I have friends who are of the opinion that soup is fit only for invalids. They’re in the minority, though. Soups come in such a huge variety that there’s something to please almost everyone.
The following recipes are quite easy, although the presentation of the first makes it elegant enough to serve at a dinner party. The second recipe – for Korean ginseng soup – is substantial enough to be served on its own for lunch or dinner.
Spiced kabocha soup with miso, fried garlic chips and toasted pumpkin seeds
You can’t really taste the miso in the soup, but it adds a deeper flavour. Use whatever type you have in your fridge.
1 whole kabocha squash, about 1.5kg
Olive oil, as needed
About 30ml cooking oil
½ a medium-sized onion
2-3 garlic cloves
1 tsp curry powder
½ tsp piment d’Espelette, or to taste
2 thin slices fresh ginger
30 grams miso
1 medium-sized carrot
About 800ml unsalted chicken stock, preferably home-made (if using canned broth, use half broth and half water)
Fine sea salt
For the garnish:
3 garlic cloves
About 30ml olive oil
30 grams shelled pumpkin seeds
Freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of piment d’Espelette
Preheat the oven to 225 degrees Celsius. Carefully cut the top off the kabocha squash to expose the cavity (which will be used to serve the soup). Scoop out the seeds and stringy bits, leaving behind the flesh. Very lightly brush olive oil over the exposed flesh in the cavity and in the top of the squash. Place the squash (and the cut-off top) on a baking tray and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the flesh is tender. When cool enough to handle, scoop out as much flesh as possible from the top of the squash. Scoop out the flesh from the cavity, but don’t make the “wall” of the squash too thin, or it might collapse when you serve the soup; it should be about 8mm thick.
Finely chop the onion and two to three garlic cloves. Peel the carrot and cut it into 2cm chunks. Peel the ginger slices then chop them as finely as possible. Heat 30ml of cooking oil in a pan and add the onion and garlic. Sprinkle lightly with salt and cook over a low flame until the onion is soft and translucent, stirring often. Add the curry powder, piment d’Espelette and ginger, stir constantly for about 30 seconds, then mix in the carrot and miso. Add the chicken stock and the kabocha flesh, then season to taste with salt. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer until the carrot is tender. Purée the soup until smooth, then taste for seasonings and correct, if necessary. If the soup is too thick, stir in more broth.
While the soup is cooking, prepare the garnishes. Very thinly slice the garlic then put it into a small pan with the olive oil. Place over a low flame and cook until the garlic is pale-medium golden, then turn off the flame. Put the pumpkin seeds in a skillet and drizzle with about 5ml of the oil used to cook the garlic. Stir to coat the pumpkin seeds with the garlic oil, then sprinkle lightly with salt, black pepper and a pinch of piment d’Espelette. Cook over a low flame, stirring constantly, until the pumpkin seeds smell toasted.
If needed, re-heat the soup until simmering, then pour it into the hollowed-out kabocha shell before serving. Ladle the soup into bowls then drizzle some garlic oil over each portion and scatter the fried garlic and toasted pumpkin seeds on top.
The recipe for Korean ginseng soup is based on one from the cookbook Eating Korean, by Cecilia Hae-jin Lee. Use fresh ginseng – the kind that’s sold in packets in the vegetable section of some supermarkets, not the large, dried ginseng that herbalists sell at very high prices.
2 small Cornish game hens, thawed, if frozen
150 grams glutinous rice
2 fresh ginseng roots, about 10cm long
10 ginkgo nuts, shelled
6 dried red dates
6 garlic cloves
6 fresh raw chestnuts, shells and papery skin removed
Fine sea salt, rough-flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Gochugaru (Korean chilli flakes)
White radish kimchi
Dry the Cornish hens inside and out with paper towels. Lightly sprinkle fine sea salt over the birds and in the cavity. Rinse the rice several times until the water is almost clear, then drain in a colander. Put half the rice, four ginkgo nuts, two dates, two garlic cloves and two chestnuts into the cavity of each bird, then place each one, breast side-up, in a pot that will fit it snugly, with a little room to “swim”. Divide the remaining ginkgo nuts, dates, garlic and chestnuts between the pots. Pour in enough water to almost cover the birds and add a ginseng root to each pot. Bring to a simmer over a medium flame, then cover the pots with the lids, turn the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Carefully turn the birds over and cook for another 10 minutes. Serve immediately with white radish kimchi, letting each diner season the meat and broth with rough-flaked sea salt, pepper and chilli flakes.