Along with a chill in the air, a drop in humidity and, if you live in the north, a change in the leaves, the arrival of fresh calabaza at the market is one of the signs that fall is here. Latin America’s answer to the butternut squash, the calabaza may be hearty and sweet but it’s also one seriously healthiest ingredient. It contains half the starch of other starchy vegetables, like potatoes and corn, which means it’s a good option for those watching their carb intake, like diabetics. Similar to other orange-colored vegetables, it’s also high in vitamins A (good for your eye sight) and C (a key antioxidant) as well as potassium (linked to reducing the incidence of heart disease.)
Typically, calabaza makes its appearances in Hispanic brothy soups or stews to add flavor. But in today’s recipe it is the star ingredient. It’s a simple technique—cook the calabaza with a few aromatic vegetables and the liquid of your choice, then puree—that can be used to make a hearty, creamy soup out of just about any vegetable, without having to rely on actual cream or butter. (Here, I used light unsweetened coconut milk for extra smoothness.) If your family is like mine—they never met a vegetable they didn’t hate—this is a great way to sneak one in.
Calabaza soup with coconut
2 T olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced into 1-inch pieces
1 leek, green parts discarded, white portion chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 stalk celery, diced into 1-inch pieces
2 medium carrots, diced into 1-inch pieced
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, minced
2 to 3 lbs of calabaza, skinned and cut into 1- to 2-inch chunks
2 to 3 cups, unsalted chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste
Chili powder and toasted pepitas, for garnish
1. In a medium dutch oven or caldero, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, leek, celery, carrots and ginger and cook until the vegetables are softened but not browned, about 7 minutes. Add the calabaza and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes, until it is tender.
2. Add the stock and coconut milk. Raise heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let the soup cool for a few minutes.
3. Puree the soup in food processor or blender. (For extra creamy results, first pass through a food processor, then a blender.)
4. Pour pureed soup back into pot and heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. To serve, pour into bowls or mugs, sprinkle with chili powder and toasted pepitas. Makes 6 to 8 servings.