Since Sukkot menus are all about the autumn harvest, what could be more festive than starting off the meal with a comforting bowl of pumpkin soup? When I was growing up, one of my favorite recipes was my grandmother’s stewed Kabocha: a Japanese variety of pumpkin or squash. It wasn’t until I went off to college that I tried pumpkin for the first time in a dish, and I’ve always felt the flavor of Kabocha is far superior to the pumpkins we eat here in the U.S. It is sweeter and heartier than that of a regular pumpkin, and it has a fluffy texture similar to that of a potato, which makes it perfect for a puréed soup. The color is a deeper orange, making it more vibrant and festive, as well!
If you’re having a sit-down meal, you can serve it in bowls as a starter. If you’re throwing a casual happy hour under the sukkah like I am, you can keep it warm in a big thermos pot and pour individual servings in little paper cups with the garlic challah croutons, cream and chives sprinkled over the top. This is the time of year when the air is starting to get a bit crisper, so this soup is a great way to warm up under the sukkah. If you’re serving meat later and would like to keep things kosher, I recommend omitting the milk and cream and instead finishing the soup with a dollop of homemade cashew cream under the croutons, which your guests can stir in.
Kabocha Squash Soup with Garlic Challah Croutons
1. Slice Kabocha in half and spoon out the seeds. Cut each half into three wedges. Turn each wedge onto the flat side and remove the green skin. Cut each wedge crosswise into four even squares (see image for what your Kabocha should look like at this point).
2. Melt butter in a dutch oven or pot, over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, slide in the sliced onion, curry powder and a sprinkling of salt. Stir the onion continuously for 10 minutes, or until caramelized. Slide Kabocha cubes into the pot, along with another sprinkling of salt and stir for five minutes. Add the chicken broth and bring everything to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and cover the pot for 10 minutes.
3. Using a fork, pierce Kabocha to check for doneness. It should be soft enough to pierce without resistance, but not so soft that it falls apart. If it’s not quite soft enough, stir, cover and cook for another five minutes.
4. When Kabocha is cooked through, blend in batches in a blender or use an immersion blender (one of my favorite kitchen tools!) until completely smooth.
5. Stir in milk, then heavy whipping cream. Make sure to keep the heat very low and be careful to not let the soup boil at this point.
6. Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste. Top with a dollop of the whipped cream, challah croutons and chives.
This is a recipe I came up with when, one Saturday morning, I decided I could not eat any more challah French toast!
1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
2. Grate garlic clove into olive oil, stir in herbs and salt. Be very careful to only include very small, microplane-d pieces of garlic. Larger pieces will get burnt and become bitter.
3. Cut challah into roughly 3/4″ x 3/4″ cubes. I recommend using a regular knife for a cleaner cut (as opposed to a serrated knife).
4. Place cubed challah onto a baking sheet and pour oil mixture over challah and mix well with your hands.
5. Spread challah out on baking sheet so it’s just one layer and the challah is not (or just barely) touching.
6. Bake for five minutes and check on it. It should be a nice and toasty golden color. If it’s not browning quite yet, bake for another 5 minutes and check on it again. It took me about 12 minutes to achieve this in my oven.