If you think pumpkins are only good for pumpkin pie, think again. This vegetable is more versatile that it gets credit for. Pumpkins are in supermarkets, or ripening on the vine, from September through November and sometimes a bit later. Use cooking pumpkins in soups rather than the huge ones used for carving. Fresh pumpkins are ideal for making a chunky soup. Canned pumpkin makes a creamy soup. Add spices and herbs to bump up the flavor.
Your choice of herbs depends on the type of pumpkin soup you're making. A basic recipe calls for parsley and thyme with a hint of resinous rosemary. If your soup has an Asian influence, add lemon grass or kaffir lime leaves. An herb that crosses international boundaries is cilantro, also called coriander. It gives a pleasantly sour taste to Thai, East Indian, Mexican and South American food. It will do the same for pumpkin soup.
Some like it hot, and that includes devotees to pumpkin soup. Spicy pumpkin soup is a dish found in Africa, Mexico and the Caribbean. Cumin is made from ground coriander seeds, an herb used fresh in soups and other dishes. Jane Milton, the author of "Classic Mexican Kitchen," suggests using a light hand with cumin as it has a tendency to overpower a dish. Amp up the heat with red pepper flakes or use chopped fresh jalapenos or serranos in the soup.
Give pumpkin soup a hint of sweetness with basil, tarragon or tansy. Basil has a licorice taste, as does tarragon. Tansy was used during the Medieval period to sweeten custards and puddings according to Charlie Ryrie, author of "The Country Garden." Spices to add include cinnamon, star anise and nutmeg. Keep in mind, you don't want to turn a pumpkin soup into dessert with too much sweetness.
When making pumpkin soup and using herbs with a woody stem, such as thyme, rosemary or lemon grass, tie the herbs together into a mini bouquet -- called a bouquet garni -- and add them to the soup. Remove the bouquet garni before serving. Herbs for pumpkin soup are available fresh and dried. When using dried herbs, crush them a bit with your fingers to release the flavors and scent. Chop fresh herbs for the same reason.
Creamy or Chunky
Pumpkin appears in two kinds of soups. Chunky pumpkin has chunks of pumpkin in a clear broth, usually made from chicken stock. Other vegetables such as onions, carrots, celery and squash may be included. Creamy pumpkin soup is pureed. A very basic recipe includes chicken broth, garlic, onions and canned pumpkin. Cream is added at the end and the soup heated to a simmer. Swirl in pureed black beans and sour cream in opposite directions as a garnish. Both chunky and creamy soup may be mellow or very spicy.