Power Ranger, an X-Man, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle — and that was all since I turned 30. Just kidding, although I did wear lederhosen a few years ago. I have tried to destroy all photographic evidence of it, but there may still be a picture or two out there.

On to the real Halloween motivating factor for most kids: the candy. We all have our favorites; I love anything with peanut butter and chocolate, but you inevitably ended up with a few apples, a couple boxes of Whoppers and the toothbrush from the health nut who can’t take a hint.

There are candy, costumes, and a hint of fear, but the most ubiquitous image of Halloween has to be the Jack-o’-lantern. I was never very good at carving pumpkins; I never have the patience to make it look good. So even now, as an adult, my wife and I buy pumpkins, and I try my best to carve an Eagles or Phillies logo into it, but no one can ever really tell what it’s supposed to be. That is why, when it comes to pumpkin carving, I choose a chef knife and a cutting board. Then the pumpkin ends up in a pot, not on my front porch.

We all know you can eat pumpkin. Thanksgiving isn’t complete without pumpkin pie, although I would argue that pumpkin roll is a million times better than pumpkin pie. While most of the palates in this country only associate pumpkin with sweets and breads, many countries across the globe eat pumpkin the same way we eat butternut and acorn squash.

So in the spirit of Halloween and embracing a little bit of fear, our recipe today highlights the sweet “treat” that pumpkin can be, with a savory “trick” of onions, garlic and a little bit of heat. This creamy pumpkin soup recipe uses a Korean chili paste known as gochujang (pronounced goh-choo-jang). It has a great blend of heat with dried fruit sweetness that pairs really well in a dish that balances sweet and savory flavors.

So try this recipe at home, and embrace your fear of eating a savory pumpkin dish. It will be much less frightening than watching a horror movie. Cheers!

Sweet and spicy pumpkin soup

Servings: 4-6

Start to finish: 45 minutes

1 small pumpkin (about 3 pounds), peeled, seeded and chopped

¼ cup olive oil

½ stick salted butter

1 medium white onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

1 13.5-fluid-ounce can of coconut milk

2 tablespoons of honey

3 cups of chicken stock (vegetable stock can be used to make a vegetarian soup)

1 tablespoon gochujang (more if you like it spicier, can be found in most grocery stores)

½ cup heavy whipping cream

Ground black pepper to taste

Kosher salt to taste

½ cup sour cream, mixed with 2 tablespoons water for garnish

½ cup toasted pumpkin seeds for garnish

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Coat the chopped pumpkin in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring periodically, until the pumpkin is tender and lightly caramelized.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Once the butter is melted, add the onions, garlic and ginger. Sauté the vegetables in the pan until they are translucent and softened.

Add the roasted pumpkin to the pot with the chopped thyme and spices. Allow this mixture to cook for at least 5 minutes to allow the spices to heat up.

Next, add the coconut milk, stock, honey and gochujang. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until everything in the pot is tender and easily blended.

Carefully transfer soup to a blender or use an immersion blender. Blend the soup until it is smooth. (If it is too thick, add warm water to the mixture until it blends smoothly.)

Return the soup to the pot and place over medium-low heat. Stir in the heavy cream. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.

Transfer to your favorite bowls and garnish with the toasted pumpkin seeds and the sour cream. Enjoy!

Culinary Creations is a partnership with Pennsylvania College of Technology’s School of Business & Hospitality and its Le Jeune Chef restaurant, a column by Christopher R. Grove, interim executive chef at Le Jeune Chef. Watch for Grove’s culinary tips and advice the last Wednesday of each month in The Taste.

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