I am having a little affair with vegetarian food. Over the last 6 months, I’ve been losing interest in meat and poultry. Seafood I’m still pretty excited by, but for some reason, when there is meat or chicken on the table, I have scant portions or none at all. I’m much happier when a meal is vegetarian. In the kitchen, I’ve been deviating from the standard dal-roti-sabzi and rice+sambar+thoran routine and making stuff that is out of my comfort zone, keeping vegetables at the center of the plate. And I must credit this flurry of vegetarian cooking to Ritu Dalmia’s cookbook, Diva Green.
I know, I know what you are going to tell me- Ottolenghi’s books are a must-have for anyone who is interested in vegetarian cooking. And I’m going to get one soon, I promise. (Ummm…which one first? Ottolenghi, Jerusalem or Plenty?)
Anyhow, I came across Diva Green while I was rabbit-holing through cookbooks on Amazon. I enjoy Ritu Dalmia’s TV shows and her cooking style, but I was not sure whether to pick it up. Plus, Amazon didn’t have a preview for the book, so I couldn’t even browse inside. I added the book to my wishlist and let it be. Then I found a copy at Landmark bookstore, and I sat down with it. The book opened onto a recipe for Burmese Tomato Salad as I placed it in my lap- and I was hooked. I just fell in love with the diversity- Italian and Vietnamese; dishes from Kerala and Karnataka; desserts ranging from baked cheesecake to Bavarian knodel.
I’ve cooked many recipes from this book, and each one of them has been a success. I tweaked a little here and there, substituting some ingredients, but overall, this is a neat cookbook with a wide range of recipes. Familiar dishes like kadi and desi potato fry get a refined flavour-boost thanks to her techniques, and you may discover some dishes you hadn’t heard of before, like Burmese Tomato Salad and Plecing Kankung (spinach with sambal.)
The one I’m sharing today is a Vietnamese soup, made with pumpkin and coconut milk. It’s rich and creamy without being heavy, and pretty healthy too! I’ve tried my hand at pumpkin soup before, and it came out slightly bland and a little too rich, thanks to cream taking the place of coconut milk. In this soup, the seasoning is uncomplicated- just salt and pepper- but the boiled peanuts add a distinct Southeast Asian flavour, and make it more fun to eat, too. (Plus: protein!)
This is a simple soup recipe that is low on effort and ingredients required, but high on flavour.
PUMPKIN & COCONUT SOUP (From Diva Green)
- 1 kilogram pumpkin, de-seeded, peeled and cubed
- 1/2 cup shelled peanuts
- 25 ml olive oil
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large bay leaf
- 250 ml coconut milk
- Salt and pepper to season
- Parboil the pumpkin in salted water till tender. Drain and set aside. Keep the water to be used later in the soup.
- In another pot, boil the peanuts in salted water till tender. Drain and set aside.
- In a large pan, heat the olive oil. Add the bay leaf, onions and garlic and sautee for a few minutes.
- Add the partially cooked pumpkin pieces and cook for a few minutes. Then add half the boiled peanuts.
- Next, take the bayleaf out of the pan and discard.
- Puree the pumpkin+onion+garlic+peanut mixture in a blender or food processor until smooth and creamy.
- Pour this mixture into a large pot, add the coconut milk, salt and pepper and cook over medium heat. Add as much of the pumpkin water as needed to give it a soupy consistency.
- Add the remaining boiled peanuts.
- Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve!