RECIPE: Wafu Kabocha Soup (Japanese Pumpkin Soup with Toasted Seaweed)

IMG_2737 - Version 2

RRRRRR…It’s only mid-November yet it feels like we are already “deep” into the winter season; it might be chilly but I am not complaining as we have enjoyed some fine sunny days, which is quite unusual here in Vancouver…

So out come the Dutch oven and my Blender as Hearty Soup season is in full swing!

We don’t have kabocha very often in our household as it is not Andy’s favorite, I cooked it only once in a while for my own enjoyment, prepared either in Japanese (simmered in dashi and soy) or Chinese way (stewed with pork and soy).

I was so inspired by my friend Haruko’s creation; she made the most delicious and elegant version by keeping things simple, using fresh in-season ingredients (kabocha, onion, homemade chicken stock, milk)  and let them shine; I feel this is always the best way to cook.

I decided to incorporate my favourite “Wafu” style (yes again) into this recipe; the idea of the toasted nori came from Canadian food blogger “The First Mess”; she adapted the kabocha + chestnut soup recipe from Amy Chaplin’s cookbook ” At Home In the Whole Food Kitchen”, this cookbook is on my Christmas wishlist…any takers?? (OO)

Ingredients: (serves 2 – 4)

1 medium size kabocha, seeded, peeled, chopped into small cubes, 1 large yellow onion (thinly sliced), 2 garlic cloves (thinly sliced), 1 Tablespoon sake kasu (optional), 2 Tablespoon olive oil, 3 1/2 cups Japanese dashi broth*, 1 to 1 1/2 cups regular almond milk, 2 teaspoons Japanese mirin, 1-2 Tablespoons organic soy sauce, sea salt and freshly ground pepper for seasoning to taste, nori seaweed (**optional, toasted for garnish). 

Preparation:

– Prepare the kabocha squash: sliced it open into two halves. Remove the seeds, then cut into thin wedges; remove the skin then cut them into small even pieces

– Prepare the onion: peel and slice thinly

– In a 4 quart pot reheat the dashi broth, bring to a boil, lower heat and keep it simmering (if you are using pre-packaged dashi powder, prepare the stock according to instructions on package)

– Using a different heavy pot, heat the olive oil using medium high heat.  Add the onions and saute until they become soft and golden (6-8 minutes), add the sliced garlic and saute until it becomes fragrant.

– Add the kabocha to the same pot, add 1 teaspoon mirin and gently mix all ingredients; add reheated dashi broth, 1 Tablespoon of sake kasu and bring mixture to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat (medium low) and simmer until kabocha is tender (you can use a fork to test the texture), approximately 20 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, skim off any scums.

– While soup is simmering, prepare the nori – remove from package, lightly brush them with olive oil/mirin (1:1 ratio) mixture. Using medium low heat, place seaweed on small fry pan and toast them lightly using dry heat. The seaweed should be toasted on both sides, be very careful not to overheat and burn them.  Set aside.

– Using an upright blender, working in small batches, process and puree the soup until smooth (be mindful to fill blender jar less than half way). To prevent the liquid from splattering, remember to allow heat to escape by removing the blender’s lid centre insert (cap), hold a kitchen towel over the top when blending.

– Return puree soup to stock pot, over low heat, stir in the almond milk slowly till mixture is combined, do not let the soup boil.

– Season with sea salt and pepper to taste.

–  To serve: ladle soup in bowls and garnish with toasted nori.

*Notes:

Dashi is a fundamental ingredient to many Japanese dishes; it is used in miso soups, noodle soup, stews (oden) and sauces.

For your convenience, you can purchase the instant bonito stock packages which are readily available at Japanese food stores, and follow the instructions.

I choose to make my own awase dashi (basic stock) on a regular basis as I used it quite often as a substitute in many recipes. It is a combination of kombu (kelp) and katsuobushi (bonito flakes) and I have been using the recipe from Practical Japanese Cooking (by Shizuo Tsuji and Koichiro Hata) ; you can also find recipes available online.

You can substitute dashi broth with either vegetable stock or kombu stock (without the bonito flakes) to make the soup a completely vegetarian dish, or use chicken stock.

Sake kasu is optional, it adds lots of flavour to soups and stocks.  In Vancouver you can purchase at Fujiya Japanese Food Store or Artisan Sake Maker (Osake) in Granville Island.  

Always taste and change the ingredients according to your liking and dietary needs.

Here are links to other versions of kabocha soup:

http://www.thefirstmess.com/2014/10/29/vegan-kabocha-squash-chestnut-soup-kale-sesame-leaves-recipe/

http://www.justonecookbook.com/recipes/kabocha-squash-soup/

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